Another Page: 01.02.04

I’m stepping out of the continuity of the storyline today because I’m Las Vegas right now. With packing and the holidays, I haven’t had time to write anything. But rather than take two weeks off, I decided to post something I wrote for a Very Short Fiction contest about two years ago. I didn’t win.

I will pick up with the Serialized version in a couple years.

The door made the same creaking noise today as it must have for the last 15 years. The last time I went down to the basement in my parents’ house, before I left for California, it made the same noise. I didn’t notice it so much then, like a smell that’s become familiar. Beneath recognition unless it’s left for a while.

The smell of must seeped into the back of my throat as I descended the carpeted stairs. My father kept the basement nice for a lot of years, while he was able. Since my mother died, housework and maintenance kept him from getting lonely. The last couple years, the bad ones, he hadn’t been able to air out the cellar.

I paused at the foot of stairs to flip the light switch. Two bright, naked light bulbs in ceiling embedded, socket-only fixtures burned to life. When my mother first died, my father’s first project had been going through the basement and organizing and boxing everything. These boxes lined the walls. It had been his first project. It probably kept him from getting lonely. That, and writing letters to which my secretary, Linda, usually responded. I had left a lot of things here when I moved to California. The day I slammed the door of the moving truck, I promised to pick up the rest as soon as I could. “As soon as I could” turned out to be “when I get a chance,” and later into “eventually.”

I looked at the stacked boxes, my father’s blocky handwriting on their sides. They were all banana boxes, probably picked up from the local supermarket. He probably went in every week, got a couple, packed a category of stuff away, and waited till next week. I could see him, chatting with the produce clerk and asking if he could maybe spare a couple when he was crushing boxes. My father had a friendly way about him. The produce clerk probably went out of his way to save boxes for the nice old man.

Boxes with my name took up a whole corner of the basement. My stuff, all labeled with my name and some miscellaneous comment about their contents. Jimmy’s Books (young). Jimmy’s Books (teen). Jimmy’s Old Toys (1 of 4). He was meticulous, to say the least.

When I left, I never planned for it to take this long to get back. I was offered my dream job. I went to school for television production, and had been offered a job, right out of college, by Universal Studios. Me, a little scrub from Upstate New York. I promised my parents I’d be back yearly. I meant to at least make it home for my mother’s funeral. I had the ticket, but it just wasn’t at a good time. We had been behind schedule on a release slated for August. I just couldn’t get home. I think Linda handled the flowers.

I lifted a shoebox off the top, labeled Jimmy’s Pictures (elementary). I pulled the top off, and sifted through the pictures. There were a lot. My parents were picture freaks when I was young. Every event carefully documented on Kodak 110 film from a fifteen dollar camera with a disposable flash. Pictures of my birthday parties all up through elementary school. Pictures with my parents. Pictures of me, by myself standing on a cannon. I remembered that day. I remembered a lot of these days.

Today, anyway.

My father’s handwriting stood out against the hard light of bare bulbs. I wondered how much of my life was stored in these boxes. How much they kept that I left behind. It was all in here, though. Twenty years of accusatory memories. Friends I left here. Family I left here. All to follow a dream.

I opened the box labeled Jimmy’s Toys (1 of 4). Nothing of particular interest. A lot of the baby toys my mother hadn’t seen fit to pass on to other expecting parents, or the visiting child who took a shine to something. I put it aside and opened (2 of 4).

The box was filled with collectable toys. Matchbox Cars, GI Joe figures, Star Wars collectables. Everything I used to play with through my mid-teens. Almost until the day I had a license, I still played with various figures.

Looking through the toys, I remembered Christmas in the small apartments where I grew up, with the split carpeting, yellow linoleum, and tiny rooms. The Christmas tree took enough of the living room, I had to look around it to watch television. I would come out from my bedroom on Christmas morning and find everything these things I was looking at now. They struggled while I was growing up, but I never knew it. It took them 14 years to buy this house, a modest one by most standards. Even our first Christmas here, when they must have been smarting from closing costs and lawyer fees, I still got a new bike and a set of golf clubs.

In box (3 of 4) and (4 of 4) there was more of the same. Some of these were more high tech toys. Some Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which were just at the end of my toy days. There was stuff in here collectors would give a finger for. I remembered my mother saying one day “we spent a lot of money on those toys over the years, Jimmy. I can’t just throw them out.”

That had been the day I packed up the Ryder. I told her to throw them away. To just throw all this junk away. She had said no, they’d save it, and I could come back for it. My mother had been something of a pack rat. She had kept clothes thirty years after they went out of style. “You never know,” she was fond of saying. Never know when you would need a pair of bell-bottoms and platform shoes, I guess. Then again, my god-daughter had similar outfits. I had no children of my own, or even a wife. They weren’t priorities. Developing my first feature, from writing to release, was top priority. I wanted something with my name on it. Something for the world to remember me by.

It struck me that my parents had nothing for the world to remember them by. I would get their house ready for sale, sell their cars, liquidate their assets, and bring any traces of them I wanted back to LA. Their only mark on the world was well me.

Who ignored them for the last 15 years.

I pushed the boxes of toys aside and went for one of the boxes of books. A lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, a bunch of fantasies, and the occasional classic. A second box of books, labeled (Kids Books), was a bunch of things I bought from library’s used racks and dollar book bins. I went through them like I was going through a filing cabinet. I came to a small, black book with “Phone Numbers” written on the front in tarnished gold letters.

I remembered when my mother gave it to me and said I should write down my friend’s phone numbers. I saw a lot of names I hadn’t thought of in years. I exchanged mail with a few of them for a while, but then stopped responding. I never passed these letters off to Linda, either. Between work, working out, writing, and everything else I just never had time.

I felt like I needed a lawyer to defend myself against every single one of these boxes. It felt like my parents needling me. Unlike when I was a teenager, though, this time I knew I deserved it. I abandoned them and everything about this life. It made me feel sick inside putrid. I was being presented a sick version of “This is Your Life.” The catch was, in this version, no one came out to enjoy a teary-eyed reunion. In this version of the show, everyone was already dead, and it was too late to play the game.

I wondered how many old friends were still in the area not that any of them would remember me. I skipped out of reunions, didn’t return phone calls, and didn’t volunteer an e-mail address. Even in this time of the ever-shrinking world, I still managed to isolate myself from everyone here. I had no idea why. It’s not like my early life and my school life had been bad. I enjoyed my time over here, and I always got along with my parents.

But here I was, being presented with categorized boxes of a life I’d chosen to forget. The boxes almost had a life of their own. Twenty-five individual, breathing reminders each with a name, a face, and a personality. And each one of them had no problem telling me what a jerk I’d been. I’d followed my dream, but at what cost?

I looked at my watch. The wake would be starting in a half-hour. I knew where the funeral home was. I still remembered the town like the back of my hand. How many of the people there were wondering if I’d see fit to make it to my father’s wake? No one would be there to console me, they would be there to pay their respects to a good man. What would they even be consoling me for? Losing a man who had already been lost to me for 15 years?

I stood, thinking about sorting through the boxes. Maybe I could hand my west cast project off and take some time to rethink things. I walked up the stairs and thought about my life and what I had and hadn’t accomplished. I also thought about things I needed to put right in the east before heading west. It started with laying my father to rest properly, and paying a long overdue visit to my mother. I thought this would be a good start.

As I shut the basement door, I half-heard it creak in agreement.