Ali was back in Portland to host this last Mini Sledgehammer before this year’s main event, and it was a blast! The prompts reflect how much Ali missed Portland, and the stories were all incredible. Daniel, as last month’s winner and this month’s guest judge, and Ali both loved how the winning story worked in a fresh interpretation of what thrift stores sell. Congratulations, Peter!
Character: A gardener
Setting: A thrift store
Phrase: “The mountain is out.”
by Peter D’Auria
This thrift store is different. And yet there is no sign indicating this. It stocks a wide variety of vintage clothes, obsolete electronics, and out-of-print books. Yet there is no sales staff to inform you of this. Because, despite this very respectable inventory (Leonard and I once found a near-mint condition copy of Bat Out of Hell with not a scratch on it, which we still listen to about twice a week), this thrift shop specializes in a different sort of used product: Used-To’s.
Yes, once a month the thrift shop will hang a faded flag with a picture of Mt. Fuji outside its window—“The mountain is out,” Leonard will say over the phone—and we will sprint down to the shop. There is a room in the back filled with Used-To’s, each one labeled and bottled carefully: Used-to-date. Used-to-go-to-the-zoo. Used-to-live-across-the-street. “I wonder how they get them into bottles,” Leonard says, and I tell him I don’t know. When we ask the owner how he gets them, he just gets angry. “They are used-to’s,” he says. “People do not use them anymore. Why shouldn’t I have them. Are you going to buy something or what?” And we do, we buy as many bottles as we can, and then we go sit in Leonard’s garden and drink them. It is, Leonard remarks, a kind of recycling.
Sometimes they are sad. Last month I drank a particularly poignant Used-to-love-me and I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. Sometimes they’re beautiful. Used-to-go-to-the-beach’s are always wonderful. They have a glow about them. Sometimes they’re just weird. Yesterday the flag was out, and that afternoon, as we sat under his pear tree, Leonard looked up after his first sip from a bottle and said “This is one of mine.” I asked him what it was. “It’s about my mom,” he said. “When I was little she used to take me down to her garden. I used to help her pick string beans and pull weeds and stuff.” Leonard’s mother had passed away just last year. “Can I have a taste?” I asked him and he shook his head and said, “I don’t think so.”
I went back to my Used-to-have-this-cat and Leonard finished the bottle. We sat for a minute and then Leonard went inside. I looked around at Leonard’s own garden—his tomatoes in rows, raspberries on strung wire, and the thought struck me that someday this moment itself would be labeled and bottled, sitting in a backroom filled with old friends and lovers and dead pets.
© 2013 Peter D’Auria