Authors: Heather Sharfeddin
Praise for the novels of Heather Sharfeddin
(originally published as
“Sharfeddin has captured the family-like entanglements in a small community—by showing us what happens when those relationships begin to come apart.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Superbly crafted … Characters are wonderfully drawn.… Explores a wide range of themes related to sin and guilt, personal integrity, and the destructive power of prejudice. Essentially, however, this is a story about the miracle of love blossoming in unlikely places. Highly recommended.”
“Comparisons will be made to Kent Haruf.… Sharfeddin’s … eye for detail … and her unsentimental compassion for her characters … will entrance readers. The stark terrain is beautifully rendered.”
“Striking … A deceptively simple contemporary western about two loners who have learned from their mistakes and flaws, but not overcome them.”
The Portsmouth Herald
(New Hampshire), in selecting
as one of the top novels of 2005
“Heather Sharfeddin’s characters are so complex and well-meaning and so frequently wrong you’ll want to step in and hug the one you just slapped around. The woman can write. Imagine Annie Proulx taking on the Salem witch trials.”
—Robin Cody, author of
(originally published as
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
2011 Bantam Books Trade Paperback Original
Copyright © 2011 by Heather Sharfeddin
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Damaged goods : a novel / Heather Sharfeddin.
1. Auctioneers—Fiction. 2. Oregon—Fiction. I. Title.
813′.6—dc22 2010 046235
Cover design: Beverly Leung
Cover image: Alan Ayers
For Holli; thank you
for becoming a doctor
A Tom Petty song seeped from the car radio, static-riddled on the vintage speaker. Hershel Swift punched the dash lighter in his Dodge Charger and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He bobbed his head in time with the music.
“Don’t come around here no more,” he sang quietly.
The car hummed over the bridge as he crossed the Willamette River, the dark Oregon countryside falling away behind him and the amber lights of Newberg winking into view. Another twenty minutes over Chehalem Mountain and down into Scholls and he’d be home. An empty house. A quiet retreat. A welcome bed.
He’d take care not to draw attention as he passed through Newberg; leave no witness to point out his car to a jury in some unimaginable courtroom in the distant future. No, he’d travel with caution.
“I’m a fucking genius,” he said. He wondered if thinking that was a sign that he was actually crazy. He rubbed a dark stain on his jeans, still wet, and inspected his finger to see if it was blood. Too dark to tell.
The lighter snapped up hot and he touched it to the tip of his cigarette, drawing the woody smoke into his lungs and holding it there for a long moment. He rarely lit up anymore—the toll on his
vocal cords too costly to business. But tonight he needed the nicotine rush. It would calm his nerves.
He was keenly aware that the events of the evening had affected him far less than they ought to have. Perhaps another sign that he was crazy. He blew a thin streak of smoke against the windshield and leaned over to replace the lighter. His arms and shoulders ached deep down through the muscles. He straightened to relieve the pain, dragging the mud-caked sole of his boot across the floor mat, and rubbed his eyes.
He’d closed them for only a moment. He tried to make sense of the object in the road. Black and white. Huge. The impact flipped it onto the hood of the car, shattered the windshield, and then crumpled the roof. The car careened to the right and rolled as Hershel fought for control. Dirt flew into his mouth and up his nose. The ceiling cracked across his head with staggering force. His thoughts flickered, random images that made no sense, then went out.
“I can’t believe all these people waited for him to open his doors again,” Linda whispered. “It can’t be because they missed him.”
“They’re here for the deals.” Stuart scouted the cramped booth and plucked up grease pens. “There ain’t no one here tonight that gives a damn about that asshole.”
Hershel paused outside the door, listening as his staff gossiped. His stomach tightened at their words. Tonight would be the first auction Hershel had conducted since the accident, and his chest and hands tingled with nerves. A sensation he’d never known before, even when he was young and just starting out. What if he forgot the numbers? What if he couldn’t remember the names of the things he would sell that evening? Lawn mowers and washers and hydraulic lifts.
A line of fifteen or so people snaked out of the building, into the weedy parking lot and the late-October chill. Bidders signed in and collected their numbers, glancing curiously in Hershel’s direction. None smiling. Swift Consignment Auction was a Tuesday-night institution in the farming community of Scholls, and it appeared that people had missed the weekly event, if not him, these past three months.
He decided not to ask if Linda needed anything, but left the
two employees alone before they saw him standing near the door. He poured himself a Coke from the concession stand and didn’t bother to say hello to the teenage girl—another unfamiliar face—who was setting up for the evening. He thought he should know her. Was certain he should. There were only eight employees, and he’d hired each one personally. The smell of popcorn was rapidly overtaking the aroma of axle grease in the hulking warehouse building. The girl poured hot water into the coffeemaker without looking up. She was diligent in her duties, but seemed self-conscious in his presence. He assessed her more carefully. She was thin and wore a leather thong around her neck with a bear claw dangling at her throat. Red hair, long. Freckles, of course. A modern hippie or a greeny. She wore Birkenstocks with thick wool socks against the chill of the cement floor.
“Have everything you need?” he asked.
“Yes, Mr. Swift. Thanks.” She was polite and soft-spoken. Wouldn’t make eye contact, though.
think of him? “Are you the runner tonight?”
Now she looked up, pale eyes catching the last of the sunlight through the cloudy window behind him. “I can’t run tickets and do the concessions at the same time. I usually have a line.”
Hershel grunted. “I thought you were just helping out the regular girl tonight.”
She furrowed her brow at the stream of coffee trickling into the pot. “I … am the regular girl, Mr. Swift.”
Hershel nodded. He gave her an awkward thumbs-up gesture, turned, his face hot, and headed down the corridor from the concession stand through the long, alley-like storage area beneath the bleachers. It ran the length of the building on the north side and was where the sold items were marked and shelved until their purchasers collected them. A dark catacomb of cubbyholes with numbers scrawled in permanent marker on bare studs—251-75, 226-50, 200-25 on down. He came out into a small room at the west end of the building, toward the glaring light of the open warehouse and the hum of myriad conversations. He nodded at
the man who would accept and organize the sale items into their allotted cubbies. Hershel tried to remember his name. He had looked it up that afternoon. A balding fellow with broad shoulders and thick arms, who bent over his task of tearing off three-inch bits of masking tape and sticking them to the edge of the battered workbench in a neat row. The man’s back pocket was crammed with grease pens ready to jot winning numbers on the scraps of tape. He looked up as Hershel passed. A wary eye, as if expecting something unpleasant.
“Walter,” Hershel said, hoping he’d gotten it right.
“Boss.” The man turned back to his task, but his eye followed Hershel out of the back room, out of his dark warren and onto the sale floor.
Hershel nodded to the life-size cardboard cutout of John Wayne near the bathroom. It looked so damn real that he thought it was an actual person. He felt thick and retarded when he realized what it was.
Out on the floor, he moved along the narrow path between the bleachers and a three-month backlog of ready-to-be-sold merchandise taller than his own head in places. He was the object of blatantly curious stares. As he edged by the three men working the floor—Stuart, Carl, and Henry—he repeated their names in his head. He’d been doing it all evening. These were the men he’d direct, and the ones whose names he most needed to recall on the fly. Stuart and Henry were in their late thirties, old enough to appreciate a good deal. They were pawing through the items even at the last minute, looking for treasures alongside other bidders. Henry examined a set of wrenches. He was a plumber and a family man who always looked for pipe fittings, sinks, and water heaters as they came through the sale. Stuart plucked at the strings of an acoustic guitar to see if it would hold a tune. He was a second-rate musician who played in a band down at the Elks Lodge in Salem. He was married—at least that seemed right to Hershel now. It was the microwaves and stereos he picked up here that kept him tinkering on the weekends and out of trouble.
Carl, the third man, was nearing sixty. He didn’t poke at the merchandise like the others but looked out over the sea of items—shopping with his eyes. He still had a strong back, though, for moving washers and refrigerators.
Hershel let his eyes settle on Carl for a moment. Carl was the only one who had visited Hershel in the hospital, standing awkwardly near the door, asking if he needed anything. Hershel had vague recollections of the man recounting information about his business, his house, but the facts had dissolved in that drug haze of convalescence. Carl chatted sociably with the regulars in the front row tonight, illustrating his stories with broad gestures. A stream of laughter from that direction rose above the crowd, irritating Hershel’s nerves. He’d seen Carl finally pick up an old box fan. Of everything there, he picked up the box fan, and that irritated Hershel as well. Carl was a ne’er-do-well Vietnam vet who bought whatever struck his fancy. Hershel guessed the man was a junkie.