Friday, July 10, 2009

The Estate Sale

We’ve all heard the estate sale stories. So-and-so got a giant mint bottle of vintage Tabac Blond for $2. All I ever find is scary Seventies stuff like, say, an orange crock pot, missing the cord, its receptacle caked with cat hair and cobwebs. But I saw an ad in the paper yesterday for a sale in a very nice part of Atlanta, near the Governor’s Mansion. Maybe, I thought, they’ll have some decent perfumes. It seemed promising enough.

There was a line out front. I eavesdropped on the conversations around me. Many of these people knew each other. They seemed to be part of the subculture of estate-salers and resellers. Early birds were already carrying the antiques out when I arrived. And many of the people had that old-time Atlanta accent, in which “there” is pronounced “they-ah.” This accent is unmistakable to a native. It tells everyone who knows enough to care: “A’hm from he-yuh, as was my muth-ah, as was huh muth-ah.” You hardly ever hear it any more. I didn't expect to hear it here.

Finally, they let me inside. It looked as though the hearse had just left. The books were still on the shelves. Other than a few tables heaped with costume jewelry, and other ones with dinnerware, the belongings were untouched. The house was dark, dusty and dirty. Someone had turned the air all the way up, too, so it was tomb-like cold.

I began moving through the rooms. There were racks and closets filled with clothing that looked like it had belonged to a New Orleans madam, or maybe a nightclub singer. It was all sequins, and jeweled tops, rhinestones and satin and stained silk, glittery caftans, stockings -- imagine people picking through your stockings! -- and gloves. I saw tables filled with odd ceramic knicknacks. There wasn’t any lingerie, thank God, but there were shoes, at least 75 pair, all tiny -- size five or six maybe -- spike-heeled and expensive. And there were bed-jackets. More sequins. More glitter and glitz than I’d seen in decades.

It was the last sort of clothing I would have expected to see in this staid old Buckhead house.

The place had already been picked over, and if there had been any good perfume, it was gone. But there were at least a dozen empty bottles, big ones, of Bal a’ Versailles. I can’t imagine how one person, in one lifetime, could have used them all.

Who was she?

I didn’t linger long enough to read labels. The clothing was flashy, but certainly not couture. I saw no men’s wardrobe or things, just women’s, all this flimsy finery bursting out of closets and drawers, the bathroom a shambles, even the makeup for sale. What was her name? I kept thinking of something like Estrella, or Lila or Blanche, like Blanche du Bois, a faded Southern lady, hanging on to whatever kind of past had required her to own all this. Was she someone’s mistress? The companion to a wealthy man who went home every night to a single strand of pearls and a discreet dab of Chanel? Did she spend her days lounging around on velvet sofas, dressed in chiffon, reeking of Bal a Versailles, waiting, always waiting?

I thought: Tennessee Williams would’ve loved this.

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

My entire haul, by the way, was a few samples of vintage edp that would be considered “old-lady” -- Je Reivens, Rive Gauche and Shalimar. I can still smell them on my wrists.

They are the perfumes of a ghost.

Estate sale photo used under license from


Perfumeshrine said...

Love your story, it reads like the contents of that transvestite diva in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil!
And this: "companion to a wealthy man who went home every night to a single strand of pearls and a discreet dab of Chanel" is so well said!

Olfacta said...

Thank you, E! And here's the best part: it really happened. Yesterday.

I woke up wondering why anyone would save all those empty Bal a Versailles bottles. Maybe they were gifts.

Rappleyea said...

Wonderful story; you're a great writer! I felt like I was actually in there with you.

Divina said...

This was an amazing read. Got lost in it there with you.

Have a good rest during your break. Looking forward to reading more like this when you're back!

Lucy said...

Yes, that is a rich and strange experience, a great story...