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And the Bidder Withdraws...
And the bidder withdraws… a modern retelling of the classic poem, “A Touch of the Master’s Hand”
I sit in the stuffy room, the air thick with cigarette smoke. Mama sits next to me and looks around at the piles and piles of junk all around us. The tables lining the action house are heaped high with junk that was hauled out of the old barn behind our house. We just moved here and need to flatten the barn to make space for my older brother’s room in the annex. I am sick of living with him in my room. He blasts his Led Zeppelin and Metallica too loud. He also leaves his underwear all over the floor.
But the stuff from the barn here is just plain weird. There, in the corner, is a blue rod with twisted metal spokes sticking out of the bottom and plastic yellow handles. Under a table, in the front of the room, is a wooden door-prop, made to look like a cat. It’s missing one eye. People wander around and admire the junk. An old man hauls the lid up on an old trunk, gazing at the moth bitten quilts inside of it. Because of boredom, or perhaps because he interested me, I watch the old man for a while. He moves throughout, methodically picking up old woodworking tools and checking for maker’s marks; dates.
“Ahem,” Says the Auctioneer from the front of the room, his voice a low rumble. “Mrs. Mayer, are we ready to proceed?” My mother nods. The young auctioneer reaches down and plucks the one-eyed cat from the ground. “What will anyone give me for this sad lookin’ cat?” He drawls out.
The room is silent.
“Ok,” says the Auctioneer, setting the cat to the side, “what about this…” he reaches for the blue thingy. It goes for a dollar fifty. I hope the woman who buys it knows what it is for.
The trunk goes for ten dollars. The quilts, ten cents apiece. The rocking chair with a bashed out rockers was three dollars. And so on. I grow bored, watching the people come up to the front to claim the random odds and ends that they buy.
The room is almost empty, stripped of its junk.
“Only a couple lots left, folks,” the auctioneer says, grateful to almost be over. “What about this violin?” He holds up a violin, along with the horse- hair bow.
“Would you take a dollar?” says a middle-aged man in a suit, “I think my niece can play.” No one bids against him.
“Well, sir” begins the Auctioneer, “I guess…”
There is the scrape and bump of a chair in the back of the room. Someone is making their way up the aisle. To my surprise, it is the old man. He reaches for the violin, and the shocked Auctioneer gives it to him. The kind-lookin’ old man strums the instrument, and twists the pegs on the end of the neck. Wiping the dust off of the dark, damp wood, he brings it to his chin. The tune that pours out of the old thing fills the room. The sweet melody even causes a couple of teenagers to look up from their phones.
The music stops, and the room is flooded with silence. The old man sets the violin down on the table and walks to the back of the room. No one says a word, and the silence is loud with breathing.
“Well, sir, it’s yours for a dollar.” The Auctioneer says, just to break the silence.
The business man looks shocked, “I can’t just pay a dollar for it! I’ll give you five hundred.”
A woman leaps up. “Only five hundred?” She shrieks at the man. “I’ll give you a thousand!” She says to the now stunned Auctioneer.
“Two thousand!” Comes a cry from the back.
Later, after the violin had been sold (Three thousand and fifty two dollars, to the business man) I ask my mother, “How could the ratty violin play such beautiful music?”
She shrugs, “It was the touch of the master’s hand.”