Lauren couldn’t resist a yard sale. When the homemade posters appeared taped to street signs and telephone poles, she followed the arrows. There were a surprising number of interesting items for sale in the Zanesville area. As the “greatest generation” passed on, and relatives processed the remains of lost lives, a patient collector could find all sorts of vintage or antique nick-knacks.
“You have some nice stuff,” she said to the middle-aged woman seated behind the long folding-table. She plucked up, inspected pressed-glass vases, mismatched pieces of 1950s Fiesta-ware, old kitchen utensils, and a small boudoir lamp with a frayed cord. She was in North Zanesville, on a quiet street near Joes Run. The houses here were single-story, older frame and brick ranchers surrounded by close-cut grass trimmed along walkways and fencing.
“Where’re you from?” the woman asked, fanning herself with a magazine. “Did you see that box over there,” she went on, before her customer had a chance to answer.
“I live a few blocks away,” Lauren answered as she obediently stopped in front of a brown U-Haul carton at the end of the table. She folded back the top flaps.
“Didn’t get a chance to set everything up yet. Belonged to my dad, Lionel Strickland. Corporal Lionel Strickland. He died a couple of months ago….”
Lauren peeked inside the box; some items were rolled up in old newspaper, others in discolored, musty-smelling tissue paper. A glimpse of gleaming white in a lumpy mass of newsprint caught her attention. “What’s this?” she asked as she retrieved the wrapped piece, hefted it. She peeled off the paper, tearing it in her haste. An all-white porcelain figure four-to-five inches high came into view. It was a mature version of a cherub with little feathery wings, seated on a flat slab, chubby arms raised, palms attached to a square that looked rough and charred on the top. Lauren turned it over. “There’s a mark here!”
“Dad found that in Germany, in 1944 or ’45,” the woman said. “He was with Patton’s 3rd Army, the 87th Infantry Division. Dad called it ‘liberating’ but I guess some of it was stealing. I don’t know. He found that angel there somewhere outside of Eisenach, he told me….”
“There’s a Star of David on the bottom….” She hefted the angel, ran her fingers over its round cheeks, the contours of each tiny hand.
“Dad said, some German citizens lifted it from a Nazi truck that was bombed by the allies, and then he and his fellow soldiers ‘liberated’ it from them. Once he saw the star on the bottom, he figured it was stolen from the proper owners in the first place. I think it once was part of a candlestick.”
“How much do you want for it?”
Lauren rested on the edge of her chair, one knee pulled up, her other foot tapping. Her laptop was open, but she hadn’t turned it on. Instead, she flipped through typed pages, printed photos and maps piled beside the computer; her research, trying to learn as much as she could about her purchase. She glanced at the porcelain angel glowing almost gold in front of her, surrounded by a globe of illumination from the hanging light above the dining table. There was something disturbing about the thing, she thought. The cherub seemed to radiate sadness; it was hard to look at it. There was no sense of intrinsic beauty, although it was a very fine piece. Made in the Dresden style in the 1760s–the original stamp on the bottom of the base read MV Muller Volkstedt, the Star of David and the initials PRM placed over it at a later date–this candlestick angel had survived terrible times, to end up in the garage of an American veteran in Ohio. Or now, to wind up in the small rented house of a school teacher and her fiancee.
She sat back in her chair and sighed. She’d been reading about Krystallnacht–that was when many household treasures were taken from owners who were beaten, killed, sent to camps. And the attempt by the Nazi hierarchy to pack away all their stolen loot and escape the approaching allied armies as the end of their Reich exploded around them. She’d read about Soviet soldiers raping, looting, and killing their way to Berlin. Too many wars, too many invasions, so much destruction–wars upon wars going back two-hundred and fifty years; what had this angel seen? Was that why it looked so cheerless and pensive, as if it were pleading for some kind of revelation? She wasn’t surprised Lionel Strickland had hidden it away in a corrugated box for seventy years. “You’re a silent witness,” she said to the angel. “You make people feel guilty.”
Which maybe is what angels are supposed to do, she thought.