And now it’s saltshakers. Ma unwraps a Dutch girl from newsprint. The lady at Goodwill took extra care to nestle her snug. Ma’s tight with the ladies at Goodwill; they all smell the same: cigarettes and mothballs. In the check-out line they swap miseries of absent husbands and ungrateful sons like they’re trading baseball cards.
This Dutch girl is Ma’s latest conscript in her war with the void. Bookshelves, cabinets, and the front porch have long since been occupied. By cookie tins negotiated for at yard sales. By velvet gas station artwork. By newspapers collected for the circulars, “los spectaculars,” Ma calls them. By garbage scavenged in the middle of the night like the mound of heads, practice mannequins trashed by the beauty school, now spilling out my bedroom closet as if Montezuma lived back there instead of roaches.
There’s a shabby pool table where our sofa should be. It was the only thing they fought over when Pops bailed. “If I gotta come home to see him and some blonde whore rolling around on that table, then your old man can see it in his dreams.”
She clears a patch on the old Brunswick between punched-up Teddy bears and Franklin Mint dishes, plates delivered more frequently than checks from the old man. “This is the thing, Junior. Mixed markets. Saltshaker people and Dutch people. Better resale.”
Ma gets quiet, stops what she’s doing. Admires the saltshaker. And for a moment I have hope. Maybe this will stem the tide of advancing hordes. Maybe this collection will be the collection. But I already see that dream-drunk look in Ma’s eyes begin to fade. The same fading look Pops used to get on the back end of a fifth. She clears more room on the pool table. Too much green space. That will never do.
“Whaddya think, Junior?” Ma says like she’s showing off a diamond ring.
Look at you, you pug-nosed, chipmunk-cheeked, wonky-eyed Dutch girl. No tulips. No windmills. No clogs because you have no feet. If you were a man I’d fight you. A log, I’d burn you. If you were a cookie I’d bite you in the lap. But you’re not. You’re a chipped porcelain dwarf. And I wanna smash you, chuck you over my shoulder against the wall. Starburst some luck back around our way. Maybe sell you to some other sucker. Invest the profit in scratch-offs or quarter pulls down on the river boat. Buy me a ride with the winnings. Dive up north to visit my old man. But Ma will return with two more like you. Maybe a hula girl, maybe a pig. Maybe matching sets next time: brave and squaw, priest and nun, groom and bride. Then Ma will find something else. “Spoons are an investment,” she’ll say. “Them shopping channel purses sure are fancy. Those golden coins? They’re commemorative. How bout it, Junior?”
And it’s not what I need to tell her, but I’ll say: “Sure, Ma. Whatever makes you happy.”