Short story – Car Boot Sale

booksBy Paco Garcia Jaen

The morning assaulted me with genuine subtlety. My eyes were itchy when I opened them and told me I hadn’t slept enough. They wanted to go back to sleep and started a fight with my brain. It’s horrible when that happens, there are no winners, my eyes feel sleepy for the rest of the day and my brain feels stupid for coming up with useless ideas that felt real clever at the time.

And I will feel tired.

There’s no point in arguing with brain, though. It always wins, always finds a reason to keep me awake, tell me I am wasting time by trying to ignore it and then making me feel silly for wasting that time. Getting out of bed is the best option, so I switched on my body and told my muscles to wake up.

They did and I started to move with the slow, difficult stickiness of dreams until the disconnect between brain, eyes, muscles and me dissolved. I left my bed and, for once, brain gave me a good idea. The car boot sale. It was only 9 in the morning and there would probably be still some bargains to be had.

The warm shower agreed with that idea and breakfast made it sound really fun. Somehow the orange juice and the bowl of cereals brought some enthusiasm into the mix and, by the time I had finished my toast and cup of tea, I had forgotten my eyes were itchy and I hadn’t slept enough.

I took my wallet and made sure I had the usual twenty five pounds I always took to a car boot sale. I would buy something – or some things – with that money, then sell them on eBay and see if I could make a profit. Silly little game, but it was fun enough.

The morning greeted me with a cold blow to my face and I greeted it back with my hat and a jacket. The walk to the car boot sale acquainted me nicely with the cool air and by the time I got to the place I felt like the cold and I were best friends. We knew where we stood and kept our distance.

The car boot sale was heaving. A clear sky had told people everything they needed to know about the pleasantries of the day ahead. Bargain hunters, with anoraks and fleeces, jackets and well-stuffed cardigans rummaged around the tables hoping to find that long-lost and forgotten Constable they only would be able to identify, or the Royal Daulton piece of pottery missing in their collection that the Antiques Roadshow had priced so far from their economic reach, that their only chance of laying hands on it would be by the miraculous find of a car boot sale.

I didn’t count the number of stands and small tables. Maybe a hundred. Maybe more and maybe less. It didn’t matter. I was smiling inside and approaching the stands as poker-faced as I could to stop them thinking I could possibly be interested. I learned that in Egypt. If you avoid eye contact with the street sellers and don’t give any signs of being interested, they leave you alone. Mostly.

The people around me started to make things irritating. Why did they have to stand exactly between me and what I wanted to look at? Sometimes I wonder if the world knows and does it just to annoy me.

Still, the morning was young and the tea and toast were still keeping me happy. That is until the sausage and bacon aroma from the nearby trailer introduced themselves and made said tea and toast feel very, very inadequate. Still, I managed to remain loyal to my breakfast and brushed the tempting aroma asid

And just as I turned my head away from the somewhat intruding smell of processed meat, I saw him. Standing on the perch of a branch, wings unfolded and the fierce description of someone who is only prepared to give you his friendship if you are prepared to work for it. The wonderful scales, matted under a layer of dust told me of how proud they had been once.

Ten pounds later I had the dragon with me. We were friends now and I was going to bring the scales back to shine with some careful cleaning later on. I wasn’t sure if I was going to send the Dragon to eBay. I almost didn’t want to think about it just in case the magnificent beast got upset with me. I kept walking, this time more careful not to brush myself against anyone lest they broke one of the delicate wings of my new friend.

We walked in silence and I stopped by the most extraordinary table. It was quite big and, unusually for a car boot sale, also quite high. Behind it an old couple. I am terrible at guessing people’s age, but I think they were in their late sixties. The man was bald on the top and some grey hair, well looked after but a bit too long, grew from the sides and back of his head. The thin rimmed glasses, shirt and sleeveless cardigan left no doubt he was an academic of sorts, or maybe an accountant, but I like to think of him as an academic. He looked at me and I looked at him as his wife observed us, sitting on the edge of the van where they had transported their goods to sell. He looked tired. It felt like his stamina was coming from someplace else and wasn’t really reaching his face. I smiled and he returned the pleasantry as best he could. He was tired.

A blue cardigan and loose thin skirt protected what was a frail but well looked after body. A calm and endearing expression in her face made me feel comfortable. It was difficult for me not to call her “nana”. Her small blue eyes wanted to look happier than they were but, somehow, they couldn’t bring themselves to it. I thought it might be a bit too early, or maybe she simply didn’t like car boot sales.

I looked at the books and I let my eyes open more than they usually do. I think I gasped, but I’m not sure because I was too busy taking my hand to my mouth. I think someone heard “blimey!” coming from me, but I’m not sure. I didn’t ask anyone and I can’t remember who was near me. I just remember the books.

You see, I grew up fencing with Dark Elves in the Forgotten Realms, met dragons in Taladas, and faced goddesses in Krynn. I got lost in the dangerous streets of Sigil, the City of Portals, and sweated under the horrific heat of Athas. All those worlds and many others made me happy.They make me happy to this day.

Those worlds were inside the books. Worlds I thought I had lost were in front of me, inviting me to adventure in them once again.

A huge collection of old Dungeons & Dragons novels looked at me from the top of the table. Dark Sun’s Prism Pentad by Troy Denning; the first works R.A. Salvatore wrote for Forgotten Realms; Elaine Cunningham, Jeff Grubb, Gary Gygax… They were all there. And more!

The books I left behind when I moved from Spain where there, saying hello to me. Right there!

“How much are the books?” – I asked timidly, trying – rather inefficiently – to look disinterested.

“The hardbacks are two pounds each and the softcovers are one pound each” – said the man.

“Oh!” – I said, this time allowing my enthusiasm to show unhindered as my hands started to pile books and count them. “This is quite a collection you have here. I used to read these when I lived in Spain and lost most, if not all of them when I moved to this country a few years ago.”

“Oh right!” – the man replied. The lady behind him smiled sweetly at my comment as I kept piling books and counting them. “Could I buy these 15 books, please?” as I pointed at the neat pile of fifteen books I had collected, cursing myself for not having more money to spend.

“Sure!” – the man replied – “How many have you got there?”. “Fifteen. I’m afraid I’ve already bought something and I only have fifteen pounds left.” I said with clear frustration and regret in my voice.

The man took another bunch of books from the table and put them on top of the ones I had already chosen. “I think for that money you should have these too” came from behind his smile.

“My goodness! Thank you very much!” I had to contain my efforts to give the man a hug.

“I’ll put them in a bag for you. Hope your car is nearby!” he said as he took the bag the woman had rummaged from behind the van. She came close to the table and helped him put the books in the bag.

“I walked. I only live nearby.” – I said with my smile still on my face – “Forgive me for asking this but you don’t like like what I would expect someone who read books like this to look like.”

The man stopped in his tracks and for a moment I feared I had said something offensive. “You are right. These books belonged to a young man, not too far from your age. He had a severe disability and couldn’t leave the house. He avidly read these books and many others we’ve donated to schools and charity shops. They were his way out.” – he said – “He passed away three months ago and we are now selling the books in the hope someone else will enjoy them too.”

I swallowed. Hard. That didn’t take away the lump that had formed in my throat. Seeing how the lady grabbed the man’s arm to offer comfort that was so sorely needed for both of them genuinely made me feel impotent there was nothing I could do. I was seriously lost for words and furiously looking for something to say. “You know” – I managed to mutter – “I think that young man and I would have got along very well.I am sorry I missed the chance to know him.”

“You are right” – he said. A smile came into his lips but somehow his eyes didn’t manage to catch up with it. – “I think you would.” and handed me the bag.

“Thank you!” is all the lump that had settled now nicely allowed me to say as I offered my hand to both of them.

I took the bag, turned around and left. The place was suddenly silent. The people around me were still around me and I could still see them talk and barter and make noises that didn’t matter.

Without making a conscious decision, I left the place and headed back home where the books found a place on a shelf and now live there. Somehow that man had nearly doubled the number of books I bought and there were 29 of them in that bag. The lump in the throat returned and I left the books on the shelf, as far away from eBay as I can get them.

Based on true events.





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