I almost missed it, too.
I’d come to Myrtle for the vintage and thrift shops. It was well known for that. Folks would come in from all over to browse. That’s why I went during the middle of the week. Took off from work. Told ‘em my mother died. It wasn’t really a lie. I just neglected to tell them that she had died six years ago. They might want her death certificate, but it’s not like I haven’t changed the dates on it before. One more time won’t be any bother.
Apparently Myrtle is also known for its mini golf and the ocean. I’m not particularly fussed with either. I hate salt water, and you need friends for mini golf. This is my own trip. A business trip, really, although nothing to do with the bank and Mr. Hallard and his suspicious glares as I cried over my dead mother. What a prick.
This store was much like the rest of them. A large rectangular building painted purple for one particular reason: to be quirky. All these vintage stores want to be seen as ‘unique’ and ‘folksy’ and so they do things like paint the walls weird colors, give themselves offbeat names, just kind of toss everything they’re trying to sell together. Make you wander through all of their rooms, hope you find some other piece of crap you’re willing to drop ten bucks on. Not this lady, no sir. This lady has her eyes on one prize only.
I’d learned a long time ago, even if one of these stores pretends to have their stuff split up into sections there’s still stuff everywhere. So even after I had scoured the right room and came up with nothing I didn’t leave. I went through it all. Room by room by room by room. Sweet Christmas, how do these junk shops afford buildings this big? My feet were starting to get sore, and my stomach had already processed the motel Danish and was growling for more. But the universe doesn’t reward quitters. No, it rewards persistence. And I was nothing if not that.
I almost walked right by it. It was a whole shelf full of rotary phones. Battered ones. Green ones. Even one of those really old ones, the kind that latched to the wall like a kind of leech and probably came with a party line. I was looking at these things, and wondering, who buys them? What use could anyone have for these things? A theater, perhaps, but once you buy one isn’t the theater good on prop rotary phones for a while? Maybe-
That’s when my eyes bulged. My hands froze. My spine stiffened and I swear I almost peed myself. I’d walked by it, and I was afraid to turn back, to find out I had only seen what I had wanted. But when I finally gained enough courage to turn back, there it was. My prize, tucked in the coils of a red phone cord. I snatched it up, turned it over and over in my hands, half afraid it would turn to sand. But it stayed, my precious porcelain baby. It was real. It was mine. All I had to do was fix my face and hide my excitement so the owner of this rotten place didn’t triple the price. I stood in the back, caressing its face, until I thought I could be trusted.
Beginning in 1972, the Sally Sweet Snack Cakes Company began releasing one porcelain figure a week. Their size and how well they were painted varied wildly depending on how well the company was doing. Some were roughly six inches tall and looked meticulously hand painted. Others were about half that size and were sometimes not painted at all. It was all a celebration of America’s upcoming bicentennial, and each figure represented a different year in America’s history. They’re cheap and prone to breaking, which isn’t a surprise since they were initially released with boxes of chocolate cupcakes and fried apple pies. They’re also racist, mostly by only depicting white Americans, and white men at that, but there are a few I hide in the closet. The 1927 figurine showing Al Jolson from The Jazz Singer springs to mind.
They’re also a true collector’s item. Not like today, with those awful plastic bobble heads I see everywhere now. Funpops? Popkos? Something like that. That idiot teenager across the street ‘collects’ those. Keeps them in the box. Thinks he can pay for college with them. How is he supposed to make any money off a bobble head that looks like Freddy Krueger when every other stoner has one and they’re still on the shelves at every book store? Doesn’t matter, that kid’s too stupid for college, anyway.
The Sally Sweet’s figurines, though, are the real deal. By the best estimation only two or three thousand of each figurine was made. Most were thrown away, or broken. Simone Thatcher, that sanctimonious broad who runs findingamericansallies.com, did the math and figures there’s a scant couple hundred of each somewhere left in the world. She may be a cold, conniving bitch but she’s done the legwork and I believe her.
I drove the ten hour trip back to Cincinnati with the Sally Sweet’s figurine wrapped up tightly in paper and bubble wrap and enough packing peanuts to fill up the rest of the suitcase. Then I seatbelted the whole thing into the back seat. I’m still traumatized from a few years ago, when I was driving home from St. Louis after finding the 1801 figurine (Thomas Jefferson sworn in as President in DC) and got sideswiped on the highway by some moron who thought blinkers were for chumps. I was fine. The car had minor damage that his insurance ended up paying for (through the nose, I made sure of that), but poor Mr. Jefferson ended up in so many pieces I couldn’t even glue him together. Took me two and half years to find another one. I think my heart didn’t stop skipping beats until I was home, and the new figure was in its proper place on the shelf. 1876. Colorado is admitted as the 38th state. A man in a straw hat and a poorly painted Colorado flag draped over his shoulders take his place on the shelf.
I’ve built all these shelves myself. I’ve decided I can’t trust anyone to shelve my Sallies. Everything is cheap pressboard these days, even the stuff that’s supposed to be nice. So I went to the hardware store and figured it out myself. Took weeks. The shelves are along every wall in my one bedroom house. Living room, kitchen, bedroom. There’s even a few in the bathroom. It’s hard to house two hundred of the little Sallies in such a small space.
Nearly two hundred. 1876 is the second to last. There’s only one more I need. I can see that empty spot on the shelf in the kitchen from nearly every place in my house. Even when I’m in the bathroom I can feel it. Calling me. Mocking me.
1945. V-Day. I’ve seen pictures of it. A little solider holding an American flag and holding up the peace sign. That rotten bitch Simone Thatcher has one. I may not be allowed to talk on the forums anymore but they can’t keep me from reading them anyway. I have a couple she doesn’t have, anyway. Once I find my own 1945 I’ll make a new account. Post all the pictures. Then reveal it’s me. I only regret I won’t be able to see the look on Simone’s pinched face.
I spend all my time on the computer. Always have a few tabs open. Ebay. Etsy. Craigslist. Constantly scrolling. Constantly refreshing. I’d heard something on the news about a ‘dark web.’ Gave the neighbor kid five hundred bucks to show me how to get on there. He said it’s mostly guns and porn, but I have to look everywhere. I’m out of sick days, and I think my boss is onto me about my mom’s death. For the rest of the year I’m stuck with weekends and holidays to do any in-person searching, and I’ve already searched everywhere I can get to in that time frame. Now online sellers are my best option.
I’ve gotten a few online before. The problem is that most people selling them online actually know how much these things are worth. Usually when you find one in the middle of a junk shop it just got dropped there after some old bird died. The kids didn’t know. The shop doesn’t know. They think it’s just some crappily painted piece of cheap porcelain, and as long as I can keep my face straight and my mouth shut I can get it for a couple of bucks.
The people online know. The cheapest I’ve gotten one online is fifty bucks. Mostly I pay in the five hundred range. I found the 1976 one from some old farmer in Nebraska six years ago. I’m still paying off the credit card on that one.
My friends used to worry about me, but they don’t come around much so I guess they don’t anymore.
I got fired today. I knew my boss was gunning for me, I just didn’t think he’d have the stones to do it. Didn’t even bring up my mother. Said I was constantly late. Tired. Snippy with the customers. Started to say something about appearance but the HR lady shook her head. On my phone all the time. He doesn’t understand. No one does, really, but he especially doesn’t. He spends all his time with his kids and his wife. Always taking vacations to Disney and the Grand Canyon. He has his babies. He doesn’t understand I’m still missing one of mine.
I’m on the sites now all the time. Still nothing. How can there be nothing? No one needs quick cash? Needs to sell? I’ll pay. I’ll pay whatever I have to. I’ve sold other things for the Sallies before and I’ll do it again. Looks like I’ll have to soon, anyway. I’ve got money in savings, but that’s for the 1945when I find it. I could apply for another job, probably get one as long as I don’t try to be a teller again. But I just keep thinking about all this free time I’ll have now. I can spend all day on the sites now. All night. Won’t have to leave the house for nothing.
I passed out today, getting up to go to the bathroom. Just got dizzy, and then everything got dark, and then I fell. Woke up a little later. Don’t think I hit my head. Don’t have time to go to the ER anyway. Need to keep searching. 1945 is out there somewhere, and I’m going to find it. I can splint my own arm. Maybe I should eat more. I just keep forgetting.
The Sallies call me Momma now. Don’t remember when that started. Sometimes they’re cheering for me. Usually they’re crying. They cry all the time now. They miss their brother. They want their brother. I tell them I’m working as hard as I can, looking all the time. But they cry harder. I need to find their brother and then they’ll stop crying.
That bitch. That monster. That stuck-up, bottle-blonde, piece of fucking work. I’ve screamed myself hoarse. I threw myself at the ground and pounded at the tile and now my hands are bleeding. Fuck. FUCK. FUCK HER AND HER LIFE.
She has another 1945 Sally. I don’t know how she found it. She keeps posting pictures of her smug face between the pair of them. She must have gone out of the country. I’ve heard collecting Sallies has gotten big in Japan and South Korea. She must have gone international. She keeps talking about ‘bringing the boy home.’
It’s not fair. That rotten, broken woman has two and I have none. It’s not fair. The Sallies are crying all the time now. So loud. It’s so loud. I can’t stop hearing them cry. I can’t sleep because of it. I haven’t eaten in days. They need their brother.
It turns out it’s really easy to find out where someone lives if you have access to the dark web and a credit card that still works. There’s no regrets now. I shall have the last one. And she’ll know it was me.