Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 14, Number 1
Copyright © 2019
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
Fiction by Jeff Moreland
Like everyone else, I parked half on the county trunk road and half in
the ditch. It was 8 a.m., but already there were a good twenty cars, and a
mob of women—and more men than usual—giving other people’s junk the
royal once-over. Marilee said, “Look at all this.” I looked. Three ranch
houses in a row, clothes and furniture and what-nots spilling from each
garage, down each driveway, and into each front yard. We’d be here a
while, for sure. We were across from the middle house. The lawn could use
a good cut and trim. The yellow paint job blistering and peeling. The roof
worn bad in spots. Even from this distance I could tell the desk and dresser
were laminate and wood veneer, not real wood. Not a good sign. I was
hoping for better from the other two houses.
Two days past her due date, Marilee waddled next to her sister toward
the house on the left—a tiny ranch, part white-siding, part fake brick. I took
a sip from my Big Buddy travel mug. The coffee was getting cold, which I
like when it’s equal parts coffee and whiskey. I got out of the car and
stretched. In the field up the ditch, someone was raising corn. I had to piss
and hoped for a hedgerow. The nearest was maybe a quarter-mile down
the road. I took another drink of my coffee, took my time with a cigarette,
then started across the road toward the house on the right.
It was Friday morning. Fishing season would begin in less than twenty-
four hours. Most years this weekend, I’d have been with Wally and Ben up
at Weeping Lake, the three of us getting ourselves as many crappies as we
could. Getting shitfaced. With luck, getting laid. I don’t spend my winters
raising waxworms like the two of them. I just like fishing. Opening weekend
is about letting out the bad air after too many months indoors. A weekend
of beer and fish and tail helps make things right. I’d be off with them if it
weren’t for the baby. It was a boy, the doctor said, but he was wrong about
when he’d be showing up. The chances he’d show up between now and
Sunday seemed slim to me, but the chances were Marilee would have my
balls if he did. So, here we were, looking for baby clothes.
This house was a sprawling bi-level with blue cedar siding and a bed of
red and yellow tulips out front. The asphalt driveway looked brand new. All
good signs. As usual, the first tables in the driveway were covered in clothes,
mostly clothes for babies and toddlers. A good six or seven tables. Enough
to clothe an army of infants and toddlers. Carter’s, mostly. And in good
shape—not frayed or worn-out. When she got to this house, Marilee would
be in heaven. She’d find plenty for our boy. I took a long drink of coffee
Marilee had competition. There were a dozen women and even men
here in the baby section, standing with their wives or girlfriends. Likely as a
trade-off to go fishing the rest of the weekend. There was also a clothes
rack stuffed to the gills with dresses, slacks, skirts. An entire table of new-
looking shoes, mostly for tiny children and women. I took another long
drink of coffee and began to feel it going to my head. I moved past tables of
clothes for older kids, for men, for women, another table for babies and
Two women caught my eye. One was tall and thin and dressed in black
from head to toe. She looked ready to elbow any competition out of the
way. Her friend was short and pregnant, though not as pregnant as Marilee.
She rifled hard through a stack of clothes and was making a mess of the table.
Up close, I saw that she was trying to look younger than her age. Her hair
was dyed black, with blonde streaks, and her eyes were made up so dark
they looked like two black holes in her face. But she was wearing some
sweat pants that fit her nice and tight, and a t-shirt that did nothing to hide
what she had up top. There was plenty she could have hidden, too. I was
glad she hadn’t. Even the roundness of her pregnant stomach looked good
to me. Marilee hadn’t felt like it much the last few months, and now I was
ogling a forty-year-old woman with raccoon eyes.
She had moved along to a card table covered with children’s books
and toys and stuffed animals. I wanted a closer look at her. I got an eyeful.
She turned her head and caught me dead to rights. She gave me a little smile,
then shifted her weight from one leg to the other, and my eyes followed.
When I looked back up, her smile widened. I smiled back.
I moved into the garage, which was stuffed with what these people
were selling. Books, DVDs, VHS tapes. Bunches of CDs, plus two tall,
stylish metal racks for storing them. A high-end Sony sound system. Toys,
a tricycle, three bicycles. More men’s clothing and a table of boots, all sizes.
A metal garbage can, labeled “bird seed” in magic marker, and a new-
looking garden hose wound-up and held tight with bungee cords. Sturdy
furniture. Everything quality and in good condition. One of the best sales I’d
ever seen. I wanted into the house. I still had to piss. I needed a bathroom—
some owners say yes, some say no. I wanted to see what these people had
decided not to put up for sale.
I looked through a stack of vinyl, at least fifty albums. Mostly sixties
and seventies rock—The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Boston,
Kansas, Foreigner. I took my time. Usually, I try to look interested. I was
interested in these records. The owner was set up at a card table in front of
the door that led from the garage into the house. He had the cash box and
jewelry—real, actual jewelry, not costume crap—on the table he was sitting
at. I’d say he was in his mid-sixties, with hair plugs. Appearances mattered
to him. Probably downsizing to a smaller house. I asked him if I could use
his bathroom. He said, “No.” I couldn’t use his bathroom, which meant I
couldn’t get a look inside.
A door led through the back of the garage into the backyard. Two
kayaks—one bright red, the other bright blue. Good ones, and barely
scuffed up. If I’d had the money, I might have given them some thought. A
kayak for me, the other for my boy in a few years. A row boat. A Toro
push mower and an Ariens snowblower. Snow shovels, garden shovels, a
spade and a leaf rake. Four snow tires. A treasure trove.
I was the only one out back. There’d been too many people out on the
front lawn to try the front door. I slipped around the corner and up the steps
of the deck out back. I tried the door. I covered my eyes and looked
through the glass. The kitchen glistened in the morning sun. I tried the door
The big backyard backed up against a woods. I found a cluster of jack
pine for cover and I finally took a piss. Relieved, I turned back to the house.
Two men were now in the backyard—one checking out the mower, the
other, the kayaks. Raccoon woman was there, too. She was holding a
plastic kiddie pool on end, but she was looking my way. From across the
lawn, she smiled. Then she gave me a little wave. When I was close
enough, she said, “Feel better?” I shrugged and lifted my cup.
“It’s the coffee,” I said. I took another drink.
I walked back through the garage. Raccoon woman followed me. We
were back in the front yard, near her black-dressed friend. They started
talking. I looked to see if Marilee had gotten to the house next door. I
didn’t see her. Raccoon woman pointed at my hand, then tapped her ring
finger. She said, “I’m not married.” Her friend saw all this but barely took
notice. I touched the ring on my finger. Raccoon woman smiled again.
Then she and her friend scooped up the clothes they’d found, paid for them,
and hustled them toward their car. It was a great sale, but there was nothing
I could pocket. I headed over to the middle house.
The coffee and whiskey had me awake and alert and smoothed out just
right. My first impression of this middle house had been right. These people
didn’t take care of their house or lawn. The roof was seriously worn in spots.
The gutters were sprouting saplings. None of the furniture was real wood;
some of the laminate was even water-bloated. Lots of shoes. Low quality
furniture. Floor lamps, table lamps. Worthless knick-knacks. A few
handbags. Tables of decorations—Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s,
Halloween. Lots and lots of women’s clothing and baby clothing, but mostly
well-worn. Nothing for Marilee. Nothing for our kid. A garbage sale, as
they say. St. Vinnie’s and Goodwill would throw most of this out.
A woman was in the garage, taking money at a card table. Her friend
or maybe a sister was sitting inside the door to the house. Not that I felt
there’d be anything good in there, but I had to try. “Can I use your
bathroom?” I asked.
“No, I’m sorry,” she said.
“Anything for sale inside?”
“Just here in the kitchen. What’s on the table, is all.” She wasn’t going
to let me out of her sight.
“Can I take a look?”
The oval table was crammed with die-cast NASCAR replicas. Now,
these I wanted. These I could sell to a pawn in the city. Dale Earnhardt,
and Junior. Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson,
Richard Petty, Davey and Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough. They ranged
from ten to twenty-five dollars. They were all in mint-condition, but there
was nothing I could do.
“Make an offer,” she said. That’s not how it works, I thought.
I was back in the garage when I ran into Marilee and her sister at one
of two tables with kids’ clothes. Their hands were empty. “You haven’t
found anything?” I asked.
“A few things. They’re in the car. Not much here—mostly for older
kids.” She touched my arm. “You?” she asked.
“Nada,” I said. ”You’ll like the next house . . . a gold mine of baby
clothes,” I said.
“Good,” she said, brightening. Raccoon woman appeared through the
back of the garage. She began going through the holiday decorations. She
picked up a gray, ghoulish Halloween mask and put it to her face. One
knockout monster. I thought I heard her laughing.
Marilee and her sister left for the next house. When they were barely
out of earshot, raccoon woman was back at my side. “Your wife?” she
asked. I nodded. “She’s pretty.” I nodded again. She bent way over the
table to reach for an infant’s sweater with a picture of three happy bears—
Mama, Papa, and Baby. I could see straight down her shirt. I could see
everything. She set the shirt down and saw what I was doing. She took her
good, sweet time standing back up. She rolled her hips toward me and gave
me her hand. “Wanda,” she said.
“Wanda,” I said. “That fits you.” I looked her in the eye, I didn’t look
down. From the table next to me, I picked up a hat I could wear fishing. I
tried it on. It fit just right. I paid the fifty cents and guzzled the last of my
“That’s it for me here,” I said. “It’s been a pleasure.”
She still held that mask in her hand. “I’ll be seeing you,” she said, as
she brushed up against me.
I thought of finding Marilee, or going back to the car. But there was
one more house to go.
This last house had just about everything. A dresser, tables, lamps.
Tennis racquets, golf clubs. Lawn equipment, a kids’ outdoor play set, a
patio set. Bedding and throw pillows. Books of all kinds—from comic
books to encyclopedias. Clothes for all ages. Some of it in good shape,
some not. What you might expect.
It was past nine o’clock, and all three houses were now being mobbed.
As with crowds anywhere, it’s easy to lose yourself in a garage sale crowd.
The garage here was so busy I could barely move without bumping into
someone. In this crowd I could have pocketed jewelry or baseball cards,
but none of it valuable. I had a good buzz on. I had to piss again. I needed
to get inside the house, to the things too good to sell. With that new-bought
fishing hat, I was ready to give it one last try.
This sale was bigger than the others, maybe a multi-family—front and
back yards and garage, plus, based on the crowd, what seemed a whole lot
in the house itself. I climbed the two steps leading from the garage into a
utility room—where shoes and boots were lined up on the floor—and
squeezed my way into the crowded kitchen. Glassware, dishes, cookware
and a set of cutlery. Dish towels, hot pads, cookbooks. Other than the
kitchen table and chairs, everything was for sale. In the living room,
everything except the couch, the chairs, and an enormous old console TV.
Mostly, lots of knick-knacks and cheap cut glass. The owners had someone
stationed in each room, keeping watch over the goods. Everything not for
sale must have been tucked away behind closed doors. There were twenty
or more Hummels on a table in the living room, but there was a crowd
two-deep trying to get a look at them. And an old woman in a crisp green
pantsuit watching over them.
I was still looking for a bathroom. I had looped from the kitchen
through the dining room and living room. The next three rooms were
locked—two bedrooms and a bath, no doubt. A bobby pin or paper clip
could have gotten me in, but I didn’t have a bobby pin or paper clip. Maybe
the house had only a crawl space. If it had a basement, I hadn’t seen the
door for it. I squeezed my way back through the kitchen and into the utility
room. There it was.
Three or four people were going through shoes, even a pair of waders.
No owner, no security. I went straight to the door and opened it like I lived
there. As I closed it behind me, I checked to see that no one saw.
The stairs led to a dream rec room. Wall-to-wall berber carpet. A
pool table, a projection TV, a sectional couch and two recliners. An
electronic dartboard. A large, lit fish tank with no fish. A full bar, well-
stocked bar. I poured a couple shots of Canadian Club into my coffee mug.
Beer signs—Michelob, Miller Lite, and an old, scrolling Hamm’s sign that
I’d have killed for. A full gun rack. Rods and reels and a large tackle box.
Two deer rack mounts, and several mounted fish, including a muskie and an
enormous largemouth bass. If I’d had the choice, I’d have moved in there
There were two doors off the rec room. I opened the first—the
furnace, water heater, water softener, washer and dryer. No dampness or
water marks on the concrete floor, and neat as a pin.
Behind the second door was a half-bath—a toilet and sink. No vanity,
no mirror, no extras—but all I had to do was piss. I put the seat up and felt
pure relief. I had a good long swallow of whiskey. I was feeling lighter by
the moment. I finished and flushed and put the seat back down. Another
swallow and my cup was empty. I could hear the crowd upstairs, their feet
scraping and thudding against the floor, their murmured voices. I was
feeling high. I had this basement to myself.
I poured myself more whiskey. I took a seat on the couch and turned
on the television. I turned the volume way down. A sports channel—two
guys and a woman talking about tennis. I didn’t play tennis, but I sat and
A door opened and I heard footsteps on the staircase. I held my breath
and listened. Another step, and another. Then . . . those tight sweatpants,
the t-shirt with the view, that body that wouldn’t stop. There she was, and
she had that kid’s monster mask on her face.
She stopped three steps from the bottom. “You shouldn’t be down
here,” she said. “What are you doing down here?”
“Casing the joint,” I said. She laughed.
She took the mask off. I sat there on the couch. She walked toward
me. Her voice was a whisper. “You know what I need?” She lifted her shirt
and tossed it on the floor. She was just a few steps from me, those full,
heavy breasts resting against her stomach. Then the sweat pants, they were
gone. She walked straight to me. “Love me, baby,” she said. I set down my
coffee mug. It was all a sweet and sticky mess.
She left first and I was alone again. Marilee and her sister were
probably back at the car, waiting for me. I had nothing for my efforts—only
the fishing hat, which I’d had to paid for. Nothing for the baby. I thought of
those kayaks. I had to get up and move. Marilee would be wondering. On
the passenger seat there’d be a pile of onesies, tiny shorts and shirts and
sweatshirts. Shoes and socks.
I looked around the room one last time. After a weekend of fishing,
Wally and Ben could join me down here. Everything a guy and his friends
would need. But nothing for a baby. I remembered the tackle box on the
floor next to the dartboard. I took off my hat and reached into the box.
Buzzbait. Power Worms. Jitterbugs. Rooster Tails. The highest quality.
I grabbed all that I could. They cut my fingers and the palm of my hand. I
grabbed until the fishing hat was full.
Jeff Moreland’s fiction has appeared in The Broadkill Review, The
Cream City Review, and The William and Mary Review. He holds
an M.A. in fiction writing from the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin.
He lives and works in West Allis, Wisconsin.
◄ Previous page Apple Valley Review, Spring 2019 Next page ►