“What the fuck is it?” Sandy asked, chewing her nails as she and Derek stood over a table at the same flea market they hit every other weekend. Her free hand on her hip, her baseball cap shielding her eyes from the sun, she still couldn’t make out exactly what she was looking at. Derek was playing with the sleeves hanging from the flannel over shirt she’d tied around her waist.
“I think it’s what we in the industry refer to as…’crap’,” he finally said, making her chuckle.
“It’s a loom,” the older woman coming out of the camper behind the table said, as she opened her lawn chair and took a seat, “It’s used to weave thread, make blankets, clothes, that kind of shit.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” Sandy said as she moved down the table, continuing to look at things while Derek stood over the loom, looking down, until he heard a lighter flick a few times and noticed the older woman trying to light her cigarette. She was maybe in her late 40s, and had curly blonde hair and oval glasses. She crossed her legs as she lifted the cigarette to her lips and took a long drag.
“So, what, you’re some sort of seamstress?” Derek asked and the woman laughed, shaking her head.
“Hand making clothes in this day and age? What’re you, stupid? No, this is just an amalgamation of my moms and grandmothers crap. You know how it is, you try and work for a number of years but that isn’t enough so now you try and sell the things you never wanted to sell because of the emotional attachment you’ve got to them since the people they belonged to are gone now, simply to make enough money to buy a frozen dinner because nothing in this country is cheap anymore,” the woman said and Derek nodded.
“I do indeed know how it is,” he said, “It’s ridiculous that people older than me have to live the same way that I do, or worse. At that age you should be at least semi well off enough to be able to take care of yourself and not worry, but no. It’s sick.”
“Is it hard?” Sandy asked, coming back and holding a ceramic pug in her hands, “Also how much is this?”
“That’s 2 bucks and the loom is 35,” the woman said, shrugging, “Can’t charge too much or you’re just as exorbitant as the people you’re badmouthing. You just can’t fuckin win anymore.”
“Is it hard? Ya know, to…to make clothes?” Sandy asked, “I teach ballet, and I’d like to maybe make some costumes by hand for some productions in the fall. Is it hard? Does it come with, like, an instruction manual or something?”
“Uh, ya know what, there might be actually, lemme go check,” the woman said, rising from her seat and heading back into the camper. Derek slid his hands into his pockets and rocked back and forth on his feet, glancing at the ceramic pug in Sandys hands.
“The fuck is that ugly thing?” he asked.
“Don’t talk that way about Maurice,” Sandy said, gently petting it, “He’s my child and I love him.”
“Here we go!” the woman said, hauling a small accordion container out of the camper, “I knew there were some instructions with it! God bless packrat grandmothers, am I right? Now I have tons of crap to haul around and sell only just enough of it at a price low enough to just break even on gas money.”
Derek watched Sandy pull out her wallet and start to pay the woman. Her teaching gig was paying pretty well these days, and Derek wasn’t doing too terribly himself, but their funds weren’t anything to be wowed by just yet, not even close. The woman, Pam, said she’d help them carry the loom to their car, since they had no other way to get it there and Sandy was already holding the ceramic pug. As Pam lifted the loom and the three of them headed off through the crowd of people, for the first time in a long time, things felt pretty okay.
“So, you two come here often?” Pam asked.
“Try to every other weekend,” Derek said, “We’re bleeding hearts for piles of junk.”
“It’s why we’re dating,” Sandy said, making Pam smile, “But yeah, we try to buy things on the cheap and even though you’re right, it’s not fair the markdown you have to give your own belongings just to try and survive, it’s still cheaper than a department store. Plus, I don’t know where the fuck I’m gonna find a loom without getting into a time machine and traveling back to Salem.”
Derek stopped, trying to remember if they were in fact going in the right direction to reach the car. Just then as they waited, Sandy felt a tug at her pants leg and turned to see a little girl, maybe seven years old in overalls with braided hair looking up at her. Derek and Pam continued to discuss the direction while Sandy knelt down to the girls eye level.
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Sandy asked.
“I need help,” the girl said, “You’re a girl, so I can trust you. I don’t know where my parents are.”
“Okay, uh…just hold on right here for a second, alright?” Sandy asked, standing back up and tapping Derek on the shoulder, then thumbed over her shoulder at the girl. Pam and Derek craned their necks over her shoulders and saw the little girl, both realizing what they were getting into. Finally, after a few moments of discussion, Sandy turned back around and knelt back down to the girl.
“Okay, I want you to take my hand and we’re going to walk around and see if we can find them, alright? Do you remember where you saw them last?” she asked, and the little girl nodded, smiling, making Sandy feel all the more maternal, “Alright then, take my hand and grip it firmly. We’ll find your parents, I promise.”
The four of them continued walking, now with a different goal besides the car in mind.
“There were lots of lamps,” the girl said, “They were looking at lamps, and there was an old guy with a hat, but it was wide, like my grandpa wears when he’s fishing.”
“Okay, that just about describes every single guy here,” Derek said, making Pam chuckle as she finally tossed her cigarette to the ground and stomped it out with her boot.
Sandy sighed and looked down at the girl. She looked remarkably like herself as a child, and it bothered her, but she wasn’t sure why. See, Sandy’s mother wouldn’t have ever let her out of her sight. Her mother was like a hawk, never letting Sandy do anything on her own, always planning her entire life to a tee; her outfits, her playdates, her meals. For a split second, Sandy wanted to take this girl and save her from this life, but then she quickly remembered that this girl wasn’t her.
Suddenly, in the midst of this crowd, Sandy realized she’d lost Derek and Pam, and she and the girl were alone in the middle of this entire flea market between everyone else. The girl was looking around, but Sandy’s eyes were glued to this girl. Sandy looked around for a moment, trying to see if she could see hide or hair of Derek or Pam, and when she looked back, she found herself staring this girl in the eyes, and the girl had her childhood face.
Sandy start to breath faster and faster. Her chest tightened, her fingers wrapped around the ceramic pug started to twinge. She was having an anxiety attack and Derek was nowhere to be found. Sandy fell to her knees, unable to look back up, unsure if she was scaring this little girl now, and then suddenly, she felt the girls little hand on her head. Sandy looked up and the girl was standing there, her face normal again.
“You seem scared,” she said, “I was scared, but you helped me, so I’m helping you. Don’t be scared, okay?”
And then Sandy felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up and saw a man in a suit looking down at her, trying to help her up. As she wobbled to her knees, the man held her by her shoulders and looked in her eyes firmly.
“Are you okay?” he asked, “Ma’am?”
“I…think so…yeah,” Sandy managed to whimper. She watched a woman approach the little girl and scoop her up, squeezing her tightly as the man smiled at Sandy.
“Thank goodness. We saw you with our daughter from across the crowd because you were on your knees and people were starting to stare. Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked again.
“I’m fine, yes,” Sandy said, “Are you-”
“Yeah, we’re Anna’s parents,” the man said, “I’m Arthur. Thank you so much for staying with her, I couldn’t imagine if somebody much worse had-”
“Sandy!” Derek said, finally reaching her and hugging her, kissing her cheeks, “Are you alright? What happened? I turned around and you were gone!”
“I’m okay…” Sandy said, “Can we just go please?”
“Yeah, yeah Pam helped me find the car, everything’s all loaded and everything,” Derek said. As he took her hand and started to leave, Sandy felt the man slip something into her hand. As she walked away with Derek, she looked back at Anna as she smiled and waved, being carried off in the opposite direction by her mother, and then her eyes wandered down to what Arthur had pushed into her hand. It was a business card. Arthur Portis, Psychologist. Once they’d said goodbye to Pam and paid her, Derek and Sandy got into their car and started on their way home. Halfway there, it began to rain. As Sandy rested her face against the window, watching the raindrops race one another down the glass, stroking the ceramic pug with her hands, she couldn’t get the girls face out of her mind, her own mothers voice running through her head.
“Sandy, do you wanna stop and get dinner on the way home?” Derek asked, “Oh, also, I texted Brittney and she said she has a ton of extra cloth and stuff for you, so…Sandy?”
Sandy was far away, remembering the afternoon she’d gone outside in her ballet slippers for only a split second to pet their neighbors dog, a pug, and before she knew it, her mothers hand was gripped around her wrist like shark teeth, her nails digging into Sandy’s soft skin, screaming at her for getting dirt and mud on her ballet slippers before recital. Because of this, she didn’t let Sandy go to practice recital, and instead Sandy sat upstairs in her bedroom, staring at her slippers hanging from the wall, caked with dirt, tears in her eyes and swore she’d one day succeed at dancing, simply so she could spite her mother, proving that no matter what she did to her, she’d never take dance away from her.
Sandy fell asleep before they got home. When she awoke, she found Derek had carried her inside, made her some tea and put her in bed. She was still hugging the ceramic pug to her chest. She cried, but only for a few minutes, and then she fell back asleep.
Sandy Price was in recovery, and it was slow and it was hard, but she knew in the end it’d be worth it, no matter what it took to get there.
I’m Maggie. If you like this thing I made, you might like some other things I make, like my depressing webcomic “In Space, No One Can Hear You Cry”, the satirical online newspaper of “Nowhere, US”, my podcast “Coping With Tonal Shifts In Reality” or my writing over at Medium.
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