#78 Magpie Girl by Paula Johnson

Her birth certificate read Margaret, her friends called her Maggie, but her mother always called her Magpie Girl.

From earliest childhood, Margaret rescued odd items from secondhand stores, estate sales and even trash bins. As an adult, she had many, many collections of one item each. She was no packrat; her treasures were meticulously clean and artfully displayed. Some might call it clutter, but it was curated clutter, to be sure. Her trove included the following:

  • A working Bakelite radio now tuned to NPR.
  • A Bionic Woman lunchbox—with the matching Thermos.
  • A carved wooden goldfish the length of a shark.
  • The Braille edition of The Joy of Cooking.
  • An anatomically correct bronze octopus candelabra.
  • A 1984 Macintosh computer sealed in the original box.
  • A gray heart-shaped rock with a small crack.
  • A bottle of Pernod Absinthe. Empty.
  • A two-headed garden gnome.
  • A carousel of slides featuring guests at a bridal shower from the late 1970s. Pot was served.
  • The Russian version of Monopoly.
  • An Elvis Pez dispenser.
  • A dog-eared copy of the first Ikea catalog published 1951, in Swedish.
  • A stadium seat from Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
  • An Army green metal ammunition box with the word “EMPTY” stenciled in yellow on the top. Defiantly, Margaret kept it filled with fun-size Snickers.
  • A novelty golf club tied in a knot.
  • An old menu from a restaurant in L.A.’s Chinatown that later became a punk rock nightclub called Madame Wong’s and still later was converted into a home for a trendy family of four. This transformation was documented by Dwell Magazine in 2009.
  • Castanets.
  • An 11 1/2″ vinyl doll that a disgruntled former Mattel employee had sworn on the lives of his children was the abandoned prototype for Reginald, Barbie’s biracial half-brother.

Margaret welcomed each new acquisition into her home in the same way a first-time parent welcomed a newborn. Friends were invited over. Food was served. “Ooohs” were followed by “aaaahs.”

Still, Margaret could not help but feel that she was missing something. Or some things. Or many things. Then one day, while she was polishing a single vintage sterling silver five o’clock teaspoon and watching Home and Garden TV, she heard about The World’s Longest Yard Sale, an event that instantaneously replaced every item on her Bucket List.

Stretching from Addison, Michigan to Gadsden, Alabama, this annual expedition spans four days and 690 miles along U.S. Route 127. The possibilities of such a treasure hunt put Margaret into a trance. She was in her happy place for a full ten minutes before the ringing telephone snapped her back to reality. It was her mom.

“How’s my Magpie Girl?” her mother asked. “Are we still on for tonight?” The two had made plans to enjoy a vat of macaroni and cheese, a bottle of red wine and as many “Die Hard” movies as they could stay awake for.

When her mother arrived, the two women fell into their usual tandem cooking routine. Margaret confessed her burning desire to spend four days cruising six states in search of a second-hand Holy Grail. But she was worried about the expense of such a pilgrimage. She’d have to fly cross country, rent a car, book hotels, and ship any items she found.

“You’ll figure it out,” her mother said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that happens every year.” The pair tidied the kitchen while the mac and cheese baked. Her mother spotted a large jar filled with magnetic alphabet letters and spelled out MAGPIE GIRL on the freezer door of the refrigerator.

Carbs, fat, salt, alcohol, and Bruce Wills are the five pillars of mother-daughter bonding, so it was a great night. The next morning, Margaret woke up early with a surprisingly clear head. She knew what to do. She’d consult the one expert that had never steered her wrong. She walked into the living room and picked up  her Magic 8 Ball.

“Should I go to the World’s Longest Yard Sale?” she asked aloud. She turned the sphere over, but before the answer was revealed, she lost her grip and the ball hit the hardwood floor. The fluid-filled reservoir cracked and a dark liquid pooled on the floor. Crap! She raced into the kitchen for paper towels and raced back to sop up the mess. Crisis averted, but the question remained: Should she go to the World’s Longest Yard Sale?

This was not something to ponder on an empty stomach. She raced back to the kitchen, opened the freezer and pulled out the nearest pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Margaret slammed the door hard enough to make the magnetic letters go airborne. Gravity and chance—and perhaps fate—worked together to rearrange the letter of MAGPIE GIRL into her answer: PILGRIMAGE.

© Copyright 2014 Paula Johnson. All rights reserved.

Paula Johnson wrote this piece for a storytelling event with a pilgrims and pilgrimage theme. This is her fifth flash fiction story. Yeah, she’s on Twitter.

22 Responses to #78 Magpie Girl by Paula Johnson

  1. LOVE this Paula. This was just so very clever. Impressed. Also had to laugh out loud at the Mattel doll created by the disgruntled employee. Would love to rattle around in your brain sometime. 🙂

  2. Loved it. Reginald… brilliant 🙂 What I enjoy most about your writing is never being able to guess where you’re headed!

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