Free or Trash – by Elizabeth McLaughlin
Upon my return trip from the antique store by bicycle at the curb was a tattered cardboard sign that read ‘Free or Trash’. The printing appeared fine but strong. The message caught my interest, therefore, I took a capture, and decided to write a short tale on how I thought it ended up on the side of the road-side. Unfortunately, nothing remained related to the sign, though about a quarter of a mile on the opposite end of the street, I discovered a blue vacuum cleaner and receiver. . .
It was a beautiful summer day, however, Mark could not see the bright blue sky, puffy white clouds, wild-flowers, green forested trees swaying in the breeze or listen to the sparrows chirping in the thickets. Mark’s mind was fogged and raced in a multitude of directions. He lost his executive sales job at the pharmaceutical corporation over two years ago and financially it became impossible to make ends meet. Mark worked long hours to provide a luxurious home with customized rock masonry pillars and black iron fence that his wife Darcey dreamed about owning. Both held career jobs and became able to pay off a good deal of the mortgage and thought that life would be a breeze. They decided to take out bank loans to improve the estate by adding a swimming pool, luxury patio for outdoor private parties and a pool house attached to the four car garage. Even though their friends lost jobs, Mark and Darcey continued to live with a false sense of being. Only until it happened to them, the economy along with their lives rattled to reality. The American dream became a busted nightmare. The last straw for Mark happened when he sold his luxury automobiles and then the antique Ford pick up truck with tools. He resorted to using his mountain bicycle to make trips to the grocery store. And then the taxes on the property devoured any savings along with the purchasing power to fulfill the basic necessities such as food, electricity, water and insurance. As each month went by the family was slowly being stripped of possessions, automobiles, family heirlooms and even clothing. The trips to the food pantry became embarrassing to Darcey. “This is not fair and criminal. We worked so hard for twenty years to be comfortable but now it’s impossible to purchase a gallon of milk.” Darcey said. Mark was not in the mood to listen, jumped on his bicycle and snapped back, “Remember, you had to have the oval shaped, tiled, swimming pool and were just thinking about yourself and not the needs of this family.” The bicycle disappeared down the long black-topped driveway and Mark could hear Darcey screaming back, “I looked everywhere for a job doing anything, so don’t talk to me about not trying!” At this time, nothing made much sense to the impoverished couple. Luckily, their daughter, Trish attended an international college at the United Kingdom and had no idea about the situation that faced her parents. Mark and Darcey always explained away the holidays to the fact that they would be traveling for business or taking a cruise. Yes, they took every effort to conceal their financial collapse even from Trish. At the end of the driveway a silver Mercedes pulled up to greet Mark and out stepped Dana, a very popular successful realtor from the village with Country Club connections. Her elegant fragrance was familiar to Mark. She confidently planted a exotic leather, high healed, designer shoe firmly on the ground . The scent was Dana’s trademark, and she used this to perfection as a tool to seal the deal. “So sorry the house did not sell Mark, care to relist? We could surely find a buyer of this fine property with another reduction in price. All the realtors and their clients really adored your French Tudor Manor.” said Dana. She paused, with shapely flirting leg in place, for a response from Mark and then reluctantly, slowly, pulled the bright yellow sign from the picturesque landscaped lawn, placed it into the car trunk and drove off leaving her alluring scent wavering in the air. Mark knew that even with a drastic price reduction, the upgrades, excellent desirable location, people could not afford it. And, they have run out of time. Dana brought around bargain hunters, wanting a pre-foreclosure preview or shuddered at the thought of paying such high property taxes. Obviously, they were out of market and miss-marketed for this upscale piece of real estate. Across the road Mark could see their neighbor, nodding his head back and forth, silently pruning his royal red rose bushes. Usually, Spencer, a retired physician was friendly, generally waved but instead he continued to snip at the thorny stems as if Mark did not exist on planet earth.
It was the last day that Darcey and Mark would spend in their luxury paradise gone wrong. Boxes of stuff lined the circular driveway and down to Cardinal Way. They had many yard sales, and at Dana’s suggestion even hired a professional to manage it but no one had the money to spare to spend on frivolous items. Many were found in the same situation and also lost their homes to the bank or County. Mark took out a black, fine pointed tipped pen from his camel-hair coat pocket, printed on a piece of torn brown cardboard, the words, ‘Free or Trash’. With the usual traffic the sign ended up floating in the gentle breeze, landing face-up, at curb-side. Holding hands the couple stepped back to take one last look at the house where they had years of cherished memories and then promptly vaulted into Darcey’s sisters Jeep. They would live with her until a job could be found. Mark tried to be optimistic but knew in his gut they would end up seeking living an alternative lifestyle. The household items sat for weeks with people passing by the opportunity to pick-up unique artifacts, expensive, furniture, lamps, carpets and fixtures. Then groups of poorly dressed locals from surrounding towns arrived to consume metal for scrap. Eventually the neighbors asked a town road-side crew to clean-up the weathered mess. One worker did see the worn out cardboard sign, he glanced down at it, sighed, flipped up his broom and walked away. And this is how ‘Free or Trash’ sign ended up on the side of the road.