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    Woman's Editor

    ESTATE SALE

    by Sorcha Blaine

    It was Ikea furniture - blonde wood with black trim. The dining table matched the desk which matched the bookshelves. I could see deep dents in the carpet where some furniture had stood. Other pieces were pushed to the middle of the room and tagged with the new owner's name, waiting like lost dogs at a city pound.

    I didn't say yet that it was a beautiful apartment. A brick wall with an arched window separated the kitchen from the living room. You could look through the window and keep track of what was on tv while you cooked, I thought. Put your casserole on one side while your friend picked it up on the other. I didn't say yet that the casserole dish was for sale. And a colander and a coffee grinder and five matching china cups.

    There were labels everyplace: "Towels $2. Washcloths $.50." Clothes hanging in the closet were individually priced with white tags on long strings. The clothes were contemporary and beautiful, for a woman my age. The woman who'd owned them was too young to have an estate sale; what was the real story here?

    I asked the man overseeing the sale what happened to her.

    "She passed away." Said quietly, so the other bargain-hunters in the apartment wouldn't hear.

    The funny thing about death is that it's catching. If you're around a dead person's things, if you touch their clothes, if you breathe their air, you'll die too. You'll die, too.

    I moved to the far end of the apartment where the three (sold) bookcases stood. I liked the bookcases. The books remaining in them were also for sale (Hardcovers $1, paperbacks $.50.) You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read. Maybe I could find out why she died. Maybe I could find out how to stay safe.

    The funny thing about books is that you can both have them and give them away. Once you've read them, they're yours. Given away, they're still yours. In buying her books, I thought, I wouldn't be taking that hadn't been freely offered. I would leave her life intact. I chose ten.

    (I didn't say yet that I already owned a lot of the books she had.)

    I paid for the books and walked out, struggling to hold them all. A woman opened the door to her apartment and smiled at me. "Are the bookcases still there?" She asked. I told her they'd been sold. She stepped into the hallway and locked her door. "What's left?"

    "Not very much." I watched as she headed down the hallway toward the apartment. "Do you know how she died?" I said.

    She looked over her shoulder, "Brain tumor."

    The books were getting heavy. I took them to my car.

    The funny thing about knowing the ending of a story is that, once you know it, you begin to look for patterns in what came before. So I look at the ten books beside me as I write this and I wonder if my random choices will tell me anything about her life. Certainly I see an arc of learning:

    O. Henry Winners - 1986 She discovered literature could surprise. Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald She learned to pay attention. The Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald She became curious about the process. The Feminine Mystique She turned to books for other answers. The Bible (A knife through my heart.)

    I also bought a five-volume set of classics printed in the 1920's, including Proust and Stendhal and Tolstoy.

    I didn't say yet that when I opened Anna Karenina, I expected to find my name.

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