Chuck Wendig is, among other things, dope on the floor and magic on the mic. His Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge this week involves a story about a flea market in some way, shape or form. This is mine, called "EBay from Hell".
He stopped. Again. That's how it was- stop, wait, look, think, then move on, walking a few more steps, then stopping, looking again. All the while, I waddled along behind him, feeling like a water buffalo among the cheetah.
I sighed and took a step back. Big as I was, there was no place left to stand where I wasn't in the way. I tried to stay out of the traffic flow, not blocking any of the other stands while not preventing people from streaming by on their way to somewhere else. We were at the Washington Township Flea Market, an event where they turn the parking lot of our minor league hockey team's home arena, every Saturday all summer, into a giant, open air, EBay From Hell. People were there selling everything you could imagine- bootleg t shirts, books, jewelry, computer software, lawn decorations, trading cards. My hips began to ache as I walked along one of the long aisles between stands. I craved the air conditioned cool of our apartment.
A number of food trucks had set themselves up here on the steamy blacktop, and one of them, a teriyaki stand, served enormous cups of iced tea with lemon slices. I eagerly bought one as soon as we entered the maze of card tables and tents, and, already feeling warm as the humid morning started to assert itself, I sucked on the straw greedily. I felt out of place and awkward. I hated being out, walking around and being sweaty, but I also felt an intense need to be wherever he was, too.
I came with him out of a panicky sense of time slipping away. Steven was bent low over a plastic carton, flipping through cardboard backed comic books with a practiced eye. He had told me, gripping the wheel tightly as he played "Led Zeppelin III" in our ancient Subaru on the way over, what he was looking for, but I had already forgotten. Whenever I told my girlfriends at work about any weekend plans, the older ones clucked softly, reminding me that days like this, just the two of us gallivanting around, would soon be a thing of the past. I missed this, this "us", even before it was gone.
"Need a chair, hon?" The voice was coming from behind me, female, but gravelly with years of smoking. I half turned. She had a tanned, leathery face, with a tattoo high on her right shoulder of a heart with a scroll of names underneath it. She was smiling guardedly. The table in front of her was covered with what looked like Christmas ornaments- snowflakes, angels, wrapped presents- made out of what looked like hardened cookie dough.
I blushed. "Me? Oh, no. No, no. No thank you." She had startled me a little, and I felt my heart thrum briefly.
"OK. Just ask if you need it," she added. A young girl stopped in front of her wares, eyeing the ornaments suspiciously. She ran off, flip flops slapping the ground, free to move on to another adventure. I envied her.
"First one?," she said, gesturing towards my belly.
"Yup," I said.
"Boyfriend?," she said, her hand pointing vaguely at Steven, who was studying a single issue intently. Looking for flaws, I knew, folds or rips or holes that would make it less valuable to collectors.
"Husband," I said firmly. Why was it people never assumed I was married?
"You're good to put up with this," she said. "Husbands are crazy."
"Well, we take turns," I said. "Tonight, he has to sit on the couch and watch a movie with me."
"That's the way to do it," she said. "Give and take. My Freddie and me always did that. He had his model trains, and I had my ornaments."
"You had kids?" I asked her.
"Six." I gasped, trying to imagine going through this one more time, never mind five.
"It gets easier," she said, chuckling. I found that hard to believe. "And Freddie helped me. And you learn it as you go, too. It's a gradual thing. You'll never be good at it, but you'll get better, if that makes any sense."
Steven had one book under his arm, and was pawing for another.
"Mind a little more free advice, doll?," she added.
I did mind, but I didn't know how to refuse.
"Don't take anything for granted. Anything. Even this, out in the hot sun, perspiring in that cute dress like you are. Don't take your man for granted. Not once. My Freddie's been gone 8 years now, and I miss him every damn day."
Steven paid for his purchase, then walked over to me, a quizzical look on his face. "You OK?"
He said that a lot. "Yes, fine. You done? Or do you need to look some more?"
"I'm done," he said. He took my hand.
"Good luck, hon," she said to me.
"Thanks," I told her. "You too."
"Oh, no, hon," she said, chuckling again. "It's you that needs the luck now."