Celebrating the written word: Reader Fiction

Editor’s note: This is Banned Books Week. As censorship levels soar (see related story), this issue of 360 spotlights a handful of local writers, starting with the short fiction piece below, written by Diane Browne, of Clarkston. Book signing events for Weippe author Pam Britt and Lewiston historian Steven Branting also are in this issue, as is Sheila Petticord’s review of a new novel by Mary Clearman Blew. Blew is a professor emeritus at the University of Idaho and previously taught English at Lewis-Clark State College. Petticord, a former student of Blew’s, is a bookseller at Clarkston’s And Books, Too.



By Diane Browne

People notice me in my car sipping something from an insulated drink bottle and puffing smoke through the partially open driver-side window. Kind ones see me and smile, the more prescient cringe, but most ignore me which suits me just fine. I wear reflective sunglasses and carry an aluminum cane I don’t need for walking. You’d be hard-pressed to guess my hair color or whether I have any hair at all under the floppy hat I wear. A graying beard covers the rest of my face.

I have arrived at your yard sale and parked a house or two down the street since you’ve warned, in your ad, early birds pay double. Not that I’m prepared to buy anything. At the stroke of eight, your treasures are released for sale and I slide from the car. Cane in hand, I amble to your tables and piles of debris. I’ve learned the cane is good for making people keep their distance. It’s also perfect for poking at delicious things. For now, I hang the cane on the edge of your table and use both hands to fondle Grandma’s teapot and a fragile antique vase. It’s necessary that my hands are bare. Gloves dull the senses. These relics have been subject to soap and hot water, so I move on.

In olden days, I was a creature solely of the night, alone amid crowds of humans, awash in their emotions, their joys, their sweat and their pains. My nourishment came easily, delivered without their notice. No need for care or concealment then. Over the countless years there has come a change; I have less dread of day but find I am too visible. Weak morning light and conveniently displayed discards now satisfy my need.

Close by I see toys. They have been advertised as well-loved and, with a touch, I find this to be true. I hear giggling and sense the odor of a fresh-peeled orange, the essence of happiness. It surrounds each plaything. I breathe deeply of a child’s joy. It does not last long. Near the toys I see an apron. I poke it with my cane. I get whiffs of bitter coffee dregs and a deeply unhappy face, resentment. I lay my hand atop the fabric and my heart beats a little faster. But no, not resentment. Not bitter, but burnt. It is hate. Easy to mistake. The apron is saturated; a rich find I let rush through my veins, careful my face does not reveal the dark energy I absorb. As with the toys, it is fleeting.

A heap of dusty garden tools are behind me; I limp my way to them, supported unnecessarily by my cane. I see you watching now, fearing I’ll fall in your yard and force you to test how comprehensive your homeowner insurance is. I smile and nod, reassuring you I’m fine. I turn away to see, in the dirt that encrusts the shovel and the feel of the greasy handle, a kindly sun-darkened face and the earthen smell of hope and promise. So refreshing. I soak it in.

The breeze has changed direction. Floating on it, enticing and mysterious, is a musty cloud. It’s then I spy suitcases. I don’t have long now. The sun is rising higher in the sky, and I must move. I see you are still watching, so I lean on my cane, remembering to amble and limp. So very difficult, when my time is short, to pretend indifference. I’ve hardly had my fill today.

Valises, backpacks, suitcases, carry-ons, messenger bags spill out of an old steamer trunk, all of varying ages and stages of wear. My naked fingers grasp handles, slide through pockets, flip open clasps, pinch zipper pulls. A cascade of faces plays across my mind and I taste anxiety, anticipation, fear, longing, sadness, surprise. So many flavors. Again, I control my face as I allow the longing and dreams and disappointments to wash over me. I stand straighter now and there is new strength in my breath. For today, it is enough. My hands burn in the sun.

For your benefit, I sigh and shrug as if disappointed. I limp my way back to the rusty red car, open the squeaky door and toss the cane inside before I hoist my bulk into the seat and depart.

Next weekend a multifamily yard sale. I hope it doesn’t rain.

Diane Browne is retired, lives in Clarkston and is a member of Confluence Writers. She has never been entirely comfortable hosting a yard sale. She can be reached at dlbrowne857@gmail.com.