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Rummage Sale Finds

Over the past four decades, Nina Kiriki Hoffman has sold adult and young adult novels and more than 350 short stories. Her works have been finalists for the World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick, and Endeavour awards. Her novel The Thread that Binds the Bones won a Horror Writers Association Stoker Award, and her short story "Trophy Wives" won a Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Award.

Nina does production work for the The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She teaches writing classes through Wordcrafters in Eugene and Fairfield County Writers' Studio. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.

For a list of Nina's publications, check out: ofearna.us/books/hoffman.html.

As soon as Corinne got out of the car and into the church basement where the rummage sale was being held, she spotted the gift she'd given her sister for Christmas.
The basement was spacious, though the ceiling was low. Fluorescent lights made everyone and everything look a little sick.
The painting Corinne had bought for her sister was on a stand facing the entrance. It was a stormy seascape by a semi-famous artist who lived on the coast, with yellow light shafting down through dark clouds onto breaking waves, a visual representation of their current relationship, Corinne had thought, a message to Denise that Corinne understood her anger.
Wasn't that just like Denise to take something Corinne had spent time and money on, thinking it would be the perfect gift, and dump it at a sale where any stranger could buy it? What would strangers make of the inscription on the back? Corinne had glued on a carefully calligraphed note: "Hope this speaks to you, and that we can talk. Love, Corinne."
She had also attached a small urge spell to help her sister be open to the idea of conversation and reconciliation. That hadn't worked either.
The painting had cost her three hundred and fifty dollars. The spell, from her local influence witch, another fifty dollars. The price tag the sale manager had put on the painting said fifty dollars--spell, painting, and heartbreak.
Corinne was heading for the painting when a tall, slim, white-haired woman in a turquoise sweater and silver-framed glasses picked it up. The stranger looked on the back. The note was still attached. She turned to a friend. "Isn't that sad?" she asked.
Her friend, a shorter, fatter woman with flat brown-blond hair down to her shoulders, who wore a brown sweater with red autumn leaves on it, peered at the note and hmmed.
Corinne felt blood rising in her face and turned away. Why did she want to buy the painting back? Not like she could give it to Denise again. She should do what her husband Howard had said, and give up on ever reconnecting with Denise. "You're just wasting time, energy, and money. Accept that she doesn't want to talk. Bless her and let her go."
"Oh, but," Corinne had said, and then couldn't think of what else to say. Family was family? Sisters were sisters? Not after the fight they'd had two years ago.
"It has a spell on it," said the fat friend to the skinny woman.
"Something we can reuse?" asked Silver Glasses.
"Hmm," said Short Fat again. She glanced around, then stared right at Corinne, who had just picked up a ribbed glass vase with a metallic sheen, carnival ware. "Hmm." Her eyes narrowed. "Hey, you."
Corinne glanced at her.
"Yes, you. Can we talk?"
Corinne put down the vase and walked over to the pair.
"Is your name Corinne?" asked Short Fat.
Corinne sighed. Her shoulders sagged. "What kind of witch are you?" she asked.
"Attuned," said Short Fat. "So who did you give this to?"
"My sister."
Short Fat turned to Silver Glasses. "Yes. It's a sad story." She patted Corinne's shoulder. "Sorry."
Corinne felt the despair rising in her throat, tears about to spill from the sympathy of a snoopy stranger. She straightened and forced herself calm. "Did you want to buy the painting? That's a fraction of what I paid for it -- the price of the spell alone. A steal."
Silver Glasses turned the painting to look at it. She pursed her lips. "It's not a comfortable image. I don't think I'd want to live with it. Did you want to buy it back?"
"I'll take it if you don't," said Short Fat to Corinne.
"I don't know. It didn't work, obviously." Corinne stared at the image. She liked the storm, but Howard had hated it.
"I can give you the spell back," said Short Fat. "There's no one I want to make talk to me."
"Is that what it does?" asked Silver Glasses.
"It's not a strong spell, but it's got a few teeth in it. It made me want to talk to Corinne and I don't even know her." Short Fat stuck her tongue partway out of her mouth and touched the corner of the frame where Corinne had applied the spell. It was a little blue jewel. Short Fat tapped it and muttered a word, then pried it off and dropped it into Corinne's hand.
She closed her fist around it.
"That's better," said Short Fat. "Compulsion's off it. You'll have to activate the spell if you want it to work again." She took the painting from Silver Glasses and studied it. "So the sister dumped a gift here? Does she live in the neighborhood?"
Corinne looked around. No, Denise didn't live in Winterwood. She had a house two blocks from Corinne's house, in the old Elm Street neighborhood across town. Corinne's two daughters and Denise's two sons used to hang out together. They went to the same schools; they were all at Cooperton High School now. Since the fight, the kids weren't speaking to each other. And that was even sadder, because they'd known and liked each other since they were babies. "Maybe she figured I'd come to the sale. I love rummage sales."
"A slap in the face," said Short Fat. "Sorry again. Did you want the painting back?"
"No. Do you have a spell to get the note off?" Corinne got her wallet out of her big squashy brown leather purse and tucked the spell jewel into the coin pocket.
"Nope. I'll have to use Goo Gone or something, or leave it there, if you don't mind. Nice handwriting. Hey, I'm Dora, and this is Frances."
"Hello, Dora and Frances," Corinne said. Was this awkward or charming?
"We have a Wednesday Witch Group if you have time and inclination," Short Fat Dora said.
"I'm not a witch," Corinne said.
"Not yet," said Dora. "But you could be." She turned and headed toward the table where the sales people sat with cash boxes in front of them. Frances and Corinne followed more slowly. Corinne watched Dora reach for her wallet, watched the painting of a storm take another step away from its job of softening Denise's heart.
Why hadn't she held her tongue two years ago, the way she had all the years that came before? It was Denise's birthday they were celebrating. Their husbands had taken the kids out to a movie so the sisters could eat slices of birthday cake, drink wine, and reminisce in Denise's comfortable orange kitchen. For the first time, Corinne had admitted she had only wanted Howard because Denise was so in love with him. For the first time, she had let slip that she wasn't the innocent, lovable, starry-eyed optimist she'd appeared as a teenager, but someone with a jealous bone and a bitter heart.
Denise had drawn back, her face crumpling and shoulders drooping. And then fury had kindled in her and she'd kicked Corinne out of her house and her life.
"A witch," Corinne murmured. Dora thought Corinne could be a witch? Corinne kept the books for a local department store. Nothing witchy about that when she was doing it right.
She glanced at a nearby table and saw a burgundy-red cloisonne vase with white roses on it. She picked it up. Fifty dollars. That seemed like a lot, but then again, she'd just saved fifty dollars by not reclaiming the storm painting. Maybe she could get them to drop the price. She wasn't sure why she wanted the vase. It was pretty, and Howard wouldn't mind it. She hated leaving a sale without a prize.
Frances cocked her head. "There's something about that vase," she said.
"Oh?" Corinna held it out and Frances accepted it. She shook her head and handed it back.
"I wouldn't buy it," said Frances. "There's a -- an odor? An overlay? Whoever used to own it cried into it."
"Huh," said Corinne. "You and Dora sense things?"
"We do a lot of sales to sharpen our skills," Frances said. "Kind of a witchy scavenger hunt. Everybody in the Wednesday night group tries to find things that carry resonance of their past owners, and then we take turns sensing their history. Dora's the best at it."
"Huh," Corinne said again. "That sounds like my kind of fun." She stared down at the vase. Chinese work, very fine. And it was full of sadness?
She took it to the cashier next to where Dora was buying the storm painting. She could send this to Denise, without a note this time. She pulled out her wallet.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 15th, 2022

Author Comments

This story arose from another Write-to-Prompts session hosted by Carol Dannhauser of Fairfield County Writers' Studio. The given first line was, "As soon as Leslie got out of the car at the tag sale, she spotted the gift she'd given her sister for Christmas." The two other prompts were, fifteen minutes in, "glass," and then fifteen minutes later, "money." In forty-five minutes of writing, I had a strong story start, incorporating prompts given by Carol. Later I went back and finished and rewrote the story. I find this exercise exhilarating!

- Nina Kiriki Hoffman
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