Prove your humanity

“How much for the wooden leg?” asks the man in the bright green floral print shirt.

Empty-nesters, bargain hunters, downsizers, upsizers, the intrigued, the bored, the gregarious, the lonely, and Marie Kondo’s disciples ridding themselves of that which no longer brings joy are all assembled here in Melville Markets.

Our clothes, books and soft furnishings sit atop a blue tarp positioned between parking bay white lines. Like brackets, everything between the white lines must be treated separately from the rest of our lives. The emerald bamboo ladder once wed to the Devil’s Ivy that hung from the bookcase and wound its way through the rungs; the parrot print cushions that spent too many summers on the balcony and have lost their lustre, and other deadwood has been pruned to make way for new growth. I could load it all back into the car, drive home and be back in bed before the sun comes up. When I wake, I might even imagine it was just a dream, but it’s too late for that. Besides, we’re trapped in this labyrinth until 10am the sun is only beginning to climb.

Two weeks ago, I signed sentimentality’s death warrant with a begrudging “Okay, I’ll go,” which set me on this course. This parking bay is now sentimentality’s funeral pyre or the stage of practicality’s coronation depending on your perspective. I’m told I’ll feel cleansed afterwards; lighter, liberated.

“—Where’s your bloody price tags, mate? You need price tags!”

“—Merv,” says the gentleman that’s appeared next to me. He doesn’t wait for my reply.

“Been coming here for years; everybody knows me,” says Merv.

Merv’s hands are on his hips, his appraising gaze in the distance.

Merv’s wearing a bright green floral print shirt that’s tucked into mismatching beige trousers held up by a brown leather belt with a brushed nickel longhorn buckle. The nose pads of his sunglasses are pinched closely together so they sit too high up his nose. Odd. He may have worn a denim bucket hat too, it’s hard to remember, but that would explain why I remember him as Raoul Duke, at least in appearance.

“Built three houses, all from money made here,” says Merv with his cigarette still in his mouth. He casts an appraising look over my tarp and releases the handbrake.

“How much for your books, the fancy glossy ones?”


“—Seven! You’re a bloody fool if you take anything less than seven! They’ll pay, and if they don’t, hold onto ‘em because one day someone will.” There’s no lectern, except the one in Merv’s head.

“And never accept the first or second offer.”

Raoul Duke on the outside, Gordon Gekko on the inside.

The smell of Merv’s cigarette carries me off. He blathers on, but I’m no longer here; I’m in my grandad’s garage surrounded by engine parts and oil; drill-bits of every size and shape; chisels—and Staedtler Lumograph HB pencils sharpened by chisels; a ball of twine, an old church pew destined to be refashioned into the Temeside pub sign; wood shavings and sawdust; empty packets of Park Drive Golden Virginia covered in engineering sketches; and my grandad telling the young me a story about the war that he’ll repeat over and over until one day he won’t.

Merv’s gone, but not far. I watch him crashing like a king tide over a newly arrived Hilux, its trailer brimming with succulents in hand-painted terracotta pots.

I wander through other people’s brackets; stories being sold to new protagonists.

The internal sorting and sifting that registers most things as crap occasionally clocks something worth a closer look: the A5 sun-bleached Klingon Bird-of-Prey poster, vintage car parts, bicycle parts, human parts (collection of wooden legs); a Japanese uchiwa butterfly-print fan.

The paper fan looks every bit as delicate as a butterfly, but despite its obvious age and fragility, it’s completely undamaged. And its red, blue and purple palette is still vivid. Something new catches my eye.

I pick up the nest of Matryoshka dolls. They’re the same size and weight as the set I bought in Riga, circa 2007. Yeltsin, Gorbachev, Brezhnev, Khrushchev, I forget the rest. The largest doll is stout with rosy cheeks and black hair. Large red roses decorate her yellow dress. The varnish is flaking, but inside the smaller dolls are well preserved.

“There should be eight, truth be told, but the smallest two are missing. “Granddaughter, I expect,” says the old lady on the other side of the table. Her wrinkled face is a wander down memory lane.

The old lady gives me three dollars change and offers me a bag that I decline. I trouser the coins and they clink against the spare front door key.

I make my way back to my brackets.

“Good timing; do you have any change?”, says my wife. I hand over the three dollars. Her earnest expression is replaced with a smile. The man stood opposite her beams with pride having witnessed his son’s first barter. The boy hands over twenty dollars and leaves with my pull-ups bar and the two dollars change my wife gives him.  Basking in the afterglow, the boy reads aloud the assembly instructions while his father drapes an arm across his shoulder and suggests mounting the bar on the garage door frame.

The tarp is almost empty. We decide to leave. At home, I unload from the car the one box of bric-a-brac that didn’t sell.

At the bottom of the stairwell, I stop, place the box on the floor and knock-on number twenty-seven. My neighbour Margaret opens her front door and the smell of roast lamb wafts out. I hand her the smallest of the six Matryoshka dolls.

“What’s this?” says Margaret.

“Open it,” I say.

The two halves separate easily under the pressure of a gentle twist.

“Your spare key,” says Margaret, smiling. “I wondered when you’d bring it back.”


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