Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Excerpt: WHY STUFF MATTERS


WHY STUFF MATTERS
by
JEN WALDO

  Sub-genre: Literary Fiction / Humor
Publisher: Arcadia Books
Date of Publication: June 4, 2019 (US)
Number of Pages: 212



When Jessica, a grieving widow, inherits an antique mall from her mother she also inherits the stallholders, an elderly, amoral, acquisitive, and paranoid collection. 

When one of the vendors, a wily ex-con named Roxy, shoots her ex-husband, she calls on Jessica to help bury the body and soon Jessica is embroiled in cover-ups, lies, and misdirection. Into this mix comes Lizzie, Jessica’s late husband’s twelve-year-old daughter by his first marriage, who’s been dumped on Jessica’s doorstep by the child’s self-absorbed mother and it soon becomes apparent that Lizzie is as obsessed with material possessions as Jessica’s elderly tenants. 

Why Stuff Matters is a compelling ode to possession, why people like things and the curious lengths they will go to keep them. Returning to her fictional Caprock, Waldo turns her wry wit on the lives of those afraid to let go.




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Excerpt from Chapter Two of
Why Stuff Matters
By Jen Waldo

If there’s one thing I know about tornadoes it’s that they’re capricious. This one skipped all over town, kicking up and down like a chorus girl. It took out the education building of the Lutheran church, but respectfully left the sanctuary alone. It wiped out the Sears store, cutting it off at the entrance to the mall with impressive precision; power tools, still in their packaging, were scattered all over the place. It took out the new elementary school which was the only school in town with a storm shelter; and though this was discussed on the local news as a pertinent aspect, the shelter really didn’t matter because not only had school already let out for the summer, the tornado swooped through on a Saturday night when no one would have been there anyway.
More relevant in my small sphere is that one of our own was killed. Pard Kemp—Pard being a nickname derived from a nickname. Eighty-six years old. It looks like his decision to take shelter in the basement of the Baptist church came thirty seconds too late; he was knocked on the head by a flying brick in the parking lot. He was an offensive old guy—smelly the way some old people get when they’re too tired to shower or do laundry. He had very little hair, only a few teeth, and an ornery disposition that made everybody wish he’d just go somewhere and die, which he finally did.
Pard operated the double-sized booth at the rear of the second floor, as far from the front door as possible. Secretive by nature, he preferred an inconvenient location. His is one of the more enticing booths—small household implements from the last half of the eighteen hundreds. Irons, washboards, chamber pots, bellows, cuspidors, farm tools. Wandering through his booth is like a trip back in time, and who doesn’t enjoy that?
Most troublesome is what he kept out of sight, locked in the deep bottom drawer of the cabinet at the back of his booth—handguns. The guns were most likely slipped from sweaty palm to sweaty palm, offered in payment for sly favors, or given to Pard for safekeeping. Unfettered by banalities such as documentation or licensing, the question about what to do with them is going to get the vendors worked up.
I checked earlier; there are a dozen of the bothersome things. I know nothing about small firearms. Most are black or dark gray; a couple of them are silver; some are smooth; some have textured grips. Manufacturers’ names are etched on the barrel or grip—Filigree, Walther, Desert Eagle, and Beretta. Various sizes, different barrel lengths. Mostly pistols, only two revolvers. Ammunition is boxed and set to the side—cartridges and bullets in different sizes. I have no idea what cartridges correspond to what weapons. It surprises me that they have an odor—machine oil is my guess.
Pard had no living family and he left no will. While this means his modest house on the west side will go to the state, the state’s not going to step in and claim all his old fixtures, tools, and prairie paraphernalia. I’ve scheduled a meeting to discuss the allocation of his inventory.
Around noon I haul the plastic chairs from the storage area in the east corner and set them up at the T-junction right in front of his booth. The vendors begin to limp in. There are forty-five of them, and all are in attendance, except Janet, who’s in Fort Worth awaiting the birth of her first great-grandchild. When everybody’s found a seat, I take the center position at the entrance to the booth. The folks shift and glare at each other and me. They’re grumpy. Every one of them is certain they’re going to lose out or be taken advantage of in some way.
“I should just absorb it all.” Dee’s laying claim right from the start. “It’ll fit right in with my inventory.”
I’m glad to see Dee’s sharp side; she’s been vague lately, forgetting names and getting turned around in the building. Her assertion is reasonable. Though her space is themed around a more feminine motif—brush-and-comb sets, jewelry boxes, elegant shawls and gloves of lace—her stock is from the same era. But of course this solution isn’t acceptable to the others.
“You’ve got no right to any of it,” Will says. “I’ve known Pard for fifty years.” Technically true, though they were hardly fond of one another.
“I get the guns.” This from Sherman, who thinks that seeing action in Korea entitles him to the weaponry. His inventory is military gear—service medals, canteens, hats and helmets, belts and boots. I guess he thinks small arms will fit in nicely.
“No,” I say. “They’ve got no documentation. I’m turning them over to the police.”
As proprietor of this raggedy-ass business, it’s my job to at least keep things looking like they’re on the up-and-up. My announcement is met with grumbling, which is nothing new. I haven’t done a thing since I took over last year that hasn’t been met with grumbling.
The reason for their objection isn’t that I’ve made an unfair or unwise decision. The problem is that these obsessive old people can’t bear to watch anything walk out the door. Handing the guns to the police goes against their code. Here, in this place, you don’t give things away. Every item has a price and until that price is met the item doesn’t move. Their attachment to their stuff is evident in the way they overprice every item (eighteen hundred dollars for a toy), the way they always manage to be elsewhere when someone who sincerely wants to buy walks through, the way they down-talk some of their best items. 




Jen Waldo lived in seven countries over a thirty-year period and has now settled, along with her husband, in Marble Falls, Texas. She first started writing over twenty years ago when, while living in Cairo, she had difficulty locating reading material and realized she’d have to make her own fun. She has since earned an MFA and written a number of novels. Her work has been published in The European and was shortlisted in a competition by Traveler magazine. Old Buildings in North Texas and Why Stuff Matters have been published in the UK by Arcadia Books. Jen’s fiction is set in Northwest Texas and she’s grateful to her hometown of Amarillo for providing colorful characters and a background of relentless whistling wind. 

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