My mother collected garbage. That is, she put it in our house. Don’t call it antiques or collectibles or gently used second-hand et cetera — it was refuse.

“Not to everyone,” she’d say, while selecting some monstrosity from the piles that crammed our attic and basement and later, our living room and every place else. “To someone,” — she’d hold up a brass candlestick, a metal toy car from the 50s, a mink hat — “this is the perfect find. I’m always looking for the perfect find myself.”

My father wasn’t. Not at all. One day, he finally disappeared. I’d heard their fights about the mountains of junk, about all the crap that mom couldn’t let go of, and I knew that the trash was the reason he’d left us. I tried to say so, but Mom wouldn’t hear me — she and the visiting cops were lost in a world of private whispers. “No, nothing missing… just his running shoes and the first picture we took after James was born… a silver picture frame with angels at the corners…”

“… reason to believe…”

“… no, he was happy, perfectly happy; he never said…”

After my father left, she got worse. I got dragged to every rummage sale, yard sale, and thrift store; every curbside during the week of spring-cleaning; even empty lots, where strangers had abandoned their detritus in the bug-eaten weeds. Whatever she was looking for, she didn’t find it.

I did instead.

I saw it at a flea market: a silver picture frame with angels at the corners, and our picture in the center. The photograph was hard to make out. The glass was filthy, covered in a caked splatter of reddish-brown. When mom saw me looking, she came over to see what I had found. When she saw the picture, she scooped it up and walked away without a word.

Once you have the perfect find, aren’t you supposed to be happy?

She never came back home, either.

KJ Kabza‘s flash fiction has appeared in print and throughout the web, in Flash Fiction Online, 580 Split, Brain Harvest, Every Day Fiction, and others. To read more of it (and other, longer work), he encourages you to visit

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