I once knew a woman who had a resale store in a town too small to claim an establishment as fancy as a ‘shop’. I who at that time loved flitching perfectly good items from other people’s trash was a fool for a resale store.
The loft was filled with frayed clothes overstuffed on hangers and heaped on the floor, clothes so lifeless I could not imagine the fabric transformed into cleaning rags. The woman and her husband bought things in lots at auction. Once they purchased a truck load of shoes, only to discover the shoes were manufacturer’s samples, shoes in all sizes but for the left foot only. A family with a one-legged gene could have been well-shod for the rest of their lives.
Underneath the loft was reserved for discarded toys—puzzles missing pieces, games missing parts, limp and grayed stuffed animals, dolls without arms. The rest of the ground floor was mostly filled with the grim detritus of defunct households, bulbous lamps, orange and brown dented pots with yellow splotchy mushrooms, broken clocks, nondescript dishes with dingy cracks, the occasional sprung chair that looked like small animals lived in it. Nothing that even a seasoned garbage gleaner would want to brush against, much less rescue, though everything was priced to sell.
Then I spotted the fireplace shield. It looked copper, with an elegant spreading oak pressed almost from edge to edge, each distinct leaf gleaming. I can still see that magnificent shield and I covet it today, though I didn’t then and probably never will have a fireplace. There was no price tag affixed. “How much is this?” I asked, mentally rearranging my budget so I could carry home my prize.
“I can’t sell that,” she said. “It might be valuable.”
I was shy and she was shy, so we did not haggle over the unsalability of the perhaps copper shield. She did tell me she refused a handsome offer from a rich lady the week before, so I would know it wasn’t only unavailable to me.
I prowled the musty aisles, casually eyeing the shelves of intact, unpriced glassware behind the cash resister. When I got too close, she spoke up. “I can’t sell you those. That’s why I keep them back there. They might be valuable.”
She seemed nervous that I was looking. I knew then that anything I might find attractive enough to carry home, she would have to keep, because if she sold it she might later discover a treasure had slipped from her grasp.
I gave up. On my way out I spotted a little wind-up metal gorilla. When I fiddled with the rod that required a missing key, I could get the gorilla to stagger a couple of steps and sputter sparks. A horrible walking thing. My boy would love it.
It had no price tag, either. “How much?” I asked.
“I couldn’t sell you that,” she said. “You just take that with you. It ain’t worth nothing.”