The bedroom looks more or less as it did when Sarah’s mother had returned from the hospital, like something out of a 70s Style magazine: khaki colored carpet—shag carpet, mind you—vanilla walls, a beige ceiling. A dresser stands beside the closet door. A bed towers in the center of the room, one of those velvet numbers. It looks old and worn, the bed, like it’s been sitting beneath a pile of scrap metal for years.
As a child, Sarah loved to peel the sheets and blankets off and roll around on it. Complete with a velvet headboard, the bed attracted her; she loved how it felt, adored it, even.
It repulsed her after her mother died. And, as a teenager, it embarrassed her when, on a rare occasion, a friend, rarer still, showed up to the house and peered into the room. The headboard alone belonged in a museum, it was so old; and its color, purple, caught the eye. It never failed to elicit a comment, usually about her father, which further embarrassed her.
Sarah shoves her fist into the mattress. It creaks. She recoils and blurts something like a scream but not quite a scream. More like a yelp. Touching the mattress had raised gooseflesh on her arms, which she now pulls to her chest and massages.
Her mother’s absence lingers, but it’s vague. It reminds Sarah of the feeling she experiences when she leaves her house and forgets something—but not certain if she has, in fact, forgot something. And this evokes pretty much the same sensation, her mother’s absence. Why does she linger? But then does she linger?
After a while, the sensation dims. It dims. The shadows of years gone by darken the signature of her existence.
And but Sarah’s father … His absence is fucking oppressive. Like at any moment, Sarah expects him to call from downstairs or to make an appearance or to ask why she’s in his room. Like it doesn’t even feel like he’s out of town or on vacation or something. It feels like he’s there, right there, alive and well and in the house, maybe in the living room, maybe, or in the basement. And … but … she doesn’t have access to him. Like he’s there but she can’t pinpoint his location; like she knows he’s home but she can’t figure out in which room he’s doing whatever it is he does.
She opens the closet door—inside, it smells like dust—and fumbles for the twine dangling from the light fixture. She flails her arm and pinches her fingers. Then, still flailing her arm, she slaps the twine, catches and pulls it. Photons ping pong around the closet.
Clothes hang from wall to wall. Men’s clothes. Some old, some new, some she’s never seen. She slides her fingers across the sleeve of an old jacket. Goosebumps. The clothes retain his smell, his signature. Tears threaten to assault her. She clears her throat and closes her eyes and pops her neck, slaying the tears before they usurp her.
It’s almost funny. Every suit, every shirt, every pair of paints—everything seems plucked out of the 1970s and 80s, like her father was maybe some secret sitcom star and had saved his wardrobe. As a teenager, of course, she didn’t find it funny, even though his style wasn’t as outdated.
Among blues and whites, and even a pink, among velvet and cardigan, a black suit sticks out. Does it look good? Seams are frayed and, at some points, gray dulls black, turning it more or less silver. So no: it doesn’t look good. But then so what? Does it matter what he looks like when he’s buried?
But even in death people tend to appear the way others expect them to appear.
—It’s such bullshit, she says.
More faded clothes. More frayed seams. Did the man own a decent suit?
But does it matter? Does it really fucking matter? People will see him in this outfit—whichever suit she settles on—for at most a day, and they probably won’t even remember the damn thing. Then, after a few hours, someone will lock him in a box, in darkness, until the clothes rot, until the tectonic plates shift and drift away, until the sun expands and devours the planet.
An eternity of the absence of experience is indifferent to the clothes someone forces onto a corpse, she knows, and yet a strange obligation roils her: he must, at the very least, appear presentable.
She bumps the closet door with her ass, closing it—her father had installed the door backward. Never the DIY type, he more or less shrugged it off. In fact, he claimed to prefer it. Whoever heard of an inward swinging closet door? he’d said. She hadn’t, for one, so she picked on him whenever she saw or remembered it. He’d laugh or shrug it off or mutter something about getting around to it, a favorite phrase: “I’ll get around to it later.”
The thought brings a smile to her face.
The smile fades.
She drops to her knees and digs through boxes filled with bags of socks and new clothes. For some reason, her father had purchased these clothes and tossed them into a box and either forgot about them or chose not to wear them—tags, still affixed to at least half of them, advertise a clearance sale in red ink.
It makes her want to laugh. It makes her want to cry. It makes her want to choke him, this box, these clothes. For years he had joked about Sarah’s mother, about how she’d hoarded knickknacks and books, clothes and even newspapers. And yet, on those occasions, he’d failed to disclose his at least minor proclivity for hoarding shit.
It’s not surprising in hindsight. On the rare occasion he let something approximating sentimentalism slip, he’d produce an object Sarah hadn’t seen. Like the time he showed her a spoon inherited from his mother-in-law. He coveted the damn thing. At some point—Sarah couldn’t remember when—he even built a display case and hung it on the wall in the kitchen, beside the table, and betrayed anxiety when someone sat near it.
The world dims. Light grows again.
Sarah’s sitting in the kitchen now, examining the spoon. In the display case. Her father, sitting on the other side of the table, eyeballs her, then the spoon, as he tears into a New York strip. Sarah picks a piece of lint from the corner and flicks it away. Her dad drops his fork, reaches out, belches a sort of visceral scream.
—Settle down, Sarah says, laughing. —There was lint.
—Right there. On the corner.
—I’m thinking about building a sturdier case. Maybe putting some glass on it.
—That seems excessive.
—It’s a valuable piece.
—It’s a spoon.
—With Paul Revere’s maker’s mark.
—Are you shitting me?
—It’s worth tens of thousands, he says. —Easily.
—Look it up.
Patina darkens it, gives it an almost marbled-copper coat. It’s old, but otherwise undistinguished. Just a spoon. Nothing fancy or ornate. It seems mass produced, recent, like a piece from one of those “heirloom” sets sold door-to-door in the fifties.
—The mark’s on the back, her father says. —I’m thinking about mounting it so you can see it, maybe include a picture or a brief history, or …
First he smiles and then he frowns. First his eyelids narrow and then they open. Then he says something—it comes across as a moan—and water flows from his mouth. Bubbles churn on the surface of the water. They pop as the water slams into his neck and chest, and the word “Help” escapes from the bubbles as they pop. Visible—not sounds but symbols, as if typed: “Help”—the words float up, up, and crash into the ceiling.
As words coalesce around his head, Sarah’s father’s face turns pale and gray. His eyes and mouth droop. Then more bubbles, more symbols, more words: “Oh god, help.” His face shifts, his skin bulges. Another yelp—another popped bubble—produces a groan. Slumping forward, he slams his face into the table. His arms fall to his sides.
Sarah scrambles to her feet, kicks over her chair, and, screaming …
Copyright © 2015 Daulton Dickey. All rights reserved.