The woman waved the blouse in front of Jasmine like evidence of a crime.
“The stitching is coming loose,” the woman said, “right here at the armpit – two dollars.” She tossed her head back like she had a penthouse overlooking Central Park, even though she was cramming a size sixteen frame into white stretch pants that were never intended to go beyond a size ten. Whatever damage had been done to the spandex was covered by voluminous black t-shirt that read “D&R Powersports” across a bust that had given up the fight against gravity long ago.
Jasmine glanced at the blouse, red silk, and the stitching in question. “It was fine until you pulled at it when you thought I wasn’t looking – five.”
The woman’s face looked like Jasmine had just slapped her. Her mouth opened and closed several times in quick succession, but nothing came out. She looked around the garage at the others sifting through the plywood and sawhorse tables looking for sympathy. No one met her eyes.
“I never!” she finally said.
“Look, you want the shirt or not?” Jasmine said.
The other woman stared back for a few moments before she finally nodded.
“Okay then, four bucks,” Jasmine said.
The red blouse had been a gift from her Grandmother Hazel, the last thing she ever received from her before she died. Jasmine made change for a twenty, and considered herself lucky for getting the woman out of her life. She sat back on her garage stoop and watched everyone else paw through her stuff. A woman with red hair piled up on her head mouthed the sizes of clothes as she sifted through the piles of Patagonia hiking clothes, two teens flipped through the DVD collection inherited from Uncle Mark, an older lady screwed up her face as she considered a beach wrap Jasmine purchased in Jamaica.
This is all what it comes down to, she thought, inviting people to come into your garage and grope through the detritus of your life. Right now her life was ninety percent off, and even that was negotiable.
The red-haired woman came up with a pile of lightweight outfits and the lamp that she and Devon picked out after moving in together. He hadn't wanted it when he moved out.
“This is some really nice stuff.” The woman said. “It’s not stolen is it?” The woman squinted and stuck out her tongue, then she laughed. “Just kidding.”
Grandma Hazel always said sticking out your tongue was rude. Jasmine forced a smile as she flipped though the clothes and added the total in her head. “Fifteen,” she said.
“Oh, I was also wondering about the TV out front. Does it really work?”
“Does it work with high-definition and all that stuff?”
“Yes. It’s plasma, one year old.”
The woman stuck out her tongue again and squinted. “I think someone pulled a joke on you. It’s labeled fifty dollars.”
“You can have it for twenty.”
The tongue went back in. “Oh my. Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. You can have the DVDs too.”
The woman took a step back. “Oh, no. That’s okay, I don’t think that I could possibly -”
Jasmine stepped around the TV tray with the shoebox that served as her register. “No really. That’s what you came for, isn’t it? A good deal?” She threw her arms up into the air. “Well here you go, lady, something to bring home for the hubby. He’ll never make a crack about you garage salin’ again!”
“No, it’s okay. It’s okay. I don’t want it.”
“What, isn’t my stuff good enough for you? Can’t you feel like a good little American if you can’t pay full price for something?”
The red-haired woman held out her hands as she half-crouched, half-backed away. “No really, I don’t want it. Look, I’m just going to go away now.” She backed out one step at a time until she emerged from the garage’s shadow. When the sunlight hit her freckled face, she turned around and ran, her sandals twap-twapping the concrete all the way to her car. Jasmine returned to her stoop as an engine roared and tires squealed. The concrete step had gone cold again. The lamp and the clothes lay on the floor by the TV stand. Jasmine sighed. She’d have to put all that crap back on their tables now. She let her head fall to her hands.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” a voice asked. Jasmine looked up, pushing strands of oily black hair out of her eyes. The remaining old lady held the beach wrap over one arm, and had reached out into the space between them. The two teens must have left when she was shouting. Jasmine looked down at the outstretched hand for a moment before folding her arms across her chest. The other woman withdrew her hand.
“I’m fine. Just fine. Everything is fine” Jasmine said.
“You know, if you're in some kind of trouble, perhaps –“ The old woman smiled and nodded encouragingly. Jasmine was reminded of her sophomore homeroom teacher. Maybe it was the little peach cardigan the woman wore, or the deep brown hair dye. It could have been the shoes peeking below the pants suit, sensible browns with square silver buckles over the toes. Maybe it was the delicate cross, dangling over the folds from her turtleneck. Whatever it was, Jasmine remembered all the little old well-meaning ladies that had arrogantly thought they knew what she needed in life.
Jasmine stood and let her nails dig into her palms. “Perhaps what? What is it you know?”
The old woman blinked, but she held her ground. If anything, she drew herself up taller. “I know I see a troubled young woman when I see one.”
“Well believe me, what I got, you can’t fix.” Jasmine said. “You gonna buy that, or what? Two-fifty.”
The old woman stepped forward and nodded. “Why yes I am.” She pulled out her purse and rummaged around for some bills. “Here is three dollars.” Jasmine grabbed the bills from her hand and searched trough the shoebox. “No need,” the woman said, “You keep the change.”
“I don’t want your charity.” Jasmine said.
“I want you to keep it, so you remember that there are people in the world that are willing to help if you let them. Good Day!” The old lady spun on her heel and left.
Jasmine was glad she was too tired to cry. She went to go put the lamp back on the table.
* * *
Jasmine managed to make it through the rest of the day. Though the TV went for the full fifty, the rest of her stuff had gone for about half of what she had marked. The things left over, such as the kitchen utensils, old couches, some clothes and the TV tray, had gone on the Goodwill truck that pulled up at six o’clock. What the truck wouldn’t take went to the curb, to be taken by whoever until the garbage truck decided to show up.
Jasmine sat on the floor of her dining room. The table had gone for thirty, the chairs five apiece. She recalled paying over five hundred at the showroom. She counted the money in her shoebox, and separated it into piles. Each pile went into a cardboard mailer marked with the names of her friends, her landlord, her mother (and step dad), and her father (and his girlfriend). When the doorbell rang, she paid the FedEx guy the fees plus a tip. They said you shouldn’t send money through the mail, but she figured she’d leave it to fate to see who got their cut and who didn’t. When the delivery truck had cleared the driveway, she turned off the porch light.
Her house seemed bigger without all the furniture in it, more serene without all the clutter on the walls. She walked though the house, touching each wall, looking though each window. Half-way though, she took off her shoes and walked over the freshly-shampooed carpet. Her toes wriggled through the soft shag, releasing the smell of lavender. The walls in the hallway were a pale lavender too, she noticed. Odd that all these years she had thought the walls were off-white.
She started the shower, turning the water up hot enough to turn her skin pink. She let the heat soak into her bones before she washed her hair, letting the suds slide down her back as she rinsed. She opened a fresh bar of sandalwood-scented soap and lathered up her body just outside the shower head’s reach. The musk and the steam took away the day’s stress, and almost made her forget that there was even a world outside the shower curtain. She took the razor and spent ten minutes tending the body hair she had neglected over the past two months. She sat another ten minutes on the floor of the shower, just letting the water sluice over her head.
She brushed her teeth with more care than she could remember giving them in years. Three strokes up and down, three strokes side to side for each tooth, front and back. Each tooth got flossed as well, something normally done only the two weeks on either side of a dentist’s appointment. She had heard of people who found joy in little rituals like this. She didn’t see the point of making something this anal a matter of routine. Life was too short to waste on dental hygiene.
She dried her hair with her towel, and brushed it out. It was way past the point of having any style, just a shaggy mass of black hair. Just pull it straight back, she decided. She debated makeup, but decided against it. Tonight was not the night for her usual job, which her friend Jenny had dubbed “somewhere between dragon lady and goth going on thirty.” Jenny would not get an envelope.
She looked one last time in the mirror. Middle-aged Japanese half-breed, a few years past pretty. She ignored the circles under her eyes and the Buddha chin just starting to peek out. Then she stopped, and forced herself to look and acknowledge the flaws. The bit of grace gained from the shower evaporated. She wrapped towel around her and left wet footprints in the carpet all the way to the bedroom.
She would sleep now; a new life would be waiting for her in the morning.