The Estate Sale by Bernie Brown

Ella wanted to be a blithe spirit, a la Noel Coward, but she couldn’t rest, join her beloved, and escape this limbo existence until her three most precious treasures found happy new homes. That was why she was hanging out at her own estate sale watching people buy her belongings.

The moment the estate agent unlocked the door, the bargain-hunting crowd hurried in. A short, pear-shaped woman made a bee line for Ella’s gold-spangled evening jacket, the one she wore at the Berlin Pediatrician’s conference. That’s where she met Johan, with whom she had a fling lasting several months and involving a trip to Bavaria, a cruise on the Rhine, and some jaunts to remote Alpine villages.

The woman slipped on the jacket, running her hands admiringly over the spangles. She beamed a smile as bright as the spangles, twirled around, stopped and said “I just love it,” to no one in particular. The jacket’s dramatic line needed someone more statuesque to do it justice, but it so clearly brought the woman joy that Ella wanted her to have it.

This was going to be easy. The jacket had already found a happy home only minutes after the sale began. Next up, the needlepoint pillow Archer, another fling, bought her at the London conference.

A man over six feet tall examined the pillow with its elaborate floral pattern and the saying “You can never be too rich or too thin” in filigree script. A flawlessly tailored jacket on his long, lean frame and Italian leather shoes on his elegant feet proved he had both the financial resources and the body type to appreciate the pillow’s message. He smiled at the man with him, a shorter, more muscular fellow, and Ella guessed they were a couple. She hadn’t considered a man owning the pillow, but this man was the perfect match. At this rate, she’d be on her way by dinnertime.

Two blonde, giggling twenty somethings were leaving with the pink leather Gucci bag and the embroidered satin evening clutch from Milan. Ella wasn’t as emotionally attached to those bags, but it pleased her to know they would have a fun life.

Ella sighed in satisfaction. This was going well. Her career as a pediatrician, her life of travel, her carefully chosen belongings, all had brought her pleasure. Each held a memory. But now, she wanted others to enjoy them, to find life the joyous adventure she had found it. So far. So good.

There was still the painting. When the right person claimed the painting, Ella could go. She could leave everything else to fate, but the painting must go to someone very special.

It was called “The Doctor.” In the scene, a doctor sat next to a bed in which a sick child lay. Light splashed on him as he sat, chin in hands, studying the child. The distraught mother prayed at a dark table in the background, her head down. In the shadows, the father hovered, haunted and bereft. Darkness nearly filled the room, except for around the doctor and an arched window. Through the window, sunlight spilled onto the green plants on the sill. The light in these two places meant hope to Ella, hope that the doctor would find a cure and hope that the child would thrive like the plants.

The painting was her most treasured possession because it not only featured her profession, a doctor of children; but the man who had given it to her, Clark, had been the love of her life. The others she’d dated like Johan and Archer, they’d been fun—lots of fun—but Clark had been much more. Although Ella had never married, never wanted to, Clark changed her mind.

They were both in their fifties when they met. That was the year the conference was in New York. As they got to know each other, they made repeated trips upstate to country inns, ski resorts, and antique shops. When they saw the painting in a Rhinebeck shop, they simultaneously knew they had to have it. Both of them had been in the doctor’s position, calling up all their skill, knowledge, and experience to help a sick little one and relieve the anguished parents.

And then Ella had lost Clark, lost him before they could get married. A heart attack took him away with cruel speed. After that, she had withdrawn, no more fancy trips abroad, no more designer clothes. She spent her extra time volunteering in free clinics.

And now she had a second chance to be with Clark, not the way they had planned, but together again, all the same. But Ella couldn’t complete that journey until the painting was held by deserving hands.

A couple stood in front of the painting. “The frame is perfect. We could just cut out the picture. It’s so depressing, anyway,” a gum-chewing man said to the overly-bleached blonde woman with lipstick on her teeth.

The idea appalled Ella. Nothing doing. Cut out the picture, indeed. Ella whipped between the couple and the painting and hissed. “Ssssssss. Ssssssss.” They backed away, their eyes wide and searching, probably for a snake. She hissed again, longer, more fiercely. Ssssssssssssst. They nearly stumbled over each other trying to leave the room. Ella dogged them until they were gone. Sss.Sss. Sss.

She had better stay right here on guard if lowlifes like that were around.

Several people stopped, studied the painting, murmured appreciative sounds, and then moved on.

Two middle-aged women looked interested. One carried a tote bag with “Support Community Theater” emblazoned on it. “This would be great for the set,” she said. “It casts just the right dark mood.” So, they meant to use it on a set for a play. Not exactly purgatory, but not exactly personal. What happened when the play was over? Would it be stashed and forgotten in some storeroom?

Ella considered this prospect less odious than the previous customers, but still not a desirable destiny for her precious painting. No, it just wouldn’t do. As much as she had enjoyed the theater in life, it was not the right home for “The Doctor.”

She didn’t want to frighten these well-meaning women, but she had to discourage them.

She could tickle them, but tickling wasn’t severe enough. She could scratch them, but she didn’t want to hurt them. She had one more idea, which she really hesitated to carry out. It just wasn’t her style. Still, the painting was at stake.

As the women studied the painting and reached into their purses, Ella farted.

Not one of those super nasty, wave-your-hand-in-front-of-your-nose farts, more like a baby’s toot. Being polite women, they ignored the smell, probably assigning it each to the other. They showed no signs of discouragement about their purchase. Ella realized she would have to be more dramatic.

In the most indelicate way, she let one rip, its odor permeating the corner where the painting hung. The first woman leaned in closely and sniffed the painting.

Just to be safe, Ella again passed gas worthy of a farm animal, and the baffled woman drew back.

The tote bag carrying one said, “Maybe the paint has spoiled or something, or it has been stored someplace inappropriate.”

Her friend, less tactful, said, “Face it, Evelyn. It stinks to high heaven. It smells like a port-a-potty at a construction site. We aren’t wasting our meager budget on something like that. The actors wouldn’t appreciate it.” And they moved on.

Ella watched them go, wishing them well.

The afternoon wore on, and the crowd thinned out. Lots of merchandise had marched out the door with customers, but her precious painting still hung, lonely and alone in its corner.

Ella second guessed herself. Maybe she should have let the theater ladies buy it. At least it wouldn’t be ripped apart.

The estate agent started consolidating the remaining merchandise. Ella realized Clark would have to wait. She couldn’t complete her journey yet.

The door flew open and crisp fall air preceded a tall, thin bespectacled woman, and a short, round bald man came. Their presence, chatter, and laughter enlivened the room.

Ella perked up. She liked the looks of them. Academics, maybe.

They looked around, picking up a Venetian glass bowl and admiring how the light shone through it. Ella watched anxiously. Would they look at the painting?

Just then the estate agent removed “The Doctor” from its hanging spot and carried it across the couple’s line of vision.

“Wait,” the man said.

The estate agent stopped, smiled, and held up the painting for them to see better. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it? I thought of buying it myself,” she said.

The wife said, “It’s more than wonderful. It’s a chapter in our lives.”

“What do you mean?” the agent asked.

The husband offered, “Our daughter was critically ill with meningitis when she was six. She wasn’t expected to live, but she did.” He stopped to wipe away a tear, and his wife opened her purse and handed him a tissue. He went on. “Thanks to brilliant doctors, she pulled through, and grew up well and healthy. We have just come from visiting her and our granddaughter.”

By now, the estate agent was sniffling and getting misty, too. “Here, take it. It’s yours.” She thrust it at them.

“No, no that wouldn’t be right,” the wife said with a gentle laugh.

“Well, then, I’ll reduce the price.”

They agreed on the price and talked some more, but Ella was no longer listening. Blithe at last, she took one backward glance from the doorway at the remains of her life, and fulfillment flooded through her. It was time to go. Clark was waiting.

About the Author: Bernie Brown

I live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Better After 50, Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds. My story “The Same Old Casserole” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Modern Creative Life. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress.

Sunday Sensations: Growing Up Ain’t Easy

Many of us learned, at a fairly early age, that plants, animals, and humans need some basic things to grow – sun, air, and water. What we didn’t learn at this tender young age is the fine art of that mix. Too much sun? Dead. Too much water? Dead. Wrong kind of air? Dead.

Right now I’m growing some basil in a pot on my kitchen counter. I should have said attempting to grow. Rescued from a clearance cart at Aldi’s, this basil plant has had an Oliver Twist existence of thriving and nearly dying. Finding that fine balance between over watering and under watering hasn’t been easy. If only life were a bit more like a video game. Then I would get a fancy indicator light that’s like “heads up, basil dying if you don’t water in the next day!”

But life is infinitely more complex than that. So, by trial and error, I attempt to keep the poor thing alive. Some days I wonder why I keep trying to grow my own plants. With everything going on in our family and the endless projects and to do lists – plant keeping is nearly impossible. The struggle is most definitely real.

Then again. This week we made spaghetti, one of our host son’s favorite meals, and some of the fresh leaves graced the dish. Watching his eyes follow me as I picked the leaves and dropped them in reminded me why. Because of the joys of having something fresh. It’s worth the struggle.

Parenting is a lot like trying to grow my basil plant. It’s complex. There’s no rules, handbook, or indicator light to say “give more of this!” Yet, like the basil plant, when done right there’s amazing growth.

There are times when I go to bed at night wondering if I did the right thing or not. Too stern? Too gentle? Drowning my kid or starving him? With our host son in the mix, I’ve learned how much a kid (even a teenager) craves attention and love. There’s a light that shines every time I admire or praise.

Before our host son came, I took my husband to see the Mr. Rogers documentary. The care and compassion Mr. Rogers had for children and their feelings impressed me. Much like the plant thing, I think most of us know what helps make a child grow up well, but understanding the delicate balance is hard. Mr. Rogers seemed to grasp it easier than most of us. One of the most important lesson? Kids are just like us.

So I keep watering with kind words, wedding with some discipline, and shining light through teaching. Do I get it wrong? Yes. But, many times, just like your garden, if you just show up—things will grow.


About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

To Isaac Albeniz’s Asturias by Patricia Wellingham-Jones

The guitar’s deep voice
stroked and plucked into life
wings like a broad-feathered bird
over treetops, lifting, dipping,
darting to alight on a bowing
hemlock crest. Balanced, calm
the bird settles, feathers tucked.
He scans the skies, dips his yellow gaze
to creatures below. Dismisses
any that don’t look like food.
The music builds then soars,
fingers pluck the bird into magnificent flight.
Sailing high where blue melds into white
he rides the air currents,
spins out of sight.

About the Author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones

PatriciaWellingham-JonesPatricia Wellingham-Jones is a widely published former psychology researcher and writer/editor. She has a special interest in healing writing, with poems recently in The Widow’s Handbook (Kent State University Press). Chapbooks include Don’t Turn Away: poems about breast cancer, End-Cycle: poems about caregiving, Apple Blossoms at Eye Level, Voices on the Land and Hormone Stew.

Welcome to Issue #11: Escape

What is about summer days that invite us to escape the everyday? To step out of the familiarity of our comfortable spaces and explore what’s on the other side of the world. Or just on the other side of our town.

When I look back on my childhood, it’s almost like I can remember every summer vacation from school. I always loved going to school and learning about the world, yet I could easily immerse myself in another world on those hot summer days: the world of my mind. I escaped the boredom with books and found myself in places like Oz, France, and Sleepyside, New York. I escaped the heat of the day creating world for my Barbies.

There was also the world outside to explore, especially the woods, where I could be an explorer or a pioneer or a fairy princess escaping from the wicked witch.

As an adult now, I know that my creative life is an escape, too. Though I no longer have that long stretch of summer with no responsibilities, immersing myself in my creative life mimics what I learned as a child. A good book still invites me into my own imagination and the world the author created. The simple act of making a salad allows me to indulge my senses and my artist’s eye as I pleasingly arrange tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, and chicken atop greens.

I also know that sometimes, I just need to escape from myself. The adult responsibilities and worries can plague us and I like to think that no matter how challenging the world may feel, I can find an “out” by leaning into creation of some way.

I think about the symbiotic relationship between the beauty of real life and the desire for more is at the heart of why we create. The esoteric concept of escape is the vehicle that allows us to do that.

“I believe that stories are incredibly important, possibly in ways we don’t understand, in allowing us to make sense of our lives, in allowing us to escape our lives, in giving us empathy and in creating the world that we live in.”
–Neil Gaiman

Welcome to the third issue of 2018 – Issue #11: Escape.

When we were choosing themes for Modern Creative Life, we thought that choosing “Escape” was just the right subject to dive into as we enter the summer months and work our way towards fall. In what ways can all aspects of “escape” allows us to connect with our art, challenge our minds, and honor the joy of creation?

What can a fantasy world allow us to connect to in the real world? How does a world of imagination invite us to see ourselves more clearly? How might travel open us to new ways of living and creating?

Part of living a creative life is the understanding that we can stay firmly planted into our everyday life while allowing the desire to escape it, even for a moment, propel us to loving our lives even more deeply. We must refill our own wells in some way on a regular basis, otherwise, we find ourselves feeling trapped and restless. We remedy that by escaping in some way. A story of our own creation or the story of others. By allowing planes, trains, and automobiles to ferry us to another place, different from our own. Yet, still threads of the same.

Our souls demand that we uphold the responsibility of using our gifts. So how can we explore escape as a way to make that happen? This what we are exploring in this issue.

In this issue, you’ll get a peek into the daily lives of other creative folk in our Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fiction, poetry and essays, as well as all kind of enlightenment, help each of us find a deeper understanding into all the ways in which you create.

As always our mission at Modern Creative Life is to honor the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls. Please join us as we look to other creatives for ways in which they nurture and tend their own creative life so that they regularly find their process – and lives – feeling nourished instead of parched.

As we share the stories of other makers, use their experiences to illuminate your path into your own Modern Creative Life.

What stories might you have to share with the world? How does escaping into a world of your imagination make your daily life richer and more beautiful? Don’t be afraid for a deep dive into all sides of escape to give yourself – and others – a sense of permission to take time to restore their own hearts and minds.  We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email us at

I can’t wait to see how ESCAPE speaks to you in the coming weeks.

With love,
Debra Smouse
Editor in Chief