Another Man's Treasure

She filled her yard with trash. Disassembled TVs and dirt-caked mannequin parts littered the overgrown grass. Key chains dangled from her porch like wind chimes, though they didn’t sound nearly as beautiful. Passersby paused at the rusted chain-link fence surrounding her yard and combed through the wispy green sea. Some found her yard fascinating; others thought it blemished the neighborhood.

            Nobody ever saw the old woman—not really. She kept to herself, hiding inside her ivy-smothered home. Legends were crafted about her existence, but few saw her as herself: an artist. Every few weeks, the woman changed the exhibit in her yard overnight—something always occupying it.

            Her neighbors occasionally saw her rocking on her porch, only spotting her because her white hair, which poured down her back in stringy waves, contrasted with her shadowed home. As neighbors passed her yard, she observed them behind streaky windows. Peoples’ complexities captivated her.

            For her newest display, she drew portraits on Styrofoam scraps of those who gazed over her fence. Every day, more drawings appeared in her yard. She shoved some in shrubs, and she pierced others with the spokes of her fence. As more portraits surfaced, neighbors recognized themselves in her yard. Even those who mocked her displays appreciated that she had incorporated them in her work.

            Piles of portraits built until Styrofoam heaps buried her yard. Some disappeared, either thrown away or stolen, but once the onlookers stopped being able to identify themselves in the growing piles, they lost interest in the old woman’s work.

            “God, that house is hideous,” one woman said to her friend as they power-walked past the house. “She should be fined for making the neighborhood look so filthy.”

            “Right?” the other woman said. “You would think that with a house like that, she’d at least be able to afford some decent landscaping.”

            The old woman never minded the criticism, though; after all, the yard held her masterpieces, which invited disapproval.

                                                                                     ***

            One day, the woman decided that people’s exteriors bored her. Plus, she had depicted practically everyone in the neighborhood, and now her yard resembled a hoard of off-white fragments. It was time to change the exhibit once again.

            At night, she stuffed the Styrofoam into large, black trash bags, and she picked up any garbage that sprinkled her yard.

            “You think she’s moving?” one neighbor asked as he passed the yard the next morning.

            “Maybe,” his friend said. “Or maybe the city’s finally condemning the place.”

            Days passed and her yard remained the same: neat and bare. Neighbors wondered if she had something big prepared; some even worried about her.

            Finally, the old woman emerged. She climbed down the steps of her house and propped open the gate in the fence. She laid a box down in front of the gate, placed a sign beside it that read, “Dump feelings here,” and disappeared back inside.

            People noticed the box, but they didn’t understand its purpose. Kids came by and tossed bottle caps and pennies inside, but nobody left what the woman wanted. She watched as a man approached the box, peered inside, but then left the same way he came. The woman sighed. Maybe she should have stuck to drawing.

            Suddenly, the man came back, placing something in the box before going on his way. After seeing him, more people peeked inside, and they continued to drop things in.

            At dusk, the woman retrieved the box, and upon looking through it, she found bottles filled with varying thicknesses of steam.

            Anger, she thought.

            She touched the box’s velvet bottom and found it soaked through.

            “Sorrow,” she said, lifting her fingers to examine the moisture that clung to them.

            As she dug through the emotions, she unearthed tangled webs of worry, and her hands became sticky with the gray sludge of exhaustion. She found no positive feelings in the box, only discarded burdens.

            After emptying the box every day, the woman became jaded by the negativity—peoples’ interiors being just as dull as their shallow surfaces. She brought her box in one last time, and emptied tears, steam, and sludge into her trashcan, but something bright fell in as well. She sifted through the muck and pulled out a radiant, glowing orb.

            “Happiness?” she said. “How strange someone would leave that behind.”

            But after she inspected the orb, she identified the light as a feeling she never expected to come by. In her dumpster of feelings, someone abandoned hope.

Peyton Fultz was born and raised in the small town of Poolesville, Maryland. She is a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Peyton's concentration is typically in fiction; however, she also dabbles in poetry and nonfiction.