Jack Saves the Day
I don’t understand my grandparents’ fascination with flea markets. They smell like a mildewed attic in a condemned house, even though it’s outside. The rows of useless junk on card tables are manned by disturbing, repulsive beings who sit in worn out lawn chairs. They chat and haggle over the noise of clanking wind chimes made from shells or broken bottle “sea glass." It’s amazing what people will try to sell.
The shoppers are just as bad. They’re either tourist treasure hunters or desperate losers. Or dragged here by insane loved ones. I am forced here against my will for our monthly visit. My grandparents come so often, they know some of the vendors by name. That in itself makes my skin crawl.
The sun beats down as I trail behind them. I should not be awake at ten on a Saturday morning. When they stop to greet Minnie the “rare” doll seller, I walk on by like I’m not with them.
I scuff down the aisles and avoid eye contact. I glance at the tables. Necklaces made from bottle caps, wooden toys, “art” sculpted from beer cans, knives, old posters, hats with sayings like, “Even your poker face is ugly.” An endless supply of crap. And it’s all dusty. I wonder if these people live here and sleep under their tables. Pathetic.
I stop at a table with some old baseball cards which have the possibility to be worth something. I look through them even though I’m sure I won't find anything valuable. The guy behind the table looks like he’s napping under his faded Cubs hat. Another transplanted snowbird.
As I search, I feel the intense stare of the vendor next door. I look over and he has this hungry, almost drooling, look on his face. He is all jolly and smiling and fat. His hair is tufted white with a beard to match. He’s got on a checkered golf beret, a short sleeved shirt, and suspenders. A classic old fart. It’s scary how much he reminds me of Santa on summer break.
I give him a sneer and go back to the cards, hoping he will quit.
“Is your name Jack?”
I get chills down my back when he says my name, but I don’t acknowledge that he spoke.
“It is, isn’t it? I know Thelma and Joe. Your grandparents, right?”
Now I have to respond. My grandparents would guilt me to death if I was rude to their “friend.”
“Sure,” I say, but I still don’t turn to him.
“Well, Jack. I have something for you.”
I roll my eyes and make myself look at his wares. I’m disgusted by the used odds and ends from broken mirrors to a muddy boot. It looks like he went through someone’s trash. His sign proclaims “Magical Antiques.” I almost laugh out loud when I see the plunger. I am about to walk away as he rifles through a box behind him, but he catches me.
“Here you go. Your grandparents picked it out for you.” He holds up a weathered bean bag cow.
“Jack. Have you been a good boy?”
I stifle the urge to run screaming. “What?”
“Be a good boy and take it. It was made just for you.”
“By who? Your elves?”
His eyes accept my sarcasm and his jovial smile lowers to a satisfied grin. “It’s magic.” He tosses it at me and I catch it by reflex.
“Jaa-aack!” My grandmother calls. I jerk around to see her waving at me. It’s finally time to go. I turn back to leave the cow on the table but the whole setup is now a skinny black dude selling sunglasses and visors.
“Want a pair?” he asks me.
“No thanks,” I say and jog to leave this crazy island of misfits.
When I get home I throw the cow to my dog. He loves it and takes it to the back yard and buries it. Perfect. Now I won’t have to think about it anymore. After dinner I go to bed and try to erase the entire experience.
The next morning I wake up to sirens. Out front police have taped off our house and a crowd has formed. My mom rushes into my room.
“Jack, we don’t have to sell the house!”
“Wha? What’s going on?”
“Get dressed, honey! And come out back! Our problems are solved!”
I throw on some clothes and rush outside. I can’t believe my eyes. I see the thickest trunk of interwoven vines and it reaches up forever, into the clouds.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“Yes, honey! It’s a beanstalk! A wonderful, unbelievable beanstalk!”
“How is this profitable?”
“Oh, silly! I can charge people to come see it!”
Ok. My mother is as crazy as her parents. And that’s when we hear it.
“FEE FI FO FUM! WHERE’S MY DAUGHTER? WHERE’S MY RUM!” The bellowing causes the earth to shake and knocks us all off our feet.
Down the stalk climbs a giant girl. She lets go and lands on my house. Splat!
“Oops. Sorry about that,” she says. Then she looks around and spots me. “Hi! I’m Darla. What’s your name?” she asks with a wink. Why me?
“DARLA! YOU BETTER NOT BE DOWN THERE! WHERE’S MY WEED KILLER!?”
“You come with me.”
“You want to take my son?” my mom asks.
“My dad is going to douse that beanstalk with poison. If you want me to leave you alone, take this payment for the boy.” She puts down a flask that’s taller than me. “It’s magic rum. Each sip grants a wish.”
“MOM!” Darla scoops me up and puts me in a pocket.
“You’ll be fine!” my mom yells. Then she considers and asks, “You aren’t going to eat him are you?”
From halfway up Darla answers, “Not today!”
As she reaches the top, she giggles and whispers to me, “I have a thing for bad boys!”