Mavis Kingsley, in her husband's viyella bathrobe (which she had peeled from between other winter clothing in the spare room closet because it was now summer but she was in what was proving to be all-year-round hot flashes followed by cursed chills); Mavis Kingsley was walking out the chills wandering around her "oh, it's just the modest model" three-bedroom plus den/office/studio rancher in St. Vincent, a small sleepy town in southern Ontario, when she chanced to look out the living room window and to witness the first event in the end of the world. The end, at least, of the flat world as she and her fellow human beings in the town of St. Vincent knew it.
She saw her neighbour and somewhat friend putting something out by the curb. It was getting light but still very early, being summer, and Mavis peered curiously through the new vertical wood ("laminate") blinds which were the latest fashion, the latest competition for venetian ("plastic"). Neighbour Betsy was dressed for daytime and had just lowered something to the ground. She stepped back and dusted her palms together, back and forth, in a way Mavis could not recall ever having actually seen anyone doing but had come across the phrase often enough in print for it to spring to mind.
"I wonder why she is dusting her palms together," she wondered. Then, as Betsy marched - yes, marched! - back into her house Mavis realized there was quite a lot of things lined up by the curb.
"Maybe she's having a garage sale," was her next thought but then it occurred to her that it was Monday and not the usual time for a garage sale. In fact, she remembered that Betsy and her husband had been planning a garage sale for the day before, Sunday, so maybe they had had it and these were leftovers. Mavis and her husband had been on a weekend trip to the States to shop for Canadian bargains at American prices and missed the sale. In any case, she didn't like Betsy's style and had passed up the chance for a pre-view of the sale on the Friday before.
Betsy came out her front door again carrying more things. Mavis had to investigate. She glanced down at her husband's robe, shrugged, adjusted it across her bosom, then went across the street.
"Well, good morning!", Betsy said, catching sight of Mavis, in the tone that always seemed to imply criticism; Mavis felt as if she were walking into an unmet expectation, that she should have been up even earlier putting things out by her curb; heavens knew why.
"Sorry to bother you," Mavis said. "What are you doing?" Her tone, responding to Betsy's, put Betsy on the defensive.
"Getting rid of stuff." Betsy said with more brusqueness than she meant. "Sorry if I woke you. I couldn't sleep. I am sick and tired of stuff, sick and tired of it; " she continued in that overly-explanatory, overly-apologetic habit of her nation. "We took the stuff back inside that we didn't sell at the garage sale yesterday and it was on my mind and when I saw it this morning sitting in the hall and - everywhere! - waiting to somehow find space again in the house, well, I just decided to get rid of it. I couldn't seem to stop myself." Then she smiled and shrugged and implied "sorry", if she didn't actually say it, and Mavis was reminded why she liked her neighbour.
Betsy plunked down the final object she had been carrying - a piece of cardboard with FREE written on it in excellent lettering. Betsy did scrapbooking and had taken a course in handlettering.
"Wow." said Mavis. There was a lot of stuff. Betsy caught her glance taking in the amount.
"There's more," Betsy said. "I have to wait until Trevor or one of the kids wakes up and will help me carry out more. The rest - I mean the rest of the stuff from the garage sale. I have to stop somewhere." She stared at the stuff on her front lawn with the FREE sign and gave a strange, satisfied smile. A mental dusting of palms.
Mavis went back into her house on a large breath and a small sigh but as soon as she entered the living room and turned to look back out the window, and the modern newest fashionable vertical blinds, once again, were just in the wrong position for seeing out the window, she gave a huge shiver that had nothing to do with the change of life. Or maybe it had everything to do with it. In any case, she marched (in much accord with the way Betsy had marched) up to the blinds, opened them completely, went to the kitchen and rummaged through the three junk drawers until she found a screwdriver, marched back into the living room and uninstalled the blinds. She staggered a bit under their awkward shape and weight but managed to carry them out to the curb and put them on the ground. She went inside, into her daughter's room, got a piece of stiff paper, used a colored marker, wrote FREE in plain block letters and put it by the blinds by the curb. There was a sense of balance now, stuff on both sides of the street, but hers was lacking in quantity.
As she was wedging Bill's bathrobe back into the winter clothes in the spare room closet (she was warm now), she had a thought as to what Bill would say about her removal of the practically brand new blinds. But this thought never gained much momentum beyond, "well, sorry, but he's going to have to get used to it" as she suddenly found herself popping clothes out of the closet like corks out of bottles and realizing she didn't even recognize some of the garments. Why was she storing them! They made a nice hilly row at the curb beside the blinds. Mavis thought she arranged them quite artistically; she had taken a course on doing her colours.
At the other end of Pleasant Crescent from where Betsy and Mavis lived, at the end that said Pheasant Crescent and no one was actually sure if this street was meant to be Pleasant or Pheasant; at that end, another pile of stuff was on the front lawn with a FOR PICKUP sign on it, the puteeouter planning to phone either the Salvation Army or Big Brothers first thing and arrange to donate the stuff. This was totally coincidental as the man had not seen Betsy's pile; but this was the bookend catalyst that motivated the neighbourhood.
By ten o'clock eleven more piles of stuff were out by the curb thanks to three stay-at-home mothers, one stay-at-home father, a presumptuous cleaning lady, four retired couples, a pissed-off roommate and a visiting mother-in-law.
By noon hour there was enough stuff put out on enough front lawns all along Pleasant/Pheasant Crescent to give the impression of a vast street market. By seven p.m. almost every house had something by the curb; it was extremely (almost) unanimous.
From the first it was startling due to the suddenness and scope of the collective consciousness. People were putting out masses of stuff. At first it was fun as people would wander around and take home things from other piles. The sheer madness of free stuff took over. For awhile.
Some people gladly took things they needed. But very few people actually needed anything. Mostly they upgraded.
Mostly they unloaded. There were forty-nine bread making machines. Eighteen pasta makers. Fourteen typewriters. Twenty-seven televisions. Six exercise bikes. Six rowing machines. Twenty old (potentially dangerous) cribs. Seventeen rolls of (used) wall to wall carpet with heating vent cutouts. Chairs that needed (a bit of) fixing. National Geographics. Complete sets of National Geographics. Old books. New books. Cook books. Books with basement aroma. Unfinished sewing projects. Yogurt makers. Appliances that (mostly) worked. Appliances that (maybe) worked. Appliances. Enough garments to put an entirely different outfit on the entire population of St. Vincent. Recreation room furniture. Attic furniture. Stored-in-garage furniture.
Pots, pans, silverware, pens, desks, foam cushions, foam mattresses, sleeping bags, garbage bag holders, garbage bag dispensers, dirty clothing hampers, gerbil cages, cracked aquariums, not-cracked aquariums, picture frames, trays, salad spinners, pillows, cushions, hangers, plastic bags of plastic bags, shovels with cracked handles, ashtrays, calendars, Christmas tree lights, umbrellas, dish drainers, three ring binders, jars of nails, balls of twine, cat condos, journals with the first three pages ripped out, cigarette-making machines, aprons, plastic cookbook holders/protectors, knick-knacks, cloudy mirrors, electric shavers, extension cords, canvas tents, canvas backpacks, canvas cots, half empty paint cans, damask tablecloths, leather golf bags, linen napkins, kitchen stools with fold-down steps, lamp shades, venetian blinds, kitchen sinks, fake flowers, more knick knacks, hair brushes, paint brushes, nail brushes, dog brushes, bulrushes, five year old preserves, diaries with the first three pages torn out, dead indoor plants, macramé hangers, bread boxes, unfinished woodworking projects, souvenirs, hot water bottles, cosmetic mirrors, incense burners, rusted barbeques, non-rusted barbeques, old tires, hammocks, more knick knacks, camping dishes, silverware chests, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, toys, junk drawers (with contents), sewing patterns, knitting patterns, crochet patterns, quilting patterns, needlepoint patterns, counted thread needlework patterns, tatting patterns, weaving patterns, nearly full paint cans, paintings, pencil sharpeners, old phones, cookie sheets, candles, Halloween decorations, suitcases, shaggy woolen mattress covers, cameras, sunglasses, reading glasses, wine glasses, opera glasses, plastic glasses, wading pools, mouse pads, travel mugs, plastic drop sheets, bird feeders, dog beds, Kleenex box covers, toilet paper covers, toilet seat covers, book covers, golf club covers, stereo speakers, more knick knacks, more toys, ashtrays, hotel shampoos, hotel conditioners, hotel soaps, hotel towels, more extension cords, flower arranger frogs, salad tongs, barbeque tongs, hair clips, door stops, camera cases, binocular cases, tool boxes, toothbrush holders, postcards, file folders, filing cabinets, desk blotters, book lights, bicycle tire pumps, air mattress pumps, breast milk pumps, button collections, record collections, salt and pepper collections, elephant collections, stamp collections, coin collections, photo collections, baseball card collections, electrical connections, garden gnomes, shells, bells, indoor water fountains, outdoor water fountains, antimacassars, stuffed chairs, overstuffed chairs, afghans, three toilets, six bathroom sinks, one bathtub, four dressmaker mannequins, a movie marquee, WW1 helmet, WW2 canteen, more toys, printers, ironing boards, keyboards, bulletin boards, sounding boards, dart boards, peg boards, mother boards, shoulder broadeners, can openers, cherry pitters, night tables, day beds, evening stoles, mourning doves (caged with full instructions), one pet rock, eyelash curler, more knick knacks, more toys, a ten dollar bill (intentional bookmark; accidentally donated), hair pins, stuffed toys, raw wool (with moths), ripe plums, Barbie and Ken, movie posters, kewpie doll, Betty Boop doll, jointed wooden snake, stilts, wheelbarrows, pool table, skis, more toys, closet doors, patio doors, garage door, cat flap door, potted palm, laundry tubs, margarine tubs, shingles, Astroturf, jars of pennies, teddy bears, tennis balls, golf balls, baseballs, ball gowns, comics, videos, back scratchers, lined paper, hankies, dictionaries, scissors, snowshoes (one pair), embosser, answering machines, Styrofoam coolers, dollies, camping foams, ottomans, etcetera stuff.........
"It's going to get out of hand," Mavis's husband Bill said to Betsy's husband Trevor on the Thursday as they stood on Pheasant/Pleasant Crescent (they were just at the point where it curved back on itself) and looked both ways along the street. It seemed as if there was more stuff outside the houses than inside. There was.
"The thrift stores won't do any more pickups," Mavis said to her mother on the phone.
"I hope you didn't give away anything I gave you," her mother said.
"No," said Mavis. Her mother lived in North Bay, visited once a year, and had a failing memory. Mavis turned from the phone and looked at all the empty spaces where her mother's "legacies" had sat. Mavis grinned.
"Sorry to say, but it's spreading, you know," Bill said on Saturday morning. He knew he should feel worried but he felt surprisingly content, unreasonably optimistic, wonderfully unfettered as he stretched out on the lazy-boy that had sifted down through all the "riddance of clutter" choices and now sat in the sunny living room where the uncomfortable chairs used to sit, no longer sat in the dull basement "former recreation room".
"Where's it going to end? What's going to happen to all that stuff?" Bill asked.
"Mom says the Lord will take care of it." said Mavis from the comfortable tub chair that had been stored in the extra storage room beside the second garage for years because it didn't go with the living room décor. The living room décor had gone with the clutter. The kids were sprawled comfortably on the floor where there was now space to sprawl comfortably.
They all digested Mavis' mother's statement. Unspoken questions floated around the room - "Heavenly garage sale?" "Major tornado?" "Boats to Africa?" "Space ships to space?" "Civic bylaws?" "Provincial legislation?" "National intervention?" "Cosmic?" "Quasic ?" "Alien influence?" "Mass hysteria?" "Deprogramming?" "Something in the water?" But no one expressed inner musings; sorry, but these would wait on public opinion.
Public opinion would progress through mounting concerns to monumental decisions and after a time all would be well for the world and the citizens of what would be renamed Mt. St. Vincent.