Smelly Mary owned the scavenging rights to the local rubbish dumps and her teams of pickers would chase out anyone who even looked sideways at a freshly dumped object. They spent their days gathering scrap metal and building materials for sale to the scrap dealers. The general rubbish was scoured for pre-loved items or dumped faulty or second quality goods of any kind.
When it was hot and dry there was dust and diesel exhaust stirred up and spat out by the heavy machinery that droned all day as it moved, crushed, compacted and finally interred what ever the pickers had not been quick enough or interested enough to scrounge and add to their stockpiles. The sickly smell of rotting food and fabrics permeated the atmosphere as well as the gathered treasure. If on the other hand it rained, the dust was replaced with mud and the smell took on a characteristic acridity while the pickings became splattered with a slushy sloppy clayey slurry.
There was talk that she opened other times for the “dealers”, but every Tuesday night Mary opened the warehouse to the public. Usually by opening time there was quite a crowd, each person waiting with bated breath for the opportunity to get a real bargain. When it was cold we’d be huddling and rubbing our hands as we blew onto them with warm steamy breath from our lungs, to be replaced with the chilled air of the winter’s night. At last the one ton tray top truck would come trundling down the driveway and everyone would stand close to the wall to let it pass before crowding around the entrance, leaving barely enough room for Mary to reach the door. Sometimes, before opening up, she’d chat with someone while jiggling her keys, even a minute’s delay would excruciate the eager throng.
Then at last we were inside, benches around the walls of the warehouse were piled half way to the roof with all kinds of offerings. A few rows of counter height bench tables ran along the room leaving narrow aisles between them which made it all but impossible to squeeze past anyone. The place was chock-a-block full, above and below the benches. There were clothes piled high, great stacks of books which were priced by the inch of thickness there was crockery cutlery and utensils for which no one could guess a use. There were stuffed animals, bicycles and bits of bicycles, toys and machinery, magazines and costume jewellery, tools and trinkets and anything else you didn’t need unless the price was right.
We’d grab what ever we liked the look of and then have to queue up to walk past Mary’s desk near the door to get a verdict on the price, often waiting impatiently while she explained to someone why this plate was sixty cents and not twenty like the others. By the time we left, the odour of the dump was almost undetectable.
Forty years later, the incomplete set of misprinted 1968 and 1969 World Book Encyclopaedia, the Wedgwood Willow pattern plates in the sideboard and the working model steam engine that I’m saving for my grandson remind me of that place where my younger sister acquired her first Barbie Doll because “we couldn’t afford a new one.”
© Matthew Penfold 2009
“Smelly Mary’s” or the “Tip Shop” was a second hand market in a warehouse in a quiet back street of Mona Vale, it was an Aladdin’s cave. For a time, in the days before seatbelts, CD’s and computers, it was a family ritual to pile into the back of the old Holden station wagon on a Tuesday night and go bargain hunting.
Written for graphic scratch challenge “To Market To Market”
Word count = 549