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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dante's Inferno

It’s warming up to a perfect 72 degrees. I open my windows to coax one of the last truly beautiful autumn days into my home and hear something indistinguishable over a loud speaker, check? Test? Something is going on.

An auction, my neighbors’ house. Through the trees I can make out items being arranged. I’ve never met them. Are they moving? Did they die?

Glassware, linens, artwork and furniture lay sprawled over wagons and grass.

“Did you know her?” a stranger asks
“No I didn’t” I reply somewhat embarrassed
“I guess she lived alone” the stranger offers

So she died. I can’t help but wonder if I missed something. I begin to search for things I hope not to find, evidence that we might have been friends.

The first few tables are safe. Porcelain horses and mass produced dinnerware. Rounding a corner, a loud flowered chair assaults my senses. Must have been a collector. Massive amounts of stamps and coins are neatly displayed under glass. I remember the last time I thought I might like to collect something, I was 12.

It’s clear that she was not a young woman. American flags with varying numbers of stars and old NRA posters line another table. Fabric and clothing circa 1930 fill box upon box on the ground.

And then I see it; Dante’s Inferno, 1880 folio alongside a vintage Tennyson. Gustave Dore’s beautifully illustrated pages draw me in. A look to my left reveals hundreds more. Classic literature, gardening manuals and cookbooks quickly expose at least three commonalities between this woman and myself.

I will bid on the folio.

I patiently wait as item after item is sold. I am drawn into conversations. These are my neighbors. A teacher, a bicycle enthusiast, a gossip, a city official. I hand out my business card and discuss how I can become more involved in my community. I need to redeem myself.

The flowered chair sells for $5 after a little coaxing.

I ease through the crowd as the auctioneer moves closer to my book. Children walk by with hotdogs and I realize I haven’t eaten. I cease making eye contact with anyone who might speak to me, bid against me. Bees attracted by sugary sodas hover over the crowd and I begin to feel the nervous excitement of a live auction. I have never done this before.

I curl and uncurl my bidders’ card anxiously. 71, 71, 71, I repeat to myself. I don’t need to remember, it’s written on the card. Why am I trying to remember? My heart skips a beat as they raise my book in the air and announce they have an absentee bid. I decide on $100 max., maybe $125.

“$25? 25 dollars where?” the auctioneer bellows
I raise my card, he’s seen it.

The call for $30 brings another bidder from behind me. I won’t look back, afraid I will recognize my opponent and feel the need to relinquish the prize to a new aquaintenance.

I quickly run through possibilities of who the other bidder might be as the auctioneer again looks to me,


I raise my card and nod.

Back to my adversary at $40:


Back to me:


I nod again and this time, a pause,

“50? 50? 50 dollars where?” the auctioneer yells in sing-song. He is searching now, clearly having lost the other bidder.

And with that, it’s mine. Could it have been that easy?

“$45 to…what’s your number” he asks

I turn my card over to look, why? I know this, 71.

I wade through the crowd clutching my book, searching for the look of disappointment on my adversary’s face, nothing. I pause on the outskirts of the crowd to revel in my victory. I’m admiring the well worn cover of the Inferno when I hear a voice,

“Congratulations on your purchase” a white haired man of about seventy, camera 'round his neck says in a British accent
“Do you enjoy art?”
“Yes, I do. Painting, Photography, Literature…” I respond
“Well, that’s all we really have isn’t it?” he says

I had noticed this man wandering through the crowd as I waited. Noted his camera, kicked myself for not having grabbed mine. I racked my brain for something else to say, I felt the need to make a connection.

“So, you’re local?” I blurted out

How could I have said that?

“Clearly not” he responded smiling

“Right, I mean, now” I said trying to recover

“Well, now yes, but I’d rather be in Paris this time of year.”

I commented that “Yes, it would be nice, although I’d never been”, as he continued his story of his travels with the airlines.

“I’ve been all over the world, well almost. There are a few places I would still like to see” he offered “But there is still time”

“Yes”, I agreed, “there was.”

Having said all he came to say, he nodded in agreement, smiled and walked away.


Julia said...

Wonderful writing. Very clean, and very bright. I hope you enjoy your new folio (:

Thanks for the comment on my blog by the way.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Score!

Whitenoise said...

Interesting blog, thanks for sharing.

The Prickly Press said...

Thanks all.

Leendaluu said...

that is a coup. Congratulations and I'm jealous.

It is a pleasure to meet you!


Anonymous said...

Amazing treasure story! Well written, clean and heartfelt. Thanks for sharing.