And as I sat there, far away, I found myself cataloging the few things I own, and I began to think about a day when I’d ended up at a small flea market out on Coney Island. The market was outside and my breath blew white, a November day and the sky so high and blue, and under piles of clothing, next to old board games, in boxes thrown off into a corner of the market, I started to find the photo albums of people who’d recently died. Dim Polaroids and faded prints, the colors washed out, all brown and gray and green. Photos of families on the beach or at the airport. Friends together in a bar or restaurant.
The flea market’s owner bought all the possessions of people who’d died. He told me he combed the newspapers, reading the obituaries.
He said to me, “I try to keep a fresh supply.”
I had not slept in three or four days.
I did not think that I could talk.
I bought every photo album I could find in that flea market. I loaded them into my car. I turned each page, absorbed each picture, before I could finally drive away.
My eyes opened and closed and I felt my hands and arms. So thin, fading.
Blood across my hands and arms and face.
I remember the sound. The thick and hollow noise of glass breaking all around me.
I remember all that light. The shine of glass, the pieces flying, the silver shards.
I remember I had started to break things.
I remember all I wanted was to keep the glass flying, to keep glass in the air, because with glass in the air there was motion and there was noise. I broke bottles, glasses, plates, a lamp, bulbs, jars, the TV, a clock, a radio, a tabletop. Picking up shards from the floor, falling down in it, once more holding whole pieces of glass, throwing a mirror, a bowl, breaking windows out of the oven, pulling glass shelves from inside the refrigerator, turning, spinning, hurling them hard at the wall.
I did not scream, I did not talk, I did not run or flail or jump. I walked through the apartment, my apartment, that small place looking out across the East Side, breaking small pieces of the glass on the floor. Stepping on remnants of bowls and dishes. I threw glass at the walls and the shards flew past me, bouncing back, cutting my arms as I held them up in front of my face, the pieces flying at me, the pieces like a spray, the spray just a light, just a shimmer through the shadows, a shimmer bursting past me, sending thin tracks of blood across my arms.
This is the place I bring on myself. This is the place I find again, each time carrying the accumulated memories of so many other days.
Sometimes now, when I wake up, I remember having dreamt about Coney Island. But the dreams themselves are already gone. Instead I start to remember that day.
The open-air flea market, the tables in rows, all piled with clothes and records and books. The owner in a chair, staring at me, this blood-soaked wanderer shopping at nine a.m.
I was not drunk anymore. I’d been drinking for days and I felt like I had never been drunk.
I was just tired. So tired it hurt to breathe. So tired any pain from the broken glass was distant and slow.
I walked through the aisles. The morning sun above me, the air looking clear and cold. And I noticed the first of the photo albums.
The flea market owner had been following me, a few feet away. Watching.
I turned to him, holding the book of pictures.
“I buy the whole estate,” he said.
I looked at the junk on the tables. I looked at the small, faded snapshots on the pages in my hands.
“People sell anything,” he said, his heavy eyes squinting, his fat hands joined together below his belly. “They got no family. They just sell off the entire apartment.”
Vacation, Christmas, two children, a dog.
“You just pull the pictures out,” he said and I realized that when he spoke his breath flashed white.
I looked around. It was late November. I wore a T-shirt and did not feel cold.
“You can still use them,” he said and he glanced at a table, picking up another photo album. “See,” he said, opening the album, quickly but carefully pulling the photos from the paper. “See.”
A picnic, school, the family, a house.
The man was throwing the pictures into a wastebasket.
“Please stop,” I said, stepping toward him, closing the album in my arms, putting a hand on the album he held.
He looked at me. “I buy the whole estate,” he said again. “Kit and caboodle.”
I pulled the windows from their frames, I spun and threw them hard, watching as they flew, watching as the glass bent and burst against the wall, the noise all loud and hollow, the shimmer like a storm, the spray once again blowing past my arms.
I did not talk. I did not scream. I moved through the darkness, the only light the dim shine of Manhattan outside, streetlights and buildings reflected in the thousand pieces of glass on my floor, the air now blowing in and all I wanted was the noise, the thick and hollow noise of glass breaking all around me.
At some point, I always find such sadness in the quiet. At some point, always, I need to fill the quiet.
There was a time when the violence was directed at others. But I’m older now, and alone, and I find I don’t have the energy to go looking for anyone I’ve known or not known. I’m left only with myself.
“I’d like to buy these photo albums,” I said. “All of them.”
He was looking at me, his eyes, just slightly, moving from my face to my arms. “I buy the whole estate,” he said again. “Kit and caboodle.”
I started to realize he was a little slow.
“Kit and caboodle,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
“They’ll sell anything. No family. You go to these sales with cash. Nobody there. Some old man with a clipboard. They sell everything.”
“Kit and caboodle,” I said.
He nodded. It was quiet. We stared at each other.
In a moment, he asked, “You okay?” and pointed at my arms, hand rising, drifting up to my face.
“I’d like to buy these albums,” I said. “All of them. All of them that you have here.” I put my hand in my pocket. I watched his breath, puffs of white. I was not cold. I found twenty-six dollars in my pocket. I held out the bills and he took them. “This is how much money I have. I want all of the photo albums. Will you please help me find them?”
We searched the tables, looking in boxes, under clothes, on shelves. We found twenty-three of them. He helped me carry them to my car.
“You think I shouldn’t buy this stuff,” he said. “You think it’s wrong.”
“No,” I said. “No, you can buy it.”
“They sell everything when they die.”
“Kit and caboodle,” I said.
“You okay?” he asked again.
“No,” I said, turning, looking up at the blue sky, seeing the streaks of distant clouds high above us. “Not at all.”
I sit now in this apartment, the few things I own around me. The TV and the couch I found downstairs and the extra chair I’ve had for years. There are clothes in the other room, not many, and a bed that was here when I moved in. And there are the photo albums along the wall, twenty-three of them, stacked in small piles. I drove them across the country, the back seat of my old car filled with them.
I look through those albums, not often, maybe once a month, when I wake up with my own memories, of people I’ve known gone to me now, and in the albums I find a way to replace those images of mine.
We live down the street, people like me. We walk the dark roads at the edge of vast neighborhoods. We work jobs no one else will take. I’m in line at the smelly corner store that is open at three a.m. I buy gas at the station people drive past in fear. We inhabit the dark buildings that seem to have been abandoned, except for those lights, spread out, shining bright in the middle of the night in the windows high above you.
Eric Barnes is the author of the novels Shimmer, an IndieNext Pick from Unbridled Books, and the forthcoming Something Pretty, Something Beautiful from Outpost19, along with numerous short stories published in Prairie Schooner, The Literary Review, North American Review, Best American Mystery Stories, and other publications. More at http://www.ericbarnes.net.
Barnes has been a reporter, editor and publisher in Connecticut, New York and now Memphis. Years ago he drove a forklift in Tacoma, Washington, and then Kenai, Alaska, worked construction on Puget Sound, and froze fish in a warehouse outside Anchorage. By day, he is publisher of three newspapers covering business and politics in Memphis and Nashville and, in 1995, he graduated from the MFA program at Columbia University.