Dennis Spiker- “Discards”

I have to admit Jan is right. The local news this morning is no news. Another car chase down the 405. Dog bites man. Hot today, hotter tomorrow. It’s enough to make me switch off the TV and shove up from my recliner. Jan heads for the toilet and I ease my way to the kitchen and turn on the water over the dishes. Eight in the morning and already the sun is heating up the window glass and burrowing under the kitchen curtain.

The plates have dried enough for a quick swipe from the towel. I stack them and the glasses in the overhead cupboard, roll the flatware in the towel and dump it in the drawer. Instead of cooking we could have bought a couple of breakfast sandwiches from the place around the corner, but Jan has placed takeout out-of-bounds. Another of those things I’ve decided aren’t worth fighting for.

I used to dream about having a coffee place, one of those drive-thru kiosks, back when we were newly married and in our early thirties. No child to bog us down. But Jan said she might get pregnant, and then what? I knew enough to watch how I handled that one, since her first marriage lasted seven years, no kids. Her ex’s second wife got pregnant right away. Touchy subject.

These days, ten years later, I never check the business ads. I work swing shift part time in a shipping department. We rent the same damn house. Jan does the meal plan, makes the TV schedule. Talks a lot about nearly finding work. Now we’re down to our last nine hundred bucks in savings.

I check my attitude all the time. Try to focus on lessons learned. Almost two years since I had my last drink. Early on I tried Alcoholics Anonymous—or Synonymous as I call it. I raised my hand, and asked about short-term resentment, in other words being human. Finally I put my own spin on the program. I felt better not being around the whiners and all those people hanging by their fingernails.

My solo-sobriety has been one hundred percent successful. Day one became day thirty, then one year. In a few days I’ll hit my second anniversary. I figured out the twelve-step program, admitted I was powerless, step one. Cut ties with my drinking buddies, no loss there. Made amends, step nine. Learned to recognize co-dependent behavior, a subject I touched on with Jan and now never mention. Drink has never been her problem. Just food. Lucky for her she’s healthy as a Clydesdale. She skimmed all the AA books I brought home, mostly to test me on the contents. The main truth— no alcohol has passed my lips. And that’s all that matters.

I slip the dishtowel neatly on its rack, fringe to the front. The kitchen has warmed a lot. After bumping up the oscillating fan, I lean over the sink and tug the window curtain closed. The outside of the curtain, a pretty yellow-and-white flower pattern, has faded from ten summers of morning sun. One day the material will go. I ought to talk to Jan, remind her that she sees this side, but people out there see the other.

I hear a noise and turn to watch her leaning into the cool air of the refrigerator and shoving the contents around as if they’re under arrest.

“Sam! Sam, I’m talking to you. I thought we had some apple juice. Did you drink it?”

“We finished it off two days ago. Breakfast, remember?”

“Well, should have gone on the list. You can head to the store later. Get some eggs too. And some potatoes for tonight. There’s a sale on flank steak. Do that steak and onions like your mother used to do. Sound good? Sam, you listening?”

“Sure, hon, that’s great.” Her face always looks wider when she talks about food. I go to wave my hand in agreement and realize I still have a hold of the curtain. “You know, these curtains —’

“Why does anyone shop for anything not on sale?” She’s waving a sheet of grocery ads like a victory flag.

I know what she’s driving at. I bought three pounds of pears and a dozen oranges from a local farmer’s market and paid too much. Well, the pears were really fine and blemish free and the juice ran down your arm. And the oranges were dark and sweet. I told Jan I couldn’t take them back, they had a policy, but look at the juice in this thing, you can’t get that in the supermarket with all the refrigeration, everything comes in green. Bullshit, Sam, she said, you do the budget. That shut me up. I ate the last pear this morning, three pounds in a week, made me nice and regular. She wouldn’t touch the fruit. Letting go is complicated.


Two days later Jan hits on the idea of having a yard sale. Actually, I find out about it when I spot her in the kitchen hand-lettering signs.

“Really,” I want to know, “a yard sale? What do we have that anyone wants?”

She says I’ll be surprised how much. A lot. Time to pare things down. She reminds me, again, of the 80-20 rule. Jan believes the rule applies to everything in life, not just the clothes in your closet. I know it by rote: we need only twenty percent of what we have. As if usefulness is all there is.

So we keep slogging through the next several days haggling over what goes and what stays, which only makes my mornings before work more tense than usual. She builds a pile, and I try to whittle it down. I tell her I’ll give up some of my hoodies if she’ll sell her ski clothes that have never seen the slopes. She wants me to dump my fishing rods and tackle box. Maybe I haven’t fished in a few years, but I might soon. We go on this way, but neither of us loses our cool.

Friday, I’ve got the night off. The yard sale is tomorrow. By seven in the evening Jan is amped up, like we’re going to host the President or something. She has me help her make up a box of snacks and move a case of Snapple into the fridge for “our customers.” When she says customers, her eyes widen. Her palms go up to her forehead.

“Oh, shit, Sam, the signs! You gotta go put up the signs!”

I won’t say I forgot about the signs, and I won’t say I didn’t, but before she can tell me again, I’ve grabbed her signage and masking tape and climbed into my truck.

After I’ve hung the last sign, I drive to the dog park and watch the cavorting canines awhile. I get a kick out of their sheer abandon and the way their owners ignore the leash.

The lights switch on in the park, and I’m shocked to see it’s nine and I’ve been gone two hours. I call Jan and offer to bring home some fried chicken dinner. She surprises me by saying ok, and she doesn’t even grill me about where I’ve been. All she does is remind me I agreed to help move the items into the garage for tomorrow. Okay, okay, I tell her and end the call.

When I make it home I’m relieved to see my keep items are mostly intact. The discard and sell piles actually make sense. The fireplace set my mom gave us ten years ago isn’t really a must have. Maybe it will bring in five bucks. We don’t have a fireplace anyway. With my mom gone now four years I needn’t worry about it. And my winter jacket, a purchase from Truckee on our first and only trip to the Tahoe area, really is impractical in the SoCal climate. Besides, it’s a jacket. Rises up above my beltline.

After we finish our chicken, I back Jan’s car out of the garage to make room for more stuff. Jan’s sorting clothes. She’s boxed a lot of books. I’m pretty sure she hasn’t read most of them. I walk into the house and check the shelves. I crate twenty books of my own and carry them out.

There’s a smile from Jan. She gestures with a jerk of her head. “How about that table you fixed?”

After I’ve checked over the clutter I realize what table. “You mean my cane table on the back porch?”

“No, genius, the one on the neighbor’s back porch. Yes, that one.”

My table is a yard sale find. It has a nice bamboo frame, but the caning needed help. I researched the technique and, proud to say, restored the piece to its original condition. I will admit I didn’t notice the fact that the previous owner, a very short man, cut the legs down a little.

“Come on, Sam, it’s time to move on. Maybe a midget needs a table. Go get it. If you can’t get eight bucks for it, you can keep it.”

In my mind I’m thinking eighteen at least, which is almost break-even, but I don’t say it.

“Hell, why not,” I tell her. Three minutes later the table has her price tag on it. Finally she declares we’re ready. At eleven-thirty we take turns in the shower and collapse into bed.

The next morning at five Jan rousts me awake. Actually, I’ve been awake for an hour tossing and turning over the prospect of putting our things on display, finding out their worth. I can hear her rustling about the house, cackling over newly found treasures, hauling things toward the garage.

As I stumble through the house I see everything major is still in place. The TV cabinet with weak hinges. The Regulator clock that gongs too loud and needs winding every thirty-one days. Her uncomfortable leather loveseat with the claw marks from Tuffy the cat who never climbed on my lap. The unmatched end tables. Now those should go. One white, one pine, doesn’t make sense. That pole lamp should go too. A house full of crap.

That’s when I notice what’s missing.

“Jan. Hon? Are you in the garage?” I rush through the living room. I see her at the garage door. In the doorway sprawls my La-Z-Boy like the victim of a mugging. My morning chair, my TV chair, my goddamn favorite, teeters on the threshold. Its cloth arms rub the door jamb, making a pitiful sound. I’m choking on my own spit.

On the other side of the door Jan looms over my chair. I stare at the top of her head, her thinning pate, straggles of hair on her rust-colored crown. She’s attacking the footrest. She lifts her eyes at me. I drop what I know is a horrified look and replace it with strict concern.

“Aw, Jan. Not the chair. I gotta draw a line.”

“Well, let’s draw it out to the garage.”

I’m reminding her we’ve been over this before, but like some blasted robot, my body bends to help. My recliner, the chair once owned by my father, bounces down the two steps to the garage floor. She manhandles and drags the chair a few more feet. She stops, leans back, and actually says “whoosh!” What an awful sound.

I’m standing on the bottom step waiting for her to realize the boundary she’s crossed. It occurs to me I might be waiting there all day.

Jan has the card table set up with her sale signs and money box. I watch her rummaging through pieces of poster board. She raises a lime-colored square. $30.

“Fifty,” I tell her. “Fifty or nothing.” Christ, what are we doing?

“Good luck with that, Sammy.”

I’m surprised when she drops the $30 sign and grabs her Sharpie to write very precisely, $50. I wait for OBO to be written below, but it isn’t.

Unlike Jan, I figure ten years isn’t a long time to keep a good piece of furniture. Can’t put a price on comfort and warm familiarity. Nothing too worn, just broken in nicely. Slight indentations here and there. Dad, rest his soul, spent twenty years in this same doggone chair.

Jan drops the $50 sign on the chair seat. Her expression softens, as if she read my mind. “I get the history, Sam. But you need to think. I’m not going to talk about how you sit here day after day. I’m sure you’re remembering him, how he died of pickled liver disease. Thank God you were strong enough to quit.” I’m noticing how uneven her eyebrows are. “How long you been sober now, two years?”

“Not quite. Twenty-three months and twenty-five days.”

“Didn’t know you had it to the day.”

“What’s the point, Jan?”

“No need to get pissy.” Her eyes narrow, like she’s pulled a string in her brain. “Well, it’s up to you. I want you to think about it, is all.”

“I’m here, ain’t I? Chair’s here too. Your sign’s on it. We’ll see.”

“Good enough for me.”

She is right about one thing: I’ve changed. The chair has changed too, become a reminder, a warning daring me not to drink. I’ll sit there during the sale, kick back just inside the shade of the garage. Make sure it doesn’t sell.

Jan reaches over and hits the switch for the garage door opener. She tells me again the buyers will be arriving at first light. I watch her darting around pointing at where she wants things. Here, out on the driveway. There, on the blankets. The best clothes go on the wheeled rack. Take these hubcaps, prop them up. Move the pickup onto the street. In ten minutes I’m already tired. I’m thinking of bringing up the pole lamp and end table idea, but something draws me toward a corner of the garage. My desk.

“You dragged out my desk?” With all the hubbub I missed it. I have to knuckle the desktop to get Jan’s attention.

“Don’t fret, Sammy. Old lady Barker is trading me. She’s got a computer desk.”

“But I like this style. And we can’t afford a computer.”

“Style, shmyle. We will afford one. Why the hell you think I’m having this sale?” I didn’t know. “Hers has a nice pullout shelf for a keyboard. Time to move up to this century.”

My feelings begin to run away with themselves. I step in front of her. “What happened, Jan? Why all this, this getting rid of everything all the time? I mean I want you to be happy, but damn.” I’m thinking about regret, control, obsession. I’m thinking she’s trying to fill a hole in her life. “Are you happy, Jan?”

She looks at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. Maybe I am. I wonder why my timing sucks so bad. She reaches out and pats my cheek and I can’t figure out if she’s sad or what.

“Poor baby,” she says, and heads into the house for another box.


The sale goes on as planned. I endure. I’ve made a pact with myself.

As the day wears on, no one makes an offer for my recliner. Almost everyone ignores the chair completely. If anyone keeps their eyes on it too long I shake my head in a subtle way. I’m feeling pretty secure. People tend to steer away from a stranger’s old upholstery.

I’m not going to be smug, the day’s not over, and Jan’s decided to continue the sale half a day tomorrow. Maybe I’m a little superstitious, because I’ve also made a pact with my higher power. No matter what the outcome, I’ll not regret or resent, not wallow in the past under a canopy of sour grapes. As I recall, regret stands at the center of the Serenity Prayer. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” A simple principle. Resentment’s in there somewhere too.

Around noon old lady Barker shuffles across the street and says she’s changed her mind about the desk trade. Without a word I drag my desk back into the house.

“She reneged,” Jan says three or four times. “Can’t believe she reneged. She’s a reneging person.”

After Jan cools off I ask about the pole lamp going and the worse of the two end tables, the white one, and Jan gives me that dismissive wave of hers which always means “sure, what the hell.” Both sell pretty quick, four dollars each. Books and magazines are surprisingly good sellers. A short, dark man wants the cane-top table. A lump forms in my throat as I watch him carry it off for a lousy eight bucks. Late in the afternoon an old man comes by and wants to give me $600 for my pickup truck. Jan doesn’t hear the offer. Thankfully, the fellow moves on.

When Jan announces an hour to go, I surprise myself by getting into it, pulling out a few tools I don’t need. My fat clothes have done pretty well, especially the holey jeans. Jan’s undersize pants and dresses are top sellers. She’s so bent on the 80-20 rule she’s willing to vacate her wardrobe. I’d rather she lose weight. At least keep a few sizes for motivation.


We continue the sale on Sunday with only a few browsers and fewer takers. Jan decides to go until two o’clock. Maybe we should have gone to church for a change. Apparently everyone else has.

At day’s end my old recliner remains. All totaled, we’ve made $215.

Jan’s in the garage sorting through our unsold items. I’m running through some things in my head, such as compromise in marriage. Whatever I’m going to say, I need to keep it light. I slap the recliner’s arm to get Jan’s attention. A tiny dust cloud forms. I pick at a loose thread. I really like this damn chair.

“Well, it looks like it stays in the family.”

Jan hangs over two boxes, her back to me. Her silence is thick, uncomfortable.

I tell myself to breathe. “You could be right, or —”

“Damn right I am.” She juts her body at me, her broad arms under a box of books. Titles no one wanted.

“I’m trying to let go, Jan.” Hopefully I look serious.

“Hard for you is it?”

“What? No! How many times —”

“You know what’s wrong with you, Sammy? You live in the past.”

I think, what a cliché. “Well, don’t we all.”

“You don’t get the point.”

Some of the books in the boxes, those self-help books of hers, surely contain clues to all this, but she seems rather clueless.

I stop myself from picking at the chair. “Point? You know, Jan, maybe I do. The goal, whatever. I suppose I should be glad I’m not one of the discards.”

She slams her box onto the seat of my chair. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m talking about good, healthy living here. That chair’s a problem, today and tomorrow. Yesterday sucks.”

“You’re just mad it didn’t sell. Well, sorry about that. You know what? I’m trying, whether you know it or not.” With both hands gripping the recliner’s arms, I slide my La-Z-Boy against the one empty corner of the garage, and winded, face Jan full on. “You can leave it here. For now. Hell, maybe we’re both right.” I puff my way into the house and close the door behind me.


Two weeks later I’m at the kitchen sink performing my usual morning duty. The hot days are still bearing down on Southern California. Jan again hangs at the open refrigerator door, rummaging around. How can she stare at food so soon after breakfast?

Here I am, and here we are. How sadly remarkable.

Over these past two weeks I’ve come to some conclusions. People have different ways of sorting through life. Jan’s way is to toss the non-essentials. I get that life didn’t give her the one thing she really wanted, but the trade-off has been our freedom as a couple. All I’ve ever needed is to make that freedom count. Maybe she and I are more alike than we realize. We all fill those voids somehow, in some way.

I think it might be time to work out a compromise. She should help me carry Dad’s chair back into the house, release it from banishment, out of garage hell. But I’m conflicted. The garage has been my refuge of late.

Jan is staring over the refrigerator door toward some point in space. “Did I mention the city’s bulk pickup day? I thought I scheduled it for this Wednesday. Check the calendar for me, will you?”

I feel a chill despite the hot water in the sink and the morning heat. We do have a few things too big for the trash barrel—some rotten boards and the old rain gutter I removed and couldn’t bring myself to throw away and hopefully this time the damn love-seat. I join her by the refrigerator and look over the calendar hanging by its magnetic clip. Why doesn’t she just check it herself? Maybe she did mention calling the city, but nothing is written for this month or the next.

“Well, I don’t see it on the calendar. Did you call or not?” I know the city sets the date at a regular pick-up day, and if Jan was offered the next available she’d have taken it. That would be this Wednesday, three mornings away. I move closer to the calendar. The square for Wednesday has something written there. Small letters in pencil: CHAIR.

“Now you get it.”  She’s baring her teeth—an awful, comedic grin.

I feel unsteady and grab the edge of the refrigerator door, pulling it out of her grasp. Something slips out and shatters on the floor. Jan is swearing. A broken jar near my bare feet. The summer heat overwhelms. I’m struggling in a sea of dry air. Betrayed.

The muscles around my eyes tighten. I take a step and feel a sharp sting on the pad of my right foot.

“Oh. Glass.”

Her voice sounds like a series of hollow echoes. “You klutz. Let me get the dustpan. Watch your feet. Sam? Are you…?”

I could say something but decide to heel away. I tell her I’m going for a bandage and turn toward the door of the garage.

“I know!” she yells. “I know what you’re doing out there, Sam.”

I hobble down the steps. The day-glow penetrates into the garage. Slits of sunlight illuminate the garage-door springs. I stagger to the far corner, my foot sticking to the concrete.

In a few seconds I’m cocooned into Dad’s old chair. The garage is still cool, but not for long. I want to recline, but not enough space. Jan’s words of a couple weeks ago come to me in a rush. Yesterday sucks.  All along I was being tested, starting with her ridiculous $50 sign. No one will ever give it.

So I fell off. Maybe I leaped. I shove the gin bottle deeper in the chair, trying to make it unreachable again. I can’t remember the third R-word in AA, or maybe there were four. Or were they just simply, words?  No sound from Jan. I push up and hit the garage door opener and sit back down, watch the door swing wide, springs howling. The light floods in so bright I have to shield my eyes. Beyond lies the curb, that indifferent line of concrete.

I stare at my foot, watch my blood form a little puddle on the floor. I need a bandage.


Dennis Spiker left the world of civil service management fourteen years ago and now loves the sporting arts of prose and poetry. He’s been seen sparring over coffee (he roasts his own), attending writer’s workshops, participating in his local critique group at a restored citrus packing house (nine-year veteran of crafted comments). and getting his kicks from observing a lot of human beings. He’s hopelessly obsessed with the challenge of wrestling his thoughts into words, a truly sentential addiction from which he seeks no cure. “Discards” is his first published story. His poetry has appeared in Spectrum and One Sentence Poems.