Everyone’s Waiting

It was an uncomfortably warm fall morning. The leaves were already yellowed, and they clung to the branches that hadn’t given up summer yet. Angela looked like a bending heron out in the front yard, picking up dead sticks and Styrofoam specks out of the crab grass. She piled both materials into a broken wheelbarrow we had yet to fix. That summer she ran over a big Styrofoam block with the lawn mower, enough to sprinkle the lawn with a shadow of synthetic snow. Even then, back in middle-October when the Earth used to give us blizzards instead of butterflies, it didn’t look right. But I never told her that. I couldn’t.

Angela had been out since early morning, before the sun woke up Adam and Daisy. Normally, Saturday began with a warm breakfast before the kids delegated themselves to their rooms, each with noises of life that emanated from them unmuted. It left Angela and I to quiet space we filled with each other, and TV sounds, and cooking smells, and our children. After a while, we only spoke when we were spoken to. Adam and Daisy gave this house sound to call it alive.

I went out the front door we never used and watched her. She was making another sweep of the tree line. She wore four necklaces that clamored for space on her neck; and I could hear them from where I stood.

I approached her with light steps.

“Angela,” I said. I wasn’t even near her. I wasn’t even that loud. She startled and almost fell face first into the dewy ground.

“Jesus,” she said, “Jesus; I thought I was a goner there.”

“It’s only me. Your husband.”

“Anybody looks like a monster in this light.”

She carried on a few more steps and left me behind her. Her path wrapped through the sycamore line. Her back was to me, and she moved within yards of the dark road.

“Honey, do you know what time it is?” I said. Old feelings built up in my mouth again, and I swallowed.

“Early, I know that. You don’t have to tell me how early it is. You don’t have to tell me anything.”

Water crept into my socks. I hated when she would get like this, and there wasn’t much of a way out of it. No particular reason for it either. Sometimes she would get up in the middle of the night and sweep the tile floor, sweep the porch, sweep the garage if she could. I sat her down and told her that sweeping was for the day time, and that sweeping and cleaning was something we should do together. There was the four of us. We had the two of us, too.

I said, “I’ll cook up breakfast then, just come in when you’re done, okay?”

She didn’t say anything. Her necklaces jingled, even when I closed the door we never used and sat at the dining room table, still in the morning darkness.

In our house, mornings were darker than the evenings; we picked our wallpaper in a time when light was brighter and lasted longer. She wanted a color we would still like when we were older, a color we could maintain if it chipped.

It was Saturday, and I opened a beer behind a closed bathroom door with the shower running. Adam and Daisy wouldn’t wake up for hours. I reasoned to the bathroom mirror, she would come back in before then. The bathroom mirror agreed.

The sun rose slightly past the leaves. Eventually, Angela stopped in the yard by the tree line and rested. I heard Adam turning over in bed, the basement door creaking open. I swear I wasn’t drunk, not even the slightest bit; I would’ve let you test me. But I will admit I stopped counting, and I will admit I paced back and forth on the wooden floor and looked at all our photos hanging up on the walls. They were shadowed, and I could barely remember that it was us framed up, and dated, and in some way changed. But I don’t remember how, now.

And then I went to the window again, leaned up against the couch we picked, tried to see her. But I couldn’t. I looked up into the treetops in case she climbed there (I wouldn’t have put it past her), but didn’t see any bending or birds fluttering or leaves falling. They clung to the trees tightly then, if you remember; but the trees stopped caring. The leaves hung on to dead limbs, dead friends if you will, and dead friends shivered in the breeze when it spoke.

I cracked another beer, and started on breakfast. Eggs and toast isn’t easy while slightly tipsy, and with the space feeling humid but dry, in that it was one of me against a whole empty kitchen, I stripped from my sleeping clothes to let the dripping stop. I went into our room and cut the legs off the flannel pants, the sleeves off the shirt. I knew the fall would never need that kind of warmth again.

In hindsight, I should have gone outside; I know that now. I know you say that Saturday mornings like this are normal, and that fall weather can burn red hot without any furnace and that wives that clean are nice to be with and children are supposed to be loud around you and not to you, but, sir, you’ve never been in our house before. You didn’t see the leaves that day.

Adam opened his door and joined me in the kitchen, and Daisy wasn’t too far behind. I loaded the plates up with their meals and placed them at the table.

“Where’s Mom?”  Adam asked, getting the orange juice and placing it down on the table. He swigged it the way I swigged whiskey, and he held the glass like I held coffee mugs.

“She was outside earlier, she’ll be back,” I said.

Daisy sat down too, and even though she was younger than Adam she picked up on the empty chair where Angela would sit. She quietly thanked me for breakfast, and didn’t say anything. We sat in silence with summer clinging to hope. Adam kept asking me where Angela was, and even Daisy saw that I couldn’t face them.

I went out to the yard, and the grass was dying but clean and I stood there in the breeze telling me to push forward. Adam and Daisy followed me after they couldn’t take what I thought were the photos and the beer cans and the empty kitchen and no signs of livable life.

“Dad?” they asked, and came close enough to me that I could feel their breath on my legs.

“She’s just waiting for the heat to calm down in the house is all. Don’t worry, we’ll be here when she comes back.”

They believed me. They went back inside, and I hoped they resumed with their Saturday.

I felt my feet dig into the ground, and a gust of biting wind brought the first leaves in days to the ground.

“Everyone is waiting,” I said. “Please, everyone is waiting.”

A Phone Call Would Not Do

 

I thought I heard my dad through the garage door sawing lumber. Winter clouds killed the green in the grass. I knocked softly, my breath steamed. The door opened, candles lined the entrance. My father was diligently cutting my brother’s blue Triumph with a hacksaw. The tire and rear axle looked eaten, and the oil lines dribbled their contents on the floor.

He placed the saw on the workbench.  “I’m sorry, this was a bad idea.” Oil made it past the candles into the driveway. “How is mom holding up?” he asked. He crawled for sweat rags to clean the mess.
“She’s fine Dad. Still reeling, but handling.”
He shivered in his dirty undershirt. He walked through the oil, over candles, and outside to stand on the dying grass. I followed.
“Do you think your brother would care about the bike?” .
I said, “No.”
He exhaled,  and his breath shimmered. “Are you just saying that?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I am just saying that.”
He turned his head to the garage to watch the candles. “I could’ve given it to mom.” He chuckled.                                                                                                                                          “She hates it just as much as you do.” I said.
He said, “She hates me just as much as I hate it.”
I said,  “Mom doesn’t hate you.”
“You’re just saying that too!” He shouted, loud.  “I’d hate me; I gave him the damn thing.” He shivered, and after a few moments of looking at the candles he sat down on the grass, and placed his folded hands over his mouth. I think he cried.
Standing, I turned to look at the flames near the oil

“Dad, you know oil will burn right?”
No response.

I wondered what it would be like to be dead. I wondered what would happen if my father decided to give the bike to me instead of him. I wondered if my brother would appear on a new bike, if it would be silent or wake us up if we slept towns apart.
I sat down with him, the oil in the dirt wet my jeans, I kept seeing my brother in the corner of my eye, even as I made an effort to put my hand in his hand.  The breeze picked up, the tufts of smoke wisped from the candle tops, then vanished.
“I’m sorry dad. I hope you know that.”
“I do, I am too.” It took a while for him to get up, but when he did, my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness. I stood inside his warm house, waiting for him to come back in. Even in his white shirt, he blended with the night.

Knick-knacks

My father bought the old Blockbuster that closed down after the Internet age and made it into a store which held thousands of knick-knacks. Some were his, but most were my mother’s ceramic cats that weren’t more than three inches tall. We didn’t even own a cat, but she kept them everywhere. He argued that he made good out of the stuff she left behind. I let it go.

The power hadn’t been turned on. I was afraid of the dark, so I took the storage boxes off the truck bed and placed them on the ground outside the entrance. My dad cleared the doorway, bending over and grunting. He lifted two boxes instead of one.

“Aren’t you excited to be here?” disappearing into the store again.

“Yeah, I am.” I said.

He turned and stood next to me, “Well, you don’t sound like it. You haven’t moved anything inside.” He hadn’t brushed his teeth in a few days, or done anything other than drive from our old home, Maine, to Florida.

“I know.” I said.

“C’mon, we’ve been talking about this for months!”

“You have. I haven’t.”  I took another thick cardboard box and placed it on the ground. Dad didn’t use packaging, and I heard some of the cats break when I put it on the ground. “When is the power going to turn on? I can’t set these things up in the dark.”

He said, “We both know we needed to get out of that house.” He took the box I put down and lugged it inside.

My shoulders were red hot. I thought, maybe we’ll burn up like mom did. Although my mom died of a fever, but I imagine it felt the same.

A banged up car with doors and bumpers of different colors pulled into the lot next to our truck. A man and woman inside were shouting at each other. I could see her shoulders clench, and his eyes were watering, but I couldn’t tell if it was his sweat or tears. The man got out and slammed the door.

“I’m done! I’ll find another way home.” He pulled his wedding ring off his finger, flung it at her face through the open window, and started diagonally across the lot to the freeway. She sat and stared at the steering wheel in front of her. My father came out of the store and watched the man go. He went to her window and knocked.

“Ma’am,” he said, “are you alright?”

She tossed her gold ring alongside his on the dashboard, and opened the door.

She said, “If he’s not going to hear what I have to say, then I can’t have him around.”

“What did he do?” My father asked.

She crossed her arms, “He didn’t want to work anything out.”

Like Dad, he started. “Don’t you have a life back home? What about your family?”

“I can do whatever I want with my life,” she tensed.

They paused. “Do you know where you’re going to go?” He asked.

She leaned up against her car, head down. “What are you doing here anyway?” she said.

He almost turned around and went back inside, but stopped himself. “My son and I are starting a business.”

She walks past him and looks down into the box. “With this junk?”

“This isn’t junk.” He goes to pick up the box, and quickly brings it inside.

She calls after him “Well, good luck with selling broken cat dolls!”

“You can leave now.” I said, and followed Dad back into the shop.

“Dad, are you okay?”

“It’s nothing. We’re almost done, here, help me with this,” gesturing to the box. We lifted it on to the checkout counter in back. My mother’s Topaz necklace was on top. He took it and put the jewel and chain in his back pocket.

“We should take all this stuff back home and give it away. Mom had good taste, some people might like them.” I said, looking at him as he rifled.

“That’s why we’re selling them. We’ll make money that way. Tourists always want little knick-knacks like this, they can’t get enough of it.” He took a few of the cats and started lining them on the wire shelves.

“Dad, let’s be real here…”

“No, it’s okay.”

“Dad.”

He lined up tiny cats on the shelf until there was no room left. He picked up the empty cardboard box and put it behind the counter with the rest of them. “I’ll try the lights.” He said, going to the front of the store and trying all of the seven light switches. None of them worked.

“Dad.”

“The power company said the lights should’ve been on by now.”

Dad.

He left me inside to check the fuse box. I walked through the aisles, looking at all the cats. Some of them were out right missing paws and tails, and I took those off the shelves and put them back in the cardboard boxes. My dad came back through the doors and immediately noticed a few missing knick-knacks.

“My god, were getting robbed already.” He said.

“Some were broken, I put them away so we can fix them.”

“They’re fine just the way they are! We are gonna be fine.”

I grabbed his shoulders. “What are we going to do when we run out?” I had never done that before. I let go of him.  “Can we make more?”

“We don’t need any more, we have so many.” He brushed me off, and went to go put the broken knick-knacks back on the shelves.

“Dad.”

What?” He snapped.

I haven’t heard him raise his voice since mom died.  I stuttered. “We can’t sell mom’s stuff. No one will buy it.”

“We have talked and talked about this. I couldn’t stand sleeping in the same house that mom died in. Could you? I couldn’t live seeing all those little cat knick-knacks with the beady eyes she kept everywhere. It was like she was always looking at me. I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t let you feel that way either.”

I looked around at all the knick-knacks. “How could you get away from her if you brought everything with us? How can you get rid of her?”

“Don’t you say that,” He said, “don’t you say that.”

“Dad.” I took a tiny cat off the shelf and put one in a cardboard box.

All at once the florescent lights crackled on. The wire shelves were rusted, and the green carpet crumpled at the edges of the vinyl wood walls.  Mom’s cats looked better than I’ve ever seen them.

Dad took the Topaz necklace out of his pocket and stared at it. He reached into the box and put the broken cat back on the shelf, and another one, and another one.

I told myself I would try again tomorrow. I let it go.