By: Jim Woessner
After Junk ’n Haul emptied the house, Bryan took a last walk through before the demolition crew arrived. It was the first time he’d been inside since the funeral. He assumed there was nothing of value left, and he wanted nothing for himself. No point in stirring up emotions, having to decide which of his father’s things to toss and which to keep. His memories were more than enough. Few of them were positive, but unlike “things,” he couldn’t simply discard them.
Bryan came through the back door into the kitchen. The room looked bigger than he remembered, but of course the furniture and appliances were gone. The cabinet doors had been removed, although he suspected that had been his father’s doing. He looked at the top of a cabinet expecting to see the old tube radio. His mother had put it there so he couldn’t reach it, twist the knobs, and imagine himself in the cockpit of a fighter plane. She hadn’t been tall enough to reach it herself, but she’d solved that problem by tuning to the one station that broadcast the Cardinals baseball games and using the electrical plug as an on-off switch. How she loved her Red Birds.
In the living room he stopped to look at a built-in bookshelf. He didn’t know why but he remembered the books and where they had sat collecting dust. National Geographics on the bottom. Encyclopedias one shelf up. His father’s prized Zane Grey collection on the third shelf, conveniently at an arm’s reach from his naugahyde recliner. The books and their covers came alive in his memory. Riders of the Purple Sage, Horse Heaven Hill, Valley of Wild Horses. The next shelf was reserved for crime and mystery. Agatha Christie featured prominently, as did Ross Macdonald, one of the few American mystery novelists in the bookcase. He remembered sneak reading a copy of The Way Some People Die with Lew Archer, private detective. Bryan silently thanked his father for cultivating his own interest in murder mysteries. The top shelf contained a mixture. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Or was it Tortilla Flat? And his father’s beloved Thomas Costain novels. Frivolous memories, he thought.
Bryan noted pale patches on the walls and thought about the paintings that had once hung there. His mother’s painting of a snow scene in a park with children sledding. A landscape of a California mountain in greens and blues. An angry seascape of waves throwing themselves onto an unknown rocky shore. The paintings had acted like magnets on him as a child. If they still existed somewhere, they were most likely in a thrift shop for a few dollars each.
He walked into his mother’s sewing room, which had been his bedroom some sixty years before. There were thumbtacks in the wall he was certain he had placed. Homework assignments perhaps. Photographs. A ticket stub from the ’68 World Series. Before leaving the room, he noticed a chipped piece of linoleum. He knelt and lifted the tile. Underneath was a loose square of half-inch plywood, and under that an empty chamber the size of a cigar box. He remembered building the chamber when he was nine or ten, but couldn’t remember what he had hidden there. Not even his parents knew of its existence.
Bryan walked down the stairs to the basement. At the bottom he stopped to let his eyes adjust. The only light came through high windows that were clouded with decades of dirt. The walls were water-stained, the floor damp in places. Spider webs filled the corners and hung from the pipes in the overhead. Using the flashlight on his phone, he walked through the basement to the room that had once been a workshop, his father’s sanctuary. Even without the workbench and hanging tools, Bryan sensed the old man. When his father died, Bryan’s strongest feeling had been guilt, guilt that he didn’t feel sadness or remorse. Not feeling, he thought, was worse than feeling. Bryan had tried for years to reconcile with his father, but it never happened. His father either couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about feelings, Bryan was never sure which. Eventually he quit trying. Now as he stood in his father’s “room” for the last time, he was aware that this was the only closure he would ever get.
He glanced once more around, then turned to leave when he noticed a cardboard box stuffed between the floor joists above his head. He pulled the box down and carefully looked for spiders. Not seeing any, he carried it to a window where there was more light. Inside was a dusty object. He reached in and pulled out a plastic model airplane, then blew a cloud of dust motes into a small storm. When the air cleared, Bryan saw a navy blue Dauntless dive bomber with its blue and white insignia. He must have been about 12 when he built it. His mind whirred with nonsensical details, a collection of obscure and meaningless notes. The plane had been built by Douglas Aircraft. It featured a single, twelve-hundred horsepower rotary engine and four machine guns. The World War II plane had sunk Japanese aircraft carriers and cruisers in the Battle of Midway. Bryan held it aloft with one hand and imitated the sound of the engine with deep humming. He slowly turned in a circle. Then in one seamless motion the pilot depressed the left rudder pedal in his mind, pushed the stick left and forward. The dive bomber rolled, then straightened into a steep dive toward the ocean of the basement floor.
Jim Woessner is a visual artist and writer living on the water in Sausalito, California. He has an MFA from Bennington College and has had poetry and prose published in numerous online and print magazines, including the Blue Collar Review, California Quarterly, and Close to the Bone. Additionally, two of his plays have been produced in community theatre.