GeminiMAGAZINE
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Q buys things, and then sells them. He spends all day
scouring Craigslist and then at night he picks me up in
his old BMW and we drive, always somewhere new,
me in the passenger seat that’s stuck in permanent
recline, bare feet on the dash, soft jazz coming out of
the one good speaker as I switch between navigation
and texting our whereabouts and negotiations to
unfamiliar numbers.

Q doesn’t like to talk in the car. He keeps his shades
on till the last possible minute, till it’s really too dark to
see anything. The sun has dipped beneath the ledge of
my window, and we speed down the highway in a
silvery dusk. His eyes never move from the road. All I
can see is the dark gray sky through the windshield. I
feel almost luxurious in the reclined seat, even though
I really have no choice.

Somehow he makes a living like this, buying and
selling things off Craigslist. I’ve learned not to get too
attached to anything. When we first met, he bought
puppies, five of them, and sold them all.

Sometimes he buys more than he sells, sometimes the
opposite.

He never tells me where we’re going, but I can usually
figure out our destination from the text stream once he
hands me the phone: an address, the name of an
apartment complex, a coffee shop on such and such
intersection. We’ve been all over Los Angeles. I’ve
walked along the docks of Marina Del Rey carrying
over ten thousand dollars in my purse, jumping every
time the water slapped against the rotted wood
panels, as I waited for Q to park the car so we could
buy a boat.

We’ve driven to East Los Angeles, where Q found a
good deal on a pricy lens, and I watched him disappear
into an apartment building with metal bars on the
bottom-floor windows. I waited for over an hour on the
sidewalk, doing jumping jacks to keep warm. As it
grew dark, people began to stare. I convinced myself
he’d been murdered. I was minutes away from calling
the police when he finally emerged.

Once, when things were really bad, I found him
standing at my closet, looking through my clothes for
anything he could sell. I helped him, finding a Chanel
suit my grandmother had gotten for me years ago,
tags still on, and a beautiful Anthropologie scarf. It was
almost fun, like reverse-shopping. I’d already given
him my television set and an old-school video camera.
I couldn’t seem to stop myself back then. I got excited
when he talked about Craigslist, like it was this
beautiful exotic land where he could buy—or sell—
anything.

I don’t feel that way so much anymore.

Today I’ve figured out we’re going to Riverside—
someone’s house. It’s a long drive, and it’s already
close to eight.

The silence is never uncomfortable, but today I’m
itching, wondering, curious. Scared, too. Q never
passes up a good deal, even if it’s in Compton and the
guy wants to meet at eleven at night. I don’t know
anything about Riverside. I don’t know how much cash
Q has on him, or whether he has something in the
trunk he’s going to sell.

Before Q got this car, he had a repossessed red
Corvette for a few months. We drove it out to Orange
County once and met up with this guy who was clearly
splitting up with his girlfriend. Through the windows of
their apartment, we could see the place was a mess of
boxes, rolled up carpets, spilled cat litter. They were
fighting when we got there, but when the guy spotted
us he came outside, slamming the door. He was
carrying a tray of oysters. Fresh from the farmer’s
market, he said. His eyes were red. The three of us
ate the oysters off the back of the Corvette in the
blazing Orange County sun while the girlfriend dumped
a mattress off the porch. I kept waiting for the item—
whatever it was—to be produced so we could go.
Finally, Q handed over the keys to the Corvette and
the guy doled out a stack of hundred dollar bills.

Then Q and I walked three miles to the train station.

                                   *

We park on a residential street in Riverside and I put
my shoes back on. We go up to the front door and
knock. It takes forever for someone to answer, and
I’m nearly peeing my pants. It’s almost eleven.

Finally a woman appears, wearing a heavy-looking
wool robe. I can’t imagine she’s been the one texting
us; she doesn’t look like someone who knows how to
text, much less someone who’s been awake in the past
hour and a half. For a moment, I think we must have
the wrong house.

“Yes?” she inquires politely, a good sport for a woman
who’s just been woken up by a late night visit from two
strangers. I note the crucifix hanging in the archway of
the hall; a spindly, impaled Jesus gazes forlornly over
his shoulder. Two books that look very much like
Bibles sit side by side on the dining table behind her,
each with a green satin bookmark. There’s something
creepy about this place, something that makes me
think of Carrie White’s momma.

Q steps forward and turns on the charm, explaining in
a low, silky voice why we’re here. Soon she’s opening
up the door, murmuring that her husband’s been the
one texting us, he’s selling the guitar, of course, of
course, come on in.

We walk in, Q with full confidence, me with tentative
steps. I don’t want to ask to use the bathroom, but my
bladder is straining against the waist of my jeans. I
decide to hold out as long as I can.

The woman turns on a lamp so dim it hardly makes a
difference. She walks past the dining table with its
towering, unlit candles into the kitchen. “Do you want
some milk?” she asks. She looks frazzled in her robe,
in the tiny kitchen.

I think how strange it is to be offered milk. I can’t
remember the last time I was offered milk. If Q
doesn’t end up buying the guitar, which happens all the
time, then later I’ll say, Remember that time we
drove all the way to Riverside for a glass of milk.

I shake my head politely.

A boy emerges from the shadows of the hallway
beyond her.

The woman seems frightened of him. “Elijah,” she
whispers. “These people are here for Abe’s guitar.”

The boy stares at us. His dark hair is long and thick,
hanging in front of his eyes. I’m guessing he’s thirteen
or fourteen years old. He wears pajama pants with
ducks on them. They collect in folds at his feet. “No,”
he says finally.

“Elijah. Go get your father.”

The boy looks at her for a long moment. I think I see
hatred in his eyes. Then he slips back into the
shadows. I hear the electronic pitch of a television set
and muted voices coming from a room back there.

Q accepts his glass of milk and sits at the dining table.
He asks how long they’ve lived here, what they do.
He’s good with strangers. I like seeing him like this,
the difference between this social Craigslist Q and the
silent Q I’m used to.

The woman can’t seem to come up with answers to
any of his questions. She seems very lost. Finally she
says, to the refrigerator, “We’ve recently…had
something quite traumatic happen.” In the dim light,
the shadows beneath her eyes are dark and
cavernous. “I’m sorry.”

I wonder why she says she’s sorry, like the traumatic
thing happened to us also.

Q absently fingers the spine of one of the Bibles.

“Please don’t,” the woman says. She sounds on the
verge of tears. Q pulls his hand away from the
leathery cover.

I’m thinking I probably won’t ask to use their
bathroom. Maybe we can get out of here soon, find a
coffee shop or a gas station.

The boy Elijah comes back, holding a beautiful guitar. I
don’t know anything about guitars, but I can tell this
one’s special. It’s so smooth, a deep, rich mahogany
color, and the strings look so tight. I know Q will buy
it. I always try to guess whether he’ll buy the thing or
not.

“Where’s Dad?” the woman asks.

“He doesn’t want to come.”

The woman purses her lips. “I’ll be right back.”

After she disappears into that dark hallway that seems
to swallow people whole, Elijah brings the guitar over
to Q.

Q admires it, turning it over in his palms. “Nice. Really
nice. You play guitar, buddy?”

Elijah keeps his head down. “No.”

“Your dad?”

“No.”

Q doesn’t push it, just keeps looking at the guitar. He
plucks a few strings and they twang melancholically in
the silent room.

The twangs are still bouncing around, growing fainter,
when Elijah finally looks up. “My brother’s,” he says.

Q just nods, but as I watch Elijah’s face, I feel a
sudden ache, not just in my bladder now. It’s my
stomach, my arms, the backs of my knees. I feel like
I’m on fire. I stand up suddenly. Q and Elijah stare at
me.

“Sorry,” I say. “I—I have to pee.” I wonder if it’s
against their religion to say “pee.”

Elijah points into the hallway. I don’t want to go in
there. I don’t want to get swallowed up in the
darkness.

But I leave Q and Elijah and the guitar and go, into the
shadows.

I find the bathroom. It’s surprisingly normal. I don’t
know what I expected. More crosses? Scripture as light
reading? A crucifix showerhead?

There’s a plastic bag hanging on the doorknob, and I
suppose it’s meant to be for trash. I look inside. I can’t
help it; there’s something off about these people, this
house. I’m curious.

I find three bottles of acne face wash. One still has the
plastic seal on the top. I pick it out and slip it into my
purse. I figure I can package it with some other
toiletry freebies and Q can sell it on CL.

I finish washing my hands and tiptoe back to the dining
room. I feel like I can’t make too much noise in this
house, like I might disturb God, resting in one of the
shadowed rooms.  

The woman is back now, and standing beside her is a
very small man. The man is so small he is shorter than
his thirteen-year-old son. He looks like he is about
thirty years younger than the woman. He has a
mustache and little round glasses. I imagine that he is
a psychiatrist. I bet he works in an office and writes
notes about the crazies on a big yellow legal pad. I bet
he pads his chair so he looks taller.

He glares at me as I come into the room.

Q is paying them for the guitar. I try to count the
hundreds as he throws them down, but lose track after
$2,000. It’s an expensive guitar, I gather.

“I’ve never sold anything on Craigslist before,” the
woman says.

“She was scared,” the man mutters, but not in a
comforting way, more in a way that makes me think
he might have been scared, too. “We hear stories on
the news.”

“Well, I’m glad you made an exception,” Q responds.

We start toward the door. Q is holding the guitar. I
look back at the three of them. The woman has her
hand on Elijah’s neck, and she is crying. I didn’t notice
before. The man stands back a bit. Elijah stares at the
floor. The three of them look so odd standing there
under that crucifix.

“Wait,” the woman calls suddenly. Her voice is full of
anguish and it rips into my chest.

She comes after us, her robe billowing behind her, and
I figure she’s changed her mind, they’re not going to
sell the guitar after all. Oh well. This happens all the
time.

But instead she pulls a CD from a cardboard box by the
door. I can see the box is full of CDs.

“This is our son Abe’s band,” the woman says. “Please
take it. He sings and plays guitar.”

She presses it into my hand. She looks so earnest. This
is important to her. I shift my purse so she can’t see
the stolen face wash.

I can’t seem to find my voice, so Q says Thanks, and
out we go. Back in the car. Back on the road.

Lying down in the passenger seat, I peel the plastic
wrapper off the CD. I love new things. I love peeling
off labels and shrink-wrap, love ripping price tags. I
feel the smooth plastic in my hands as I study the
cover.

It’s a picture of a boy’s face—Abe’s, I assume. He
looks maybe sixteen or seventeen years old. His hair
is thick and dark like Elijah’s, but brushed back and
long, leaving his face open. He is bathed in an angelic,
though clearly artificial, light. His eyes are closed. He
holds the guitar against his chest. “Lord, Fill My Heart,”
is written in a faux-scripture-like font across the top,
the letters glowing gold.

I open the case and pull out the CD, pop it into the
player. Q only likes jazz in the car, but I figure he
owes me after all that. I turn up the volume.

We listen to Abe sing. He sings about Jesus, about sin,
about forgiveness. He doesn’t have a good voice, but
he plays well. I twist around to see the guitar in the
back seat. I try to picture Abe playing it.

“What do you think happened to him?” I ask Q,
propping myself up on my elbows.

Q shrugs. “Drank a few bottles of bleach. Stabbed
himself with a statue of Jesus. Dad beat him to death
with a Bible.”

I lie back, stunned at his callousness. “That’s not
funny.”

Sometimes I wonder if Q might try to sell me on
Craigslist.

We drive home, listening to Abe’s CD. We listen to the
whole thing. Then it starts over. Q sings along with the
chorus this time, and I join in.

Soon we are laughing, hysterical. I clutch my stomach.
It’s so ridiculous, but we don’t stop. We keep singing
along, our voices more and more boisterous as we
praise the Lord through song. The CD loops and loops.
I stare at Abe’s face on the cover of the CD, the white
light bouncing off his forehead. I think about his family
back there in Riverside, and in my mind they are all
still standing in a row under the crucifix, just as we left
them, the father glaring after the guitar, a wad of cash
in his tiny hand, Elijah staring at the folds of his duck
pajamas, his mother’s hand protectively curled around
his neck as tears run down her face. That box of Abe’s
CDs, doled out like party favors to Craigslist strangers.
I think about the guy with the oysters in OC, wonder
whether he’s met someone else, if he’s driving her
around in his red Corvette. I wonder whether that
mattress is still lying in the street. I think about all the
things that Q has bought and sold, and imagine that all
those unfamiliar places we’ve been haven’t changed at
all, were always exactly that way, that the people
we’ve met through Craigslist are simply frozen in time,
just as we left them.

The CD starts again, but neither of us is singing now.


Samantha Eliot Stier's short stories have appeared online at The
Faircloth Review and INfective INk. She has an MFA in Creative Writing
from Antioch University Los Angeles, and lives in sunny Venice Beach,
California. Website:
SamanthaStier.com.

Photo: David Bertolami (www.DMBimagery.com)
CL
by Samantha Eliot Stier
EXCERPT
I got excited when he
talked about Craigslist, like
it was this beautiful exotic
land where he could buy—
or sell—anything.

I don’t feel that way so
much anymore.