Every year the house on the hill has a garage sale.
It’s a big, peaked house, painted white by kids hired from the local college every couple years, its shutters either blue or red or yellow, depending on the whim of the one that lives there. It has a lawn to be envied, surrounded on three sides by trees, with billowing gardens and walking paths and handmade benches here and there.
It has gates only for decoration, and the forest animals come and go as they please. Rabbits and deer nibble at the vegetables, but never enough to cause the house’s caretaker to mind. Butterflies and stray cats and the occasional lost dog can be found around the little pond, where fish swim in lazy circles.
On Halloween nightss, the house on the hill is suddenly the spookiest place in town. Teenagers dare each other to sneak into the always-open front door and return with proof of their escapades. The few that do enter the house, however, never seem to want to talk about what they found inside. They’d rather keep their prize to themselves.
But every year, just before the first snow—always before the first snow—the townspeople find themselves wandering up to the house, where both of the garage doors will be found open, and the house’s single human occupant will be seen, smiling behind a little desk with a pad of paper, a stack of pens, and a metal cashbox.
There are no advertisements in the town, no flyers or blurbs in the paper that let the people know it’s time for the garage sale. You only listen for the old men at the gas station, kids from the elementary school, women clustering for their morning coffees outside the cafés. They’ll know. They’ll have heard it from their neighbors or friends or siblings or spouses. This is always the way.
On the day of the garage sale, when the doors creek open from motors within and the woman, with her wild dark hair and sparkly brown eyes, ushers you into her home to take a peek, there is no furniture for sale. There never is. No tchotchkes or knick-knacks covered in dust sit on the shelves. Only little glass jars, some corked, some screwed shut with metal lids, some merely covered in scraps of colorful fabric. None of them are larger than your thumb.
Many of the jars look empty, though some sparkle as if the air inside has been lit on fire. Some swirl with dark black smoke and others seem to have caught tiny balls of light. Some sparkle with beach sand, others with water you know is warm just by looking at them.
Each jar, wrapped once with twine and tied in a bow, has a label. A Moment of Courage, reads one. A Fond Memory, claims another. You meander around the little garage, lit by the window that faces into the woods and the three naked bulbs hanging from the ceiling. There is plenty of light to read. A Word From a Friend. An Hour of Happiness. Ten Seconds of Lust.You like to read all of them before deciding.
There are funny ones—Diffuse an Embarrassment and Destink a Room. There are useful ones—Quench a Thirst and Remember What is Forgotten.A little table in the corner is a popular spot. An Unbelievable Feeling of Pleasure, Ten Perfect Kisses, A Hint to True Love. You like to read these, but you’ve never wanted to pick one, not really.
It is always quiet in the garage, besides the occasional murmur or hum. Sometimes, without knowing why, you’ll tap on a stranger’s shoulder and hand them a jar you’ve just read. Sometimes, that’s the jar they’ll choose.
You like the shelf in the back. They tend to be a little sad, which is okay. The Scent of One Lost, The Sound of Their Voice, A Warm Moment Alone Together, To Forget Something. You don’t need this shelf either, not this year. You’re more drawn to the table beside it.
An Hour of Flight. The Perfect Day. Ten Seconds of Insane Strength. Twenty-Nine Hours of Boundless Energy. This is the Miscellaneous table. Sometimes there are jars, and the labels are blank. You like to be surprised.
You pick your jar eventually and hold it close to your chest. Some years, the jar is warm. This year, it feels like it’s humming in your fingers.
When you take it up to the table with the woman, there is a young girl there, probably from the college. You can’t read her jar, but her eyes look sad. She reaches in her purse, but the woman smiles and closes her hand around the girl’s wrist, gently. She doesn’t have to pay today.
You pay with a bag of seeds you’ve saved from your garden, all mixed together. They’re flowers, all annuals. They’ll only last the year. The woman smiles and accepts your payment, and you smile in return.
When you step out into the winter daylight, the jar still hums in your hands.