Her advertisement came out in the mid week edition of the local newspaper, far sooner than Joyce had expected.
“But still, everything’s computerised these days,” she said to the cat, who was sitting washing his face on the Georgian sideboard. “And you’d better get off there, Tigger. Someone might come to buy it.”
She polished the sideboard for the umpteenth time, wondering whether she had asked for too much or too little. But she had seen one just like it in an antiques shop only a few weeks ago at almost double the price. But it wasn’t a question of money.
She was quite alone now, in fact, at times, too much alone altogether in this big old house. Her friends kept telling her that she should look for somewhere smaller. But that meant offloading so many of her valued possessions, and she really wanted them to go to the right sort of homes. She had decided to have a trial run, and advertise the sideboard in the local paper.
Once she had made the decision, she felt a little thrill of excitement. This was a very daring enterprise for a quite elderly lady to undertake, she thought, one which her friend Sylvia had tried to talk her out of.
“You want to be careful, Joyce,” she had said. “There are people around who take advantage of old folk, like us.”
“Not me,” she had told Sylvia determinedly. “I was in business for most of my working life, and nobody will take me for a ride.”
She had three telephone calls that evening – one a well spoken man who told her there was no market for Georgian sideboards but he’d take it off her hands for a tenner, and the other a very obsequious sort of woman who tried to find out what else she might have to sell. She told both of them the sideboard was sold. The third person was a young man, and she could hear children playing in the background and a dog barking.
“We’ve just moved to this big old house,” he said almost despairingly. “And the rooms are enormous – all our furniture seems to be lost in it. And I do like the sound of your sideboard – my grandmother had one just like it.”
They arranged to come and see the sideboard the next evening. They asked if she would mind them bringing the children, as they were too young to leave at home.
Joyce bought little jam biscuits in the shape of animals for the children in case they wanted to stop for a cup for tea. They were a delightful family, and the children were so well behaved. She had a wonderful hour and a quarter with them; not only looking at the sideboard, but eventually going all round the house and admiring all her things. (Sylvia would have been horrified, but Joyce trusted them) They left all too soon. But they had said the would buy the sideboard; she had, of course, lowered the price a little, and at the weekend, they came back with a trailer on the back of their car, and paid her (in cash) and went away again.
She felt not so much the loss of her beautiful sideboard, as the loss of the life and vitality that the young family had brought into her life, albeit so briefly.
“We shall have to do it again,” she told Tigger after a day or so of moping around.
The next time, she advertised her mother’s Edwardian chaise longue, and as an afterthought, a box of old china. She had several phone calls this time; one or two she thought were suspect whom she gave short shrift; but she arranged for a nice older woman to come and see the chaise longue, and a young girl and her boyfriend who were just starting out in their own home, but who wanted good old things, however mismatched.
“You’re a fool,” Sylvia warned, following Joyce round the house as she marked up the next items she intended to advertise. “Any one of those buyers could have been a dealer.”
“No, they were genuine,” Joyce said lightly. “I could tell.”
Joyce was hooked on the selling bug; it was not the money. Her telephone had never rung so often; she had lovely conversations with people on the phone and she only invited to her home the ones she was certain about.
She did not tell Sylvia – in fact Sylvia was not there to tell because she had embarked on one of her 3 month cruises – but she did make one or two mistakes; once a very dubious looking sort of young man turned up with a transit van, despite having sounded so nice on the phone, but she didn‘t trust him on sight , and sent him packing; and another time two rather bossy ladies who she did not like at all came back three times, until she stopped answering the door.
She sold all her tables and several sets of chairs, glass cabinets and Davenports, a Victorian card table and a hall stand and hat rack; most of her china and ornaments, postcard sets, books and her father’s stamp albums. She had even found homes for her spare bedroom furniture. She had’nt really intended to sell her large Victorian dining table and set of 12 chairs, including the carvers, dressers and side tables that went with it, but she reasoned that she simply wouldn’t have space for these if she moved to a smaller house. Besides, she was having so much fun meeting all these new people – her life was so full, whereas before it had been so empty – that she couldn’t stop herself.
But it was all coming to an end. She had almost reached the point where there was nothing left to sell. She had many empty rooms in her big old house now; even the carpets had gone to collectors. One couple had taken the curtains and pelmets because they matched their own colour scheme, and they had asked Joyce over for afternoon tea so she could see them in place. All she had left now was her own bedroom furniture, and a few pieces in her sitting room and kitchen. Maybe it was time to sell up the house and move, she thought.
But the thought gave her such a wrench of pain, she knew it wasn’t time to go, not yet. On a sudden whim, she advertised her remaining lounge furniture; and one of the couples who had already taken her Chipperfield chairs came back and bought the lot. I can always buy new, when I move, she thought sadly.
So the kitchen furniture went next; and the old range that she never used. The house was almost empty, and she had nothing left to sell.
As she wandered around from empty room to empty room, she felt such a terrible loneliness. No more callers, no more cups of tea and welcome conversations over a biscuit or two. Worse, she had a card from Sylvia, telling her she would be home in two weeks and was dying to meet her and find out all the news. She knew exactly what Sylvia would say when she saw her empty house.
It was then the idea came to her and she laughed out loud, wondering why she had not thought of it before.
She opened the newspaper and turned to the FOR SALE AND WANTED page; her hand was shaking as she marked several items with a red pencil. Then she picked up the telephone and dialled the first number.
“Hello” she said to the nice young man who answered. “I understand you’re selling a dining room table. It sounds just what I am looking for. Can I come and look at it?”