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Mabel and the Garage Sale - a short story

Mabel and the Garage Sale was dramatized by British Broadcasting and used on their short story program worldwide on public radio. I can't help it. I still love Mabel. What do you think?


Interstate 64 is taking Mabel's house. The highway is slated to run south, through the middle of her living room, all the way to the ocean. Mabel figures the road will roll down right where the gold velvet love seat rests now. She gets uneasy thinking about it. But it's too late. They have the house and Mabel has the money. All that's left is deciding where to go with it.
Her daughter, Donna Faye, has said she can move in with her. But Mabel knows the girl isn't sincere. So she's drawing out her last days in the house, trying to decide what to do.
She has thought about renting one of the new brick garden apartments near the center of town. Except she isn't good with figures and has no idea how long $30,000 would run her.
To make matters worse, Mabel has something wrong with her back. She has been unable to work at the Holiday Inn, where some days she can clear $25 cleaning rooms. Since she stopped going to work her back hasn't bothered her much. If anything, it seems to be on the mend. It could be she's too preoccupied breaking up housekeeping to notice the pain.
She's considered living with her son, Jackie Lee, but his wife, Cindy Sue, would not agree. Besides, they live across the tracks in a house smaller than Mabel's and have three rowdy boys.
At the garage sale Mabel is having, her friend MaryAnn wants to buy her corn popper. In fact, MaryAnn starts loading up a box with things she wants. In the box, she puts Mabel's corn popper, a heating pad with a blue flannel cover, a heavy duty extension cord which Mabel bought and never used, and several Tupperware bowls which are peeling and will no longer burp.
"I'll give you two-dollars," MaryAnn says, adding several coffee cans with snow scenes to the box as she talks.
"Sure," Mabel says.
Secretly, she thinks MaryAnn is doing her dirty. She practically took the corn popper out of the hands of a heavy-set woman who was ready to buy it. From the looks of the woman, she could afford to pay full price, too, what with her spectator pumps and matching handbag.
Between customers, the two women carry a box of dishes outside.
"I've never seen so much junk," MaryAnn says.
"Keep it you might need it." Her father's words echo in Mabel's head as she puts out the china plates trimmed in pink roses.
MaryAnn wheels Donna Faye's old red bike out of the shed.
MaryAnn has a table set up for her knickknacks. She is rearranging them now, putting the coconut with the monkey's face out front.
Mabel has a clothesline strung from the shed to the house. On it she hangs some polyester pantsuits. She doesn't mind selling them cheap. She picks them up for next to nothing at Goodwill. She hangs other odds and ends on the line.
When Mabel walks over to help a fat woman in an orange muu muu, MaryAnn goes through the clothes on the line.
"Mabel Jenkins," MaryAnn squeals, "where did you get a coat like this?" MaryAnn holds a black velvet jacket and twirls around the yard with it. Her yellow skirt balloons out around her skinny legs, revealing a run in her panty hose. The jacket is the same ink-black as MaryAnn's hair.
"Give me that," Mabel says, jerking the coat from MaryAnn.
Mabel got the coat at the dump. But she isn't telling MaryAnn. She wants MaryAnn to think she bought it for some fancy doings. MaryAnn is forever bragging about wearing her sister's fox trimmed jacket to a gospel singing.
"I got a lot riding on this coat, honey," Mabel says, trying to ease the tension. "It's the nicest thing I got. It's marked $20. But I need $10. Think I can get it?"
MaryAnn is miffed. She ignores Mabel and goes about setting up another table. She hums as she arranges plastic Smurf glasses on the table.
Mabel goes inside to get another box. She thinks the house appears lighter and more airy. Soon all her things will be gone. Then she too will go. Every time she thinks of moving she gets a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. If only Donna Faye hadn't grown up to be so different. They might have been friends. But her daughter has married a doctor and fills her days with music and voice lessons.
Outside, Mabel goes through the cardboard box. She runs across a dozen baseball caps belonging to Spook Lanham. He was not Donna Faye's daddy, though he thought so when he married Mabel. Mabel thought so too.
Donna Faye has a high IQ. She didn't get it from Spook. Mabel figures she got it from the Bible salesman who slept on their sofa. This was during the time Mabel's mother went to the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church three nights a week and twice on Sunday.
Mabel was sixteen and didn't know what hit her. She blamed it on his good looks. And the way he talked. About them one day living near the ocean.
It wasn't long before they were riding out to Tucker's Creek in her mother's old Chevy and not getting home until daylight.
But Mabel came home one day and he was gone. She'd assumed when he moved on he'd take her with him. But it didn't work out that way. With the Bible salesman went Mabel's dream of ever seeing the ocean.
In the box, underneath Spook Lanham's hats, was the ring the Bible salesman gave Mabel all those years ago.
She sells the ring for a quarter to a pimply-faced kid. The same kid bought the caps, too, stacking them on his head at one time, reminding Mabel of a monkey she once saw on Captain Kangaroo.
Spook Lanham came into Mabel's life just as the Bible salesman was leaving. She took him out to Tucker's Creek in her mother's Chevy then she married him. Donna Faye was two when Spook got run over by a train.
Jackie Lee Jenkins, the third man in Mabel's life and the second one she married, was as good-looking as sin itself. He hung around long enough to seduce the wife of the choir director at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church.
From that marriage Mabel got her son, Jackie Lee Jr., and the house which I-64 will soon take.
"It's the devil in him," Granny Jenkins said. But she was proud as a peacock of Jackie Lee, Jr. He painted her VW candy apple red and wouldn't let her give him a dime for it.
"Nothing like his daddy," Granny said more times than once. She left the red VW to Mabel when she died. The car is still parked on the street where it's been since the funeral.
The garage sale is dead except for some neighborhood kids. Mabel goes into the basement and finds another box. She isn't sure what's in it. She sets it on the grass and lifts the dusty lid.
A leggy spider crawls out. Then Mabel lifts out an apple peeler and a paddle for a butter churn. She smiles. These are items she brought from her grandmother's farm. Something tells Mabel the items are money makers. She puts them on a separate table. She can't imagine putting a paddle for a butter churn next to a metal ice tray. She busies herself printing new signs.
Mabel hasn't seen hide nor hair of her children. She sees her daughter-in-law, Cindy Sue, drive by with the boys. She's glad she doesn't stop. Those demon-boys would destroy her garage sale in one swipe.
When the pick-up with the camper pulls into the yard, Mabel's giving change to the young woman who bought Donna Faye's bike. She gets light-headed thinking how quickly things are moving.
MaryAnn strikes up a conversation with the man in the truck. The women have learned that in order to sell stuff, you have to mix with the people.
The man doesn't ask for tools or lawn mowers. He goes straight to the clothesline.
"Do you have any clothes for a little girl," he asks.
"No," Mabel says, figuring he will leave. Instead he wants the history of each item.
"Whose shirt is this?"
"Where'd you wear this?"
Mabel, who is dusting a lamp nearby, answers his questions.
He inspects a wool pantsuit. "This new?"
"Yes," Mabel laughs. "It made me itch."
Mabel has never met a man like this one. She can't put her finger on what it is about him that sets him apart.
He picks out a blue silk dress for his sister and coveralls for his brother-in-law. He has kept a running conversation with Mabel, finally telling her he remembers her from school. He smiles and gathers up the Smurf glasses for his niece.
Maybe it's because he's so open that Mabel is drawn to him. Or maybe it's because he turns to her every little bit asking her advice. Then listens while she gives it. She vaguely remembers him from school.
He spends $20. He doesn't dicker as some people do. This pleases Mabel. He heads to the blue pick-up and puts his bags on the front seat. Then, he waves Mabel over to see his new camper.
Mabel looks around. There isn't a soul left. Even MaryAnn's gone home. Mabel steps up into the camper. Her feet sink into plush blue carpet. Even the seats of the dinette set are blue velvet. She thinks the camper must have cost a lot of money but Ralph seems like a regular guy.
"You won't believe this, " Ralph says. He has asked her to call him Ralph. She sits down across from him at the table. He has opened a Coke for her and a Little King for himself.
"You won't believe this," he says again, and then clears his throat. "I won the state lottery. For a million bucks." He laughs. "Now what does a guy like me do with a million bucks?"
Mabel isn't sure what to make of his story. She smiles, though, because she likes him.
"I don't even like money," Ralph says, seriously.
Mabel takes a sip of her Coke.
"I'm thinking of going out west." He clears his throat again and stares at Mabel.
She looks back at him.
"I'd like to take you with me."
Mabel sees herself in the mirror above the table and is pleased. Her brown hair, streaked with gray, is shiny. Her cheeks are pink.
"I'm serious, Mabel," Ralph says, "I've got to pack me up a few things. I'll come back and get you. What do you say?"
Mabel smiles and then promises to think about it.
Later, in her webbed lawn chair, she sits watching the dusk gather around her. She decides the garage sale has run its course. It is time to move on.
She will drive the leftover junk to the dump in Granny's VW. That will leave the house ready. For the bulldozers. For I-64.
She will not tell MaryAnn her plans. This gives her a good feeling. She hums to herself as she folds up her chair. She isn't scared anymore.
If Ralph comes back, she just might go with him. She'll send everyone a postcard. Maybe from a national park. Yellowstone. Or she'll send them a picture of a bear. Or of Old Faithful.
If Ralph doesn't come back, she'll gather up her life and get on with
things. She can always go back to the Holiday Inn. She might even move over there.
Or she might use her money to buy a pick-up. Or a van. She can travel. See things she's only dreamed about.
Yes. That's what she'll do. Buy herself a van. And head it south, down I-64, straight to the ocean.


  1. What a wonderful story. I love Mabel and the possibilities that exist for her at at time when life seems tired and dusty.

  2. thoroughly enjoyed the story! I can relate to having the interstate take her house. I-77 went through the foot of our hollow. My aunt and uncle had a beautiful house on a pretty piece of land and they had to move out.

  3. I know, Janet. And that's what this story stemmed from. I kept thinking, what is happening to the people who live in those houses that was in the path of the highway. Then my imagination took over from there. We should always ask ourselves - what if?


  4. Oh this was awesome! I loved the detail you added and I felt like I loved that woman:) Excellent!

  5. Hi Barb--I always loved this story, and every time we see signs for I-64 as we pass through Charleston, I think of it. Do you think Ralph comes back? Is he telling the truth about the million dollars? Or don't you know either?

  6. Of course Ralph comes back. He's a tried and true West Virginia, his word is like a contract. If she didn't go with him she struck out on her own, looking for a better life and I believe she finds it. So, go Mabel.

  7. Glad to hear that. I'm such a romantic I like everyone to find someone, so I think she goes with him and they have a ball.

  8. This is my first introduction to Mabel but you leave me wanting to hear more.

    wonderfully entertaining.

  9. Thanks to all who read this but it truly is the end of Mabel's story. It's hopeful and optimistic. I'd be afraid to tell anymore for fear her life might not end the way I think it will.
    Leave it to our imaginations.


  10. What a good story this is. I can just see Mary Ann rummaging through her stuff trying to find a deal. And you ended it with such promise. Good job.


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