A man at my yard sale held up two DVDs: “Rosemary’s Baby” and “It’s Alive.” The cover of the former features an ominous baby carriage on a hill. In the background Mia Farrow’s dazed and staring face fills the sky. On the other cover a sharp demon hand dangles over the side of a bassinet.
The wispy ghosts of my high school Spanish deserted me.
How could I surmount the language barrier and assert the vast superiority of Polanski’s movie?
“Both demon babies,” I said. “But “Rosemary” was made first, in 1968. It’s much better. You never see the baby.”
“No different movie. Both Satan’s baby, but different. Different plots.”
“I see. So they are the same.”
All the many years of cultivating my discerning aesthetic seemed irrelevant in the withering heat. I took the dollar he offered for “Rosemary’s Baby,” and watched him reluctantly place “It’s Alive” back in the ripped cardboard box from which it had come.
“Take them both,” I said. “You’ll see.”
Why did I own so many horror films about demon children? Only minutes before I’d watched wistfully as a smiling, very focused man with red sneakers and wisps of white hair wreathing his temples snatched my copy of the 1979’s “The Brood.” At the end of the afternoon, when only the dregs remained, a tall collegiate looking girl rescued Tarot cards from the bottom of a box, and lingered over the books, trying to choose between Famous Statues and Their Stories and The Cat in Ancient Egypt.
She finally decided on the statues.
“There’s a lot of witchy stuff here,” the college girl confided to my friend Deirdre, tugging absently on her U.C. Berkeley lanyard.
She then confessed she was going to cut my 1930s art book up for collages, which struck me as a rather brutal form of creative “magic.”
By the end of the long, unbearably hot day, when my DVDs were mostly gone and a few stray cards from an animal magic divining deck littered the sidewalk, a friendly family arrived.
A young woman who walked with a limp approached me and I showed her the boxes I’d packed up for Goodwill.
“I have a weakness for books,” she said, “I’ll take any books.”
Isn’t it strange how easy it is to feel love for someone you don’t even know? I gave her the box full of books on art, on love, on witchcraft, old Gothic paperbacks with dry attic-sweet pages, books on movies. She accepted it all with enthusiasm, even wonder. I handed a woman who must have been her mother a pair of 1950s decorative cats, a white 50s ashtray, “Thank you, Thank you….!” I piled each of them high with stories I’d loved or pictures I’d studied or ephemera from the dead I could no longer carry. They didn’t subtly imply that I might be a practicing Satanist, or ask me to explain the fine lines that separated one doomed birth from another. They didn’t inquire why I might be handing off these once-beloved parts of myself to strangers. They just opened their arms in gratitude.