Everything Must Go

There is too much stuff here. There’s no place to sit. There’s a pile of old nails in the corner. He took the chimney down and stacked the bricks against the wall. He collected the mortar in plastic tubs. Plaster has fallen from the ceiling, exposing the lathe. Dust plumes with my every step. Everything is coming apart at the joints. There is too much air. Or not enough. There’s nothing holding it together. Let’s get down to it. Let’s get on with it. There’s no time to waste. His body isn’t here. He’s on my shoes and in my lungs. Here is a box of dishrags. Here is a box of unused dishes, kept for a special occasion. Here is a small yellow teapot that belonged to his mother. It’s insides are tea-stained, the shadows of water. Here are the patent medicine bottles. Here are the sprockets and springs. Here is the bottle of Sloan’s Liniment. Here is the tube of Ben Gay. He used to say, Go get my heat rub. Here is the iodine. Here is the mercurochrome. Here is the cotton batting. Here is an envelope where they kept hair from my first haircut. Who needs all this?

I’m not sure what to make of the dead. The old man had a chest like a tombstone. He was a builder. He believed in all those Egypt conspiracies: ancient gods, aliens, cat-people, stardust, magic. He has a scrapbook of all the UFO articles in the newspaper. He used to take me walking through the woods and pretend to be looking for Bigfoot. He’d seen unexplained lights over the Sea of Japan when he was on R&R during his tour in Vietnam. He said, I wasn’t the only one that saw them. They came over the horizon and went straight on past us like we were standing still. We were in one of those big transports. I know you have doubts, but I saw what I saw.

For a few years, he tried painting. He bought thousands of dollars worth of canvas, brushes, pastels, acrylics, oils, bottles of ink, charcoal pencils, sketch books, erasers, thinners, acetone, palettes, easels. He never showed any of us his paintings. We didn’t want to see them. What was there to see? They’re in the back room now. Rows of canvases stacked against each other, all the paintings some version of a horizon, a straight line across the canvas, sky, clouds, surf. He was trying to paint one particular thing. He applied the paint in thick layers. The images are in motion, shifting, searching, incomplete. I’ll get to them eventually. The floor isn’t sturdy. There are mice in the walls. Here is a bucket of mousetraps. Here is a basket of chalk. Here is a tin of rubber bands, an envelope full of to-do lists. The wallpaper is peeling away at the corners. The plaster beneath is dark with age. It’s difficult to breath. Here’s a pile of notebooks, doodles and hieroglyphics, missives from a forgotten world.

I can’t though. I’m down at the bottom. I’m down through the dark. I’m up in the attic. I’m looking through suitcases. He must have collected fifty suitcases. I’m holding a coffee can of of lag bolts. I’m shaking a box of fountain pen cartridges. Here is a stack of spiral notebooks where he recorded every financial record. Here is a collection of driving logs. He recorded every mile he ever drove, and every gallon of gas he ever bought. This is a box of bills from 1978. Once, he told me he had the cancelled check from the lawyer he paid to handle my adoption. He said I cost 263 dollars. I stared at him until he turned back around and went into his shop.

Although he went to church on Sundays, and I’d see him at night with his prayer book in his hands, it was his shop where he really worshiped. The church of tools. It’s sad to see what I’ve done to it. I pulled it all down and piled everything into bins, buckets, crates, cartons, trays and totes, garbage and giveaway. Here’s a pile of hammers. Here is a five-gallon bucket of screwdrivers. Here’s a stack of planes, a milk crate of clamps, a bundle of brackets, old cigar boxes full of bolts and washers. Here is his drafting table, still covered in blueprints and plans, the printing done in block capital letters. Everything was labeled. Here are his draftsman tools: speed compass, bow compass, beam bar, friction dividers, triangles, scales, paper cutters, pencil sharpeners, calipers, and micrometers. Here is a box of window glass, cans of glaze, glazing shovels, razors. Here is a tub of piping, u-joints, goop, caps, tape, channel locks, copper solder. Here is a tray of rubber stoppers, plugs, chains, washers, faucet stems, hot and cold handles. Here are the crescent wrenches and pliers, the vise-grips and box-cutters. Here are the circular saws, hammer-drills, drill presses, belt-sanders, impact-drivers. There’s too much inventory. Come take it away, please. Everything must go.

Here is a photo of us in front of the lapidary equipment. We are feeding rocks into a tumbler. We are both wearing aprons. My mother has sewn a patch onto mine that reads: Don’t Mess with Mother Nature. We both wear eye protection. We have turned at the waist toward the camera. His hand is on my shoulder. My mother must have taken the photo with that old heavy Nikon. She would have held the base of the camera in her left hand. Her right hand is focusing the lens. Here is her eye in the viewfinder. Here is her face, cheek, ear. Behind her is the laundry room, my Lincoln Logs and Legos spread out on the floor. Beyond that, the patio, the bird bath, the grapevine, the hill, the sandbox, the fence, the woods, the pumping station, the river, the bay. I’ve gone through the lens and all the way around until I’m looking out of my own eyes at my mother. It goes round and round. I’m seeing what I’m seeing. What am I looking at? I’m not doubting anything. I’m just asking.

I’m down in the old cellar. I’m in the garage. I’m reaching into a linen closet. I’m knocking on the walls, looking for treasure. There was always more with him. This is the place where I talk about dying. Don’t worry. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about me thinking about dying. It’s nothing. He’s not even here. He passed us like we were standing still. It won’t matter. Here is the dust I carry. This is my pocket. I’m cold. Stop moving. Wait for the clouds. Find the horizon. I’ve got to sit down. I’ve got to wait. This is the bench. This is where I wait. Here is a basket of nail clippers. Here is a leather punch. Here are the feathers he collected. Here is a travel sewing kit. Here are the tissues. Here is a box of expired cold medicine. Here is an unopened package of nine-volt batteries from 1986. I’m getting on. I’m going on. Is someone there? Is anyone waiting? I should tell someone I’m here. I should tell them I’ve come home.

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