The Flea Market
Fran searches for something through the twisting of her mind in a powerful pull for a secret object. A slow mystery with sci-fi undertones- an ending that is another beginning.
The Flea Market
“Yes, yes of course. I understand. Yes, please let me know when you get any in. I’ll take any stock you have. Bye now.”
The receiver goes dead but Fran does not remove it from where it is tucked beneath her chin. A dim sheen of light from the wetness of her eyes and her mouth, a face begins to take shape in the muted softness of the lightless room. A digital alarm clock’s glow is enough to set the features and shape of her there, sitting in that low chair.
Weariness reads in the lines of her face, the corners of her mouth, so set in that dimness. She brings a cool hand to her cheek as if to soothe. She called that place across the country as soon as they opened, hoping they would have something in she could order after a week without a call back.
Frans’ age is indeterminate. Occupying that span of 30 years or so where she is neither young or old. Her skin seems dry and taught in this light pulled across a knitted brow, creases in the usual places. There is nothing special about the way she looks at all. Standard issue human. No real defining features, just… human. Or enough as to what passes.
The handset is placed down on the receiver with a controlled and quiet click. Slow and measured to make as little noise as possible, just like when she was a teenager and would hide her unlawful phone use from her family when she whispered and listened late into the night. This habit never left, this desire to be unnoticed, to go without being seen. Even in her own home she hides from herself, wincing at loud noises she makes carelessly. Her eyes look out into the middle distance, wet shining in the dark. It is very early, but it is that special earliness that could also be very late. Fran remembers exciting trips to the airport in the dark of a taxi, heart thudding in anticipation of flight and adventure and awayness. That sort of thing doesn’t matter now though, pushing the memory far. With the phone safely back in its cradle, her head comes to rest in that cool hand again. Seated in the deep and somewhat fusty armchair in the dark, a surprising wave of drowsiness overtakes her in and her head suddenly lolls forward.
Shadows change as time tiptoes in the silence.
She jerks and startles herself awake. Somehow it is hours that have passed, and the dawn has pried the heavy cloak of darkness away from the hidden figures in the small room. In the greyness her face is pale like a waning moon, and the space around that floating moon reveals itself. Here, a dresser appears. There, a table. A lamp. A bed. Shelves, a small rug. Nothing special; nothing out of the ordinary.
But all around in this nothing space as the eyes adjust: a glittering refraction of the weak light. Objects of every size, shape and texture emerge winking with their odd shadows in the quiet that is this particular Sunday morning. Every possible surface and space are covered by what appears to be glass.
Verdant green in every shade imaginable; a forest canopy through every season. Cups, bottles, plates, decanters, figurines, trinkets, shards, marbles, ornaments, soap dishes: every conceivable form of brickabrack is teeming forth and threatening emptiness with occupation. Half of the bed is covered- no, more than half. Only enough room for a sliver of a person to lay coffin still atop the covers. Fran has not slept in that bed in a long time. The old chair does fine when sleep finally claims her. Her eyes refocus from where they were blindly open in the direction her head has chosen. Sometimes it feels like her eyes don't as so much look as feel anymore. Looking implies a kind of thought process, a computation and comprehension that is lost and being lost still. They are sensory nodes, compact insect eyes, the ampullae of a shark. It makes them hurt, this way that they are. She feels their roundness in her skull and imagines two moulding satsumas throbbing in decay. Here, a bolt of concern flashes through her, a remnant of an older self.
The words, something is not right here, accompany a peak of anxiety as they flash like neon skywriting through her minds eye. The thought-feelings are quashed with deft experience as she reminds herself of the critical work at stake. Her gaze falls to the bed now, which is primly made but lopsided in its sagging weight of clutter, humiliated by another night of infidelity.
More time passes in the stillness as she waits for the right signs.
The household above her flat is now making the sounds of morning family life. She hears the shuffling footsteps to the bathroom, the toilet flush, the kitchen. Sharper, quicker steps of children moving through the flat. These sounds mean that it is acceptable for her to be awake. These sounds mean that it is expected that she show signs of movement too. Her stiff posture of sleep-sitting is now broken by an abrupt rise to her feet. After hours seated her muscles do not like this very much, but she enjoys the feelings of strain as she vaults into the day. Excitement, or something neighbouring, stirs her gut.
Today is Sunday.
Today is the day the Flea Market is open.
She walks about the house, taking care of the mundanities of body ownership and the appearance of membership in good society. Washing, feeding, dressing. Fran takes her time about it all, pausing to sip her coffee like she has seen in commercials on tv, so that she doesn't rush and get there before it opens (like she has done too many times before, and the anguish of waiting in her parked car is a frustration she would rather not face). In the kitchenette the cobbled carpet of green marches on, blanketing all surfaces. There is a skirting of bottles that run like a baseboard train-track flowing from room to room, narrowing the small opening to the kitchenette further. Cupboards seem to droop forward with the immense weight of the green crockery within. Enough plates for 100 to eat in a space that could barely fit two, studio-cum-bachelor-suite that this glass enshrouded tomb really is.
And while such a strange sight could easily inspire delight, curiosity, fear, or wonder: Fran sees nothing, and feels less. Her eyes close an invisible lid, like a cats haw, with an unheard snick these lenses block out the fantastic sight of a space so filled with treasure. Each of these items is a missed opportunity: a failed attempt. A physical representation of her wrongness. And out of sight, hidden in closets and under the bed and in boxes are thousands of broken objects: things she has smashed to smithereens, to dust, to fine tinkling glitter that abraded her skin and lungs. This is what happens when her faith fails her.
Walking home one day and cutting though the alley behind her building she caught sight of a roughly baseball-bat-length 2x4 left by the garbages, and without word-thoughts or hesitation at all she soon felt the roughness of the wood, splintering in her hand as she swung wildly around the apartment, saliva and tears wetting her twisted face of forgettable features. She swung so hard that blisters formed and burst in that spree of abandonment from sense, and when it was all done, and her breast heaved in ragged sobs, she realized what she had done.
Waves of cold terror sloshed over her body and bile rose somewhere below her teeth. The same magnitude of desperation and powerful strength which wielded the alley-bat now powered a single missive to fix the broken. To justify the transformed state of the holy relics to a breathable dust. A small voice inside of Fran declared that if she were to gather the remnants together, to keep them, technically they would still be together. As in, occupying the same space, even in a profoundly altered shape. The displacement of matter would be the same. This would still count.
This is the voice she chose to believe when she bagged and boxed and swept and wiped the various shards into hiding. Into safekeeping. She still had them, could still touch them. Her punishment was the raking bloody cough and aching hands filled with microscopic daggers that even now sometimes pinched, surprising her with a physical reminder of her faithlessness. Since that day she has not let any back-minded ideas shake her faith that this is the way she must go. She has doubled her efforts and spread the net wider.
All this and more passes inside her mind in the few moments with the coffee poised at her lips, ready to sip. To be seen sipping. This memory reel does not play often, it is too distressing to Fran, and can raise fears about the smashed corpses hidden away. To her delight, eyes flicking to the clock on the stove, it is now much later than she expected, and well within the bounds of being acceptable to turn up at the flea market. Chest tightening she controls her breathing and mechanically erects herself from the chair at the table. She is a tensed coil, a naughty child willing herself to behave. She finds her shoes, jacket, small purse.
She reaches into the jacket pocket and feels the worn plastic sandwich bag with a small piece of paper inside. She does need to see it: just touch it to feel its magic. The baggy is soft from being rumpled in pockets of many kinds, but she always makes sure it is the only thing in the one pocket of whichever thing she decides to wear. It never goes in a handbag or purse, or any other place where she couldn't reach in and grab it on its own in a split second. The paper must be accessible in an instant, like a low slung gun holster at a fight at high noon. She must be ready for trouble.
Suited up, she exits the apartment, greenness gaily waving goodbye as she closes the door silently: holding the handle open until the cheap door swings closed, no sound of the latch catching as she silently turns the key, holding all other keys in her fist so no jangling in the hallway. No jangling of her nerves. She pads soundlessly down the hallway which smells like all foods cooked at once, almost always. This morning, as a Sunday, the smell of breakfast pork is especially pervasive. She wrinkles her nose and tightens her lips against the onslaught of odours and the idea of people behind the doors in their little boxes living their little pork scented mornings comes to her. These thoughts jar her, these tableaus of life she sometimes imagines or bears witness to. Quickly and away from the porkness she makes her way out through the pouring rain to her little car parked on the street in front of building, relief flooding her as she slams the door. She touches her right pocket again and feels there the paper in its plastic protector. A weak but audible wrinkle sounds from somewhere near her hip and she is steadied again. Wringing her hands on the steering wheel she feels the strength of her arms as something like hopefulness fills her with a firecracker like sensation. A lifting. A lightness. She pulls away from the curb with a braying of the old engine and starts the drive to the flea market.
While her body does the driving, or rather, some part of her mind that is independent of the clamouring voices that congregate behind her eyes, Fran drifts into a third place. This is a place of calmness, that only is reached while her body is occupied and a special part of her mind is free to wander. Here she sits and watches the world go by, hearing the mess of thoughts at the forefront, yet feeling the accelerator beneath her foot, then the brake, the smooth wheel in her hands. A passenger within, she views these experiences with detachment and consideration. Here, this third, small Fran also touches her tiny pocket for the barely audible wrinkle, the occupation of its special space and thus safety. Tiny Fran sighs into her tiny hand.
how many times is it? how many times more will it be?
There are dark circles around this Frans eyes, or so she imagines looking inward as the fractured selves continue. This Fran knows that they cant keep this up. This Fran, whose voice is stuffed down and spoken over wants to give way to the sense of defeat which parades past with black banners and wilting, faceless penitents. She is tiny; a pebble at the bottom of a well, voice echoing into nothing as she shouts to the pinpoint of light above. She just wants to release the last speck of hope which powers her with the efficiency and vulgar vigor of a split atom. This nuclear reactor, internal engine, hot, hotter, still burns her out from within, with hope and the white heat of expectancy.
Inwardly, she touches that pocket again.
The passengers shoulders shrug, minuscule movements at the bottom of the well.
we will see what we find today
As the fractured selves realign there is a sense of coming to as Fran slides into herselves like a set of matryoshka dolls. The last enclosing shell a carapace uniting split faces and voices. The Frans approach a corner and look left, then right, signalling to make the turn.
There, at the end some few blocks up, is the Flea Market.
Something akin to the sound of an empty beer can being crushed in your fist happens inside Frans chest, her stomach catching hang time as it does a full rotation, squelching itself back on top of lesser organs. The wheel feels slick beneath her white fingers, grasped tightly for fear of loss of control ( an accident this close to her destination would be unthinkable. A fatality would be preferable).
The long, kidney-bean coloured warehouse grows larger as she speeds towards a parking spot. It is right underneath a rail track, crumbling ancient asphalt anointing the feet of its piss and graffiti covered walls. The left corner, towards the alley behind, has a particular section just out of sight that from roughly dick-height down was all peeling paint and yellow stains. Some scrubby tufts of grass have made their stake around the front door, with a healthy peppering of cigarette butts crowning the dandelions. Two beaten metal doors and a trashcan are all that denote an entrance. There are a few cars here in the gravel lot: vendors mostly, as she recognizes some of them from the times she has seen them before or after the market. In some of her more frenzied states, Fran has approached some of them before, asking to look through their stuff before the market opens. Standing on tiptoes to peer beyond the flesh walls to the rubbermaids and boxes filled with loot, wringing her moist hands, she must have looked like a junkie. Chewing her lip like beef jerky and aggressively asking to rummage through the contents of strangers cars at eight am on a Sunday surely coveys her stability and innocuous nature. A few of the newer vendors were agog, and professionally declined such a bold lack of respect for the rules.
Also they were scared of her.
Not all of them were so easily shaken however.
The first time Fran saw Big Mike it was one of those terrible mornings where she had arrived too early and was caged in her tiny red civic, eyes darting to any movement in the still dark parking lot. It was mid winter, so sunrise didn't really begin until 8 am anyways, and it was there sitting at 7:15 with the car running, that Fran saw an old teal Chevy Blazer pull up. The wheel wells were rusted out, and from within her little bubble of warmth she could hear the whine of a timing belt in the cool moisture of that morning. Once the chevy was parked, the brake lights illuminated half of the lot in bleached red. Long fuzzy shadows were cast from small rocks and debris littering the ground, and the exhaust rose in puffs from the pipe. The engine clunked off with a last hollow gasp and the needling whine of the timing belt withered with it too. The drivers door swung wide and an enormous man unfurled from the now vastly inappropriately sized cab of the truck. It looked like he must have been nearly folded in half to have driven at all. Atop his lofty crown sat a rumpled bucket hat. It was hard to notice anything else beyond his size at this distance and difficult lighting. Briefly Fran imagined a Sasquatch lumbering through city life, attending flea markets and donning fishing gear, just trying to fit in. The man loped to the back of the truck, undoing the hatch to reveal a cavity filled with boxes, crates and bags: all spilling forth or bursting with potential.
Frans eyelids parted so swiftly she felt she may have torn them slightly. Her heat rate jumped and without a thought her hands were scrabbling against the handle to get out, spilling hot coffee down her hands as she floundered. Barely closing the door in her haste, her breath streaming in wide plumes behind her as she quickly crunched her way across the lot to where the giant man was bent headlong into the back of the truck. She had counted on the sound of her footsteps in the gravelly lot to have alerted the giant to her presence, so he would extract himself from the vehicle, but upon her arrival at the teal rust bucket, no significant moves or changes had been made to the rear ends placement. She halted awkwardly, kicking a few pebbles into the back tire with her hard braking. Mouth opening and closing a few times, she stared at the placid lower half while words rushed to meet her mouth which moved slow in the cold air.
“H-hello!” She finally stammered. Her heart was very busy rattling her ribs, her eyes rolling at her own ineptitude.
“Hang on just a second,” a muffled voice said from somewhere near the centre of the vehicle, “ just trying to find somethin’”
Fran rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, holding her arms behind her back to keep them still as her breath clouded around her head like a halo. She eyed the detritus around the halved body, eyes flitting from box to box with a greediness she would have been grateful was hidden by half-light. Slowly, the top half extricated itself from the length of the vehicle, and the sizeable torso teetered before her on two small tree trunks for legs. She looked up to meet the giants gaze, and saw there a broad smile with grey whiskers surrounding, eyes set deep into place with the lines and folds of a life lived at work. Looking directly into Fran it seemed to her, he loudly spoke,
“Hi, I’m Mike,”
“ …but you can call me Big Mike.” He trailed off wryly, a pot-lid sized hand gestured vaguely to his person.
Utterly disarmed, Fran stood agape and she paused for a fraction too long, and to her own horror, stuck out a clammy hand to shake. Most people when meeting her in a darkened parking lot, see a hollow eyed junkie and reflexively pull away, find a way to leave and decline her advances. Mike taking the first step of civil introductions completely wiped any hastily prepared human sentences from her mind, and so her hand swung forth as a buffer while her brain recalculated any acceptable assemblage of a language she had clearly forgotten.
“I’m Frances” she managed nervously, “but most people call me Fran.”
This of course was a complete fabrication, a complimentary lie to seem as alike to this giant as she could. A tactic. Anyone who knew her wished they didnt, and certainly no one was close enough to even think about shortening her already brief name. Mike guffawed to himself and swung around his massive paw to clasp her now rather small one. His hand was warm and dry, she could feel callouses under her grip.
“Well Fran, nice to meet you,” still smiling, he puts both massive hands into his pockets, “You're awfully early, do you need help with anything? You here for the market?”
Terrified, Fran considered this query.
Weight shifting from foot to foot again, Fran spoke truthfully even though she could not meet Big Mikes eye,
”Uh, I was kind of hoping to catch some of the vendors early… To see if any of them would let me look through their stuff before they set up.”
She looked up briefly to find Big Mikes face placid and blank, waiting for more.
“You’re the first person here… besides me I mean. I have money!” She added hastily, acutely aware of how this could seem, “I’m looking for something really important… and I don't want someone to find it before I do. So.. Would it be ok if I took a look…? I can help you bring it in or put it away after…” The last words fell away from her as she lost steam. She had never gotten this far with anyone before, and her body was turning leaden with shame. Rarely did a situation appear where through another eyes she could see exactly what she looked like, how her small strange life might appear. It was at moments like this she felt she might have the strength to walk away from herself, back to something else, something less green. She grew small within herself and her destiny felt impossibly far. A moment passed between them where she could almost hear Mike’s brain weighing and assessing. His old eyes fell to hers in a critical gaze, and before she could blurt an apology or retreat to the safety of her little red cage across the lot he said quickly
“Sure - but you gotta carry the big boxes for me after. Bendin’ that low isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be but I’ll be damned if I use a dolly like those really old guys”
He finished this by throwing a thumb over his shoulder to the still empty lot.
She went through everything he had brought with an efficient voracity that stunned even herself, and did find one thing: a small ashtray that was almost a deep olive colour, probably early 70’s. She ran her probing fingers over the edges, curves and ripples, the dips for resting ones cigarette. She retreated inwards and with eyes closed tried to touch a sense beyond her human limitations.
What about this…?
She spoke into the dark of herself.
A nothingness roared back at her like always, the sound of motes of dust catching the light in an empty room, the sound of the crinkling in the pocket of the winter coat she was wearing.
She took the ashtray anyways.
That day Mike introduced her to a few of the regulars: Leonard and Lawrence, Stacy, Mr. Kim, Terry, the concession guys. They were the bouquet of human undergrowth that fills the cracks of this world. They came to know her, or know of her, and relaxed around her and looked past her weirdness. For Mike’s sake or for hers, they tolerated her and even treated her with kindness sometimes. If they found anything like what she was searching for they would hang on to it, put it below the ancient beaten rental tables and away from others eyes. It was the first time in her long years of searching that she felt less alone. A few times someone would ask why she was looking for what she was looking for: was it hobby, obsession, collection or art? She gave vague responses and withdrew within, looking only with her hands, her head the resting place for her eyes which remained downward like the curve of her mouth.
This morning was no different, she thought as she approached the banged up metal doors of the entrance. Coming through the ticket counter ( “2 bucks Frannie, thanks and good luck!”). There was nothing special about the look of the large room with its rows of stalls and tables laid out like a hundred patchwork quilts. She was later than she usually was, there were a few treasure-seekers milling about already, she spied a bag in one of their hands and her heart lept in fear until she came close enough to see a stack of comic books in the bag and nothing of interest to her and her tastes. You could find anything here- hide anything here too. It always amazed her what vendors chose to display to reel people into to their tables, what special items were more quietly revealed once they had their attention. The predation and hawking was a marvel, and she relished the drama of it all. It was a distraction from the hurried race to see everything before anyone else did. There was a franticness to the way she felt drawn around the room. Her eyes speed-reading the tables for the telltale signs she knew so well. Those compound eyes, her ampullae, made their way around the room: sensing, seeking, hunting. Even at the speed she went examining every inch of every display, it was still a thorough search and took time, and often conversations with the purveyors proved necessary to really find assurance that what she was after was really not there.
This was proving to be one of those times when one of those conversations were needed, as she found herself face to face with the squat, stinking man she simply called the bastard. She had spied some unopened boxes, clearly yet to have been sorted for sale, and her senses had zero’d in on them immediately. Unfortunately they had been at the back of the bastards stall, and he most likely wasn't going to make it easy.
“I ain’t got none of that I’m afraid! I know my wares! Those boxes don’t have anything you're after, I can guar-an-tee it.” His arms folded tightly across his grubby little chest to signify the end of the debate, glancing down at her breasts unabashedly for good measure. Fran took this as an in and leaned forward slightly, conspiratorially lowering her voice and saying, “I can give you 20 dollars just to look… I know you haven't priced it all yet, but what I’m after special.” If there were a way for a voice to wink, Fran would have executed it awkwardly but effectively. Unsure if it was her breasts or the box she was speaking of looking at, the Bastard trundled away and returned with one of the three. Holding it behind his back he thrust a meaty hand forward first, “Pay up! And you only get one.”
Irritated but satisfied, Fran stuffed a 20 dollar bill in his hand and took the box over to the corner of the table where she could go through the contents more privately. The Bastard glowered at her over his fleshy jowls and glanced several more times at her chest before turning away to some other business. It didn’t matter, Fran was elbow deep in the decaying cardboard, pulling each item out one by one and inspecting them under the fluorescent lights of the warehouse.
She could feel the bottom of the box scrape against her fingers as she groped for the last dregs. Her fingers ricocheted off something tin and square. She pulled it out and saw that it was a little tin photo box, weathered with a print of some ridiculous landscape. With some effort she pried it open, it was partially rusted shut, and nearly ejected its contents as it burst apart. Under the fluorescent lights in her shining eyes, you could see if you were standing close enough the reflection of something green, there, mirrored in her unremarkable face.
Much later that day, after the torrential rainfall had ended, the weak sun made a brief appearance and a grand showing of a riotous sunset before descending into the darkness of night.
The little red car still sat in the gravelly parking lot, droplets clinging to it in a dewy coat.
Frans home was as quiet as ever, those lonesome objects shining bravely for no one to see.
The next week Big Mike pulled up in his truck, early as ever, and spotted Frans little car. Grinning, he loped over, and was somewhat stymied to see that it was empty, a fanning of tickets flapped from under the wipers. Frowning, he leaned in, cupping his eyes against the glass.
There, on the passengers seat was Frans coat, and a small plastic baggy with a crumbling paper unfolded on top. Mike squinted into the darkness, eyes adjusting and realizing the paper had words scrawled on it.
Find the green glass. Then we will find you.
Perplexed, Mike turned back, uneasiness pitting his stomach. By end of the day the car had been towed, and Mike had forgotten the disturbance of it all. As the years passed, sometimes Mike would get a funny feeling, like deja vu, or a blank space when he would see something made of green glass; but he could never remember why.
About the author
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions