Amongst the curved cutlery, puzzles missing pieces, and books with yellowed pages, a vase held a collection of costume jewelry. When the sun hit it just right, the glint seemed to capture the attention of every customer who entered the front lawn of the Church. Lou was no different.
Unable to ever resist a good sale, Lou turned off Route 11 as soon as he saw the posterboard scrawled in sharpie on the side of the road. The habit really seemed to annoy his wife, especially in moments like this. Whatever stew she was cooking up, large enough to feed an army, would be leaving the stove in twenty-five minutes, “Whether or not you’re there.” Lou did have a bit of a propensity for being late, it’s true. But at this point, the drive only had twenty minutes…
Lou was no different than all the other passersby, unwittingly buying the knickknacks heavy with stories from church ladies whose sweetened drawl masks the fact that any conversation lasting longer than five minutes would reveal a whole slew of sickeningly condescending remarks. So he too stopped at the vase.
It was objectively ugly. He wasn’t really one for taste, but this much he knew for sure. The shards of cheap ceramic, darkened and dusted with age, were pasted together somewhat haphazardly with what looked like paper maché. A summer camp arts and crafts project. And it only took half a glance to realize that as shiny as it was, the vase’s contents weren’t worth shit.
But still, he lingered. Some strange feeling of deja vu washed over him. Lou tensed his hands, untensed them, checked his watch…
“Um, excuse, excuse me, how much for the vase?”
“Mm, what is it that you want, hon?” Probably only a good five years and bottle of hair dye older than he was, Lou still viewed the woman behind the pricing table as a dinosaur, and her speed at this moment certainly wasn’t helping matters.
Five decibels louder, “The vase! Just on, uh, that back table over there, by the…. It’s filled with jewelry, something like it? That one.”
Her look was littered with doubt. So he paced back to the table, picked it up with a surprised grunt, and brought it back to her.
“The jewelry’s two apiece, I’m gonna need to count it for ya first.”
“No, no, I- how much for the vase?”
“Oh, no, hon, you don’t… it’s not for sale.” Lou paused here, and looked into the eyes of this woman, clouded over, just stiff enough to send shivers down his spine.
There was noise, it was loud. Lou knew in an instance not only what had gone wrong, but the fact that he would be to blame. He and his brother Joey were left in the care of the neighbor’s girl, Judy, while his parents were out at some luncheon or other. Judy was only thirteen, and he was honestly quite offended that they thought he and Joey, already nine, needed to be taken care of by her. He’d protest – he would! – if that didn’t mean they might drag him with them.
Judy and Joey were in the living room, and he was showing off his baseball card collection as if that is what would make her fall in love with him. He sat on the coffee table, swinging his legs back and forth with reckless abandon.
Lou watched the whole scene play out in slow motion from across the room, with a comic book laying limply in his lap. Judy’s eyes were just wide enough to reveal that any interest was feigned, until Joey, practically ready to leap across the table to grab his Casey Stengel, threw his shoulder into the giant bouquet of tulips their mother had just picked up yesterday. The angle was just right that the whole lot, flowers, water, vase and all, went flying before crashing down right at Lou’s feet.
Judy’s eyebrows flew to her hairline at twice the speed. “Oh, they are just going to kill me!”
Joey sprang up onto the table, seemingly in a state of shock.
Lou, despite now being the one doused in water, was the only one with any wits about him. “Get down from there, unless you want to break that too!” Joey did listen to that. “Now c’mon, I’m gonna change, you grab up all these pieces, Judy you go throw out the flowers.”
He and Joey spent the next two hours using a collection of glue sticks (too weak), marshmallow fluff (too messy), and ultimately the goop Lou had seen their Dad use to patch up the wall to stick the shards back together. They decided not to add more water, just in case, but after Judy had finished drying the carpet (throwing down towels, pushing down until they felt wet) she added the flowers back in.
Then after ten minutes, he heard the car pull into the driveway, and with a smug smile, Lou actually believed he might get away with it. That is, until…
“It was Louie!”
Lou, meeting her gaze, hoping to win some battle of wills, and instead caught something in the furrow of her brow that made everything click into place. “Do I, are you Annie? Annie May? We went to middle school together.” His breath caught for half a second. Even if it were – why on earth would he say that? He was in too deep. “I think… your sister, she used to babysit me and my brother? We lived next door, #26?”
“LOUIE!” And the face that had previously seemed so plastic broke out into a roar of laughter.
They didn’t have much to say to each other. She was older, old enough to have gone out with their parents while he, Joe, and Judy stayed home, and he had moved away by the time they’d have been old enough to have anything in common. But the recognition was nice.
They chatted and gave each other the highlights of their past fifty years before she taped the vase up in newspaper. “Y’know, this was Judy’s favorite. I think she got it from the tag sale and took it with her to every apartment. She loved you both, she really did.”
Lou wanted to ask, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it.
He went back to the car and after a call to his wife, punched in a number committed to memory but one he rarely remembered to use.
“Hey, Joe? Yeah, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? How are you? I’m, yeah, I’m glad. Anyways, uh, I know it’s pretty late notice, but how would you like to come over for dinner? I’ve got something to show you.”
Rachel Hendrickson ’25 is a staff writer