This story is by Marieve Monnen and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As with all things Draper, there was a procedure to be followed, and the employees followed it:
Every item must be tagged and registered in the logbook provided.
Registration consisted of putting a numbered tag on the yard sale item then stapling a matching tag into the logbook. Tags must have a brief description, including a declaration of any known defects. Whenever an item was “claimed”, a full signature with date must be entered in the logbook.
There was no place on the tags for a price; all items were free.
There was no donor name; all donations were to remain strictly anonymous.
There were only two rules: no untagged or unregistered items and no more than ten items per employee.
The paired, pre-numbered tags overflowed from a crystal sugar bowl; ballpoint pens stood at attention in a matching crystal cream pitcher. Both sat on a silver tray neatly labeled NOT FOR SALE, with the logbook opened to a full-page spread and a stapler precisely aligned to the right of the logbook.
Everyone knew the Indoor Yard Sale would continue to be held in mid-May so long as none of the rules was broken. No one wanted to spoil things for others, and no one wanted to displease Elena D. Milfort, the owner of the company.
That first year, a third rule had to be added: “All unclaimed items are to be donated to Seconds to Go Thrift Shop (STG) on the first Saturday following the Indoor Yard Sale.”
In Year 3, someone got creative and registered three containers of homemade chocolate chip cookies; and in Year 4, seven containers of cookies showed up. The intoxicating scent of snickerdoodles permeated the air of one cubicle, and the fragrance of raspberry jam thumbprints pervaded the other. Next to the Christmas party, the Indoor Yard Sale became the favorite event of the year at Draper Domestics, LLC.
Mystery surrounded the “cookie donor”, but most folks thought it was Irene. She was a free spirit, generous with her time, who, with Sylvia’s assistance, organized the food drives for the local food bank. Irene dressed in embroidered peasant blouses, with colorful scarves, and dark, dirndl skirts with intricate macrame belts. She favored pearl drop earrings and frequently wore a headband to keep her naturally curly auburn hair out of her blue-gray eyes.
Minutes after the reminder of the sale came over the loudspeaker, Roger Hennesey’s signature appeared on three of the seven logbook lines for cookies. Roger raved about the cookies in the breakroom. He shared one container with anyone who dropped by, stored one in the breakroom freezer, and kept the other at his desk. From the office grapevine, Irene learned that Roger had been a widower for several years. By all accounts, until the loss of his wife, theirs had been a happy marriage.
Roger served Draper as Customer Assistance Manager. Irene ran the Marketing Department as both its manager and chief graphic artist. Soon after she congratulated Roger on the growth of his department, he displayed the springtime ad campaign outside his office and distributed Irene’s flyers to his direct reports. Sylvia assisted them both but reported to Roger.
That was the year the chartreuse scarf appeared. There was little interest shown, and it was one of the few leftover items on its way to Seconds to Go Thrift Shop on Friday night.
Irene had looked at the scarf Friday morning, picked it up, and held it against her, staring at her reflection in the glass door just behind the second cubicle. She had dozens of scarves she’d been collecting since college; scarves spilled out of every drawer of the tall, ornate chest of drawers she’d bought to contain them. She didn’t need another.
Friday evening, working late, Irene glanced at the chartreuse scarf in the large wicker basket with the STG label on the handle. She resisted the impulse and hurried out the glass door and down the stairs.
When, in Year 5, after a hectic week, Irene dropped by the yard sale late Friday, the scarf was back in the unclaimed items basket. Irene shrugged and then headed for the door.
It was in Year 6 that the chartreuse scarf reappeared then vanished completely. It was not in the basket Friday night.
Out of curiosity, Irene checked the logbook. The line next to tag 017 was still blank, posing an ethical dilemma. The scarf was an unclaimed item, but it was not in the basket. Rule number three had definitely been broken.
Irene took the logbook to an empty cubicle. She paged backward quickly, examining the lines without full signatures. Each bore a date and the initials EDM for Elena Draper Milfort, the owner. That made sense – it created a tax record for all donations to Seconds to Go—but none of the initialed items was a scarf. Irene began with Year 3 and paged forward; there were over a hundred items.
No, it must have been Year 4… There it was: 011 green scarf, anniversary present, never worn, and the signature was Sylvia’s! Irene shook her head. But the scarf had come back the next year… Irene paged forward. There: 003 green scarf, slightly worn. Sylvia had signed for it again that year, on Friday. Did she sign after someone else had already removed the scarf from the basket? Or was Sylvia putting it back into the sale each year? Irene studied the tag stapled in the logbook. She returned to her office, opened her file cabinet, and rummaged for last week’s brochure copy with Sylvia’s notes. She compared several instances, letter by letter, with the description.
No. The logbook handwriting was not a match to Sylvia’s, but the signatures were hers.
To keep the yard sale going, Sylvia had taken the personal risk of signing for the “unclaimed” scarf. Why, Irene had no idea. This year, however, that risk was Irene’s to accept or refuse. The thought of all those disappointed faces at the next Draper All Hands meeting was too much for Irene; the sale must go on. She grabbed a pen, signed the logbook, and carried it back to the yard sale cubicle.
In November, Roger invited Irene to lunch to celebrate record-setting monthly metrics in both departments. He was charming in his casual business attire and proved to be a fascinating storyteller. Irene felt a definite attraction, but she had a personal policy against office romances. Irene skipped the Christmas party and became secretly engaged to her ex-boyfriend on New Year’s Eve.
The 7th Annual Indoor Yard Sale was the largest ever, with four kinds of cookies and two containers of mocha chocolate fudge. Irene arrived late from her business breakfast meeting with the VP of Marketing. She grabbed her dirty coffee mug and headed for the sale and the breakroom.
The chartreuse scarf was there on the shelf, freshly pressed and neatly labeled. Irene touched it, but she did not pick it up. What would happen if I did? Would another magically reappear next year? Why, besides the odd color, did no one else want it? Who kept giving it away and rescuing it from the basket? Why would someone do that?
Roger was swooning over the cookies and passing containers around the table: coconut macaroons and authentic biscotti. Irene washed her mug then refilled it from the coffee carafe. She took the seat across from Roger, graciously accepting a biscotti but confused by the flirtatious smile that came with it.
Sylvia came in with her mug, tea bag tag fluttering as she moved, and activated the hot water dispenser. Irene noticed a rather dreamy expression on Sylvia’s face as she blew on her tea and looked in their direction.
“I haven’t had a coconut macaroon this good,” Roger rhapsodized to Irene, “since my grandmother used to make them for me as an after-school snack.”
As Irene glanced away from Roger’s fervent gaze, she could not help but notice Sylvia’s expression had changed to a delighted smile, and–was Sylvia blushing? A split second later, Irene realized the true identity of the cookie donor.
Roger gave Irene a pulse-quickening wink, luckily with the eye that Sylvia could not see, and Irene smiled back uncomfortably then excused herself, thanking Roger for the biscotti as she left the room.
Her thoughts awhirl, Irene pushed the glass door open, walked halfway down the stairs, and sat down with her coffee mug. She set the mug on the step and brushed the biscotti crumbs from her fingers.
She imagined their future conversation:
“Roger, I want to talk to you about an immediate personnel transfer for Sylvia. Meet me in my office, and bring the macaroons.”
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