So much stuff.
Did Leo have nothing better to do than collect stuff?
‘What was he trying to tell me?’
“Gabe?” Sophie called down the stair well.
“Down here, babe.”
She descended a few steps and peeked into the basement. Gabe stood amidst the labyrinth of newspapers and boxes his father had left behind.
“Leo wasn’t a hoarder, but you can see it from here. He always knew that one article near the bottom of that rear pile would come in handy someday.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I need to work fast. The bottom layers are turning into coal.”
“I mean, do you need to sort through it all? Pay someone to haul it off.”
“Don’t think I haven’t thought of that, Soph. But I’ve heard about people finding money hidden in the pages of old books. I’ll worry about losing a fortune plus fifty years of National Geographics.”
“Yeah… And getting a post card from the Bahamas from the stiff you paid to haul it off.”
Gabe took in his daunting task.
“Uhm... I need to figure things out. Never know what I’ll find. My last chance to get a glimpse at the contents of his brain.”
Sophie nodded. “You’re right. I’ll leave you to it. I’m scheduling the memorial for next week. Good?”
“Thanks… Just look at these shelves. Who needs two dozen dictionaries? And twenty Bibles? With highlighted verses, and marginal notes cross referencing to other translations…”
Her eyes widened. “Too much of a good thing…”
Gabe pulled a dusty tarp back to reveal a manual Remington typewriter.
“…Get a load of this monster. It weighs half a ton.”
Sophie approached it like she’d discovered the Holy Grail.
“Right? How many years did he pound on that? Fifty? Hammer on that eight hours a day and you’ll have arms like Popeye.”
“Couldn’t say. He always wore long sleeves and a tie.” She made a half-hearted attempt to move it. And failed. “Can you even get ribbons? No one uses typewriters. Bet most people have never seen one.”
Gabe stood back to admire it. “The syncopated ‘tat, tat, tat’ of keys striking, like a machine gun, made the sound-track of my childhood.”
“Built like a tank.”
“Probably recycled from the war. Signed by Gutenberg. How many miles you think he put on it?” He laughed as he thought. “Eight inches per line… About sixteen feet of type per page, times fifty years... He rode this hulk to the moon and back.”
Gabe realized he was stalling.
He said, “I used to joke about how the ‘Y’ had a funny tail.”
‘So many words poured from his fingers. But he didn’t know what to say. We never talked.’
Sophie watched him in silence.
Later, she returned with a tray.
She sang, “Lunch time… ”
At his father’s desk, Gabe stared into the open top drawer.
Sophie set the tray down. “What’s up?”
He held a small bottle between his thumb and fore-finger.
“First edition white-out. My Mom bought it for Leo when it first came on the market. Never opened it. Said ‘it’s for amateurs.’”
“You need to eat something, babe.”
He nodded and sipped the can of soda.
“Leo would take what he called a ‘dram’ of wine from time to time. Or ‘a nip.’ He and Mom would sing to each other.” He started tapping a rhythm. “One lyric ran… ‘If I was… and you were… then we’d be we…’ something… something… ‘…and then, my love, you’d marry me.’”
Sophie smiled. “That’s sweet.”
“Suddenly, she was gone. No warning. And he was alone. Except for me… He held up pretty well.”
She leaned in. “I know you know this, Gabe, but you could sift through it all, and end with even more questions.”
He nodded, “That’s anyone’s life. Who can explain everything? And who’d listen to them yammer on about their dusty past?”
He thought, ‘I do. Now I do. Now it’s too late, I do.’
His new orphan status stunned him. He couldn’t ask anyone, anymore, about… anything.
Looking at the stacks of boxes, Sophie said, “Maybe… you don’t have to examine every little item. I heard biographers use a trick.” Gabe nodded while munching. “They find the pivotal event in a life. The one out of millions which crystallizes the story for the reader…”
He pointed at a wall of boxes. “That’s his writing. It’s too much.”
“Just a thought. Do what works for you.”
Gabe couldn’t concentrate. “Funny thing… I always thought of him as a writer. But as soon as he retired, that was it. Don’t think he touched the machine again… He’d say, ‘No assignments…’”
“It was always more about numbers with me. He told me, if I were drowning and someone asked, I’d tell them my bank balance.” Gabe laughed. “To the penny.”
Sophie said, “And you thought he didn’t know you.”
“At the end, he tried to tell me something. He struggled. I almost said, ‘never mind, Dad.’ But it seemed so important. Then he couldn’t get it out anyway.”
She touched his hand and they sat for a moment.
Like a nameless, internal weight, Gabe always felt incomplete. Some invisible piece had gone missing, forever, it seemed.
People told him to get married. He did that. Finding the one who ‘completed’ you was everyone’s life quest.
But the hole in his heart wasn’t romantic.
He had Sophie. She was perfect. But she didn’t fill that mysterious hole.
Sophie stood. “You’ll never get through it if I keep distracting you…” He nodded. “I’ll be upstairs, love.”
She left the labyrinth to him.
Gabe watched her go. He lobbed the bottle of white-out into the waste basket and paused. Reaching in, he pulled out a roll of tri-x 35mm film bearing iconic red on orange lettering.
He murmured, “What’s on this? How many years did it sit in that drawer?”
‘Worth developing? Would there still be an image?’
He slipped it into his pocket. “No harm in trying.” Gabe didn’t remember ever seeing a camera in the house.
‘What did he mean? What had he tried to say?’ Haunted, Gabe thrashed in his sleep. ‘Why wait so long? No one expects their time to expire. Suddenly, so much to say. Too much.’
His Dad couldn’t speak.
They held hands. Gabe sobbed and his father struggled to form words. Not supposed to be like that.
How absurd to jam a life time of feeling into… what? An hour? A few minutes of stammering and sniffles punctuated by labored breaths?
Put it off to the end, only to regret for the rest of their lives?
Just say it.
He blurted, “Raphael.”
Did his Dad say, ‘Raphael’? ‘Who is that?’
Their eyes locked. He squeezed Gabe’s hand. The most important three syllables ever. And no details followed.
He’d heard of that. In their last moments, a vision. To go out on the shoulders of angels. Gabe hoped his Dad got that visit.
Leo held a hint of a smile. He said what he needed, and died in peace.
Gabe picked up the prints. A few faded baby pictures, with two babies. Twins. ‘That one’s gotta be me. Who’s the other?’
All babies look alike to Gabe. But these were twins.
Sophie said, “God loves you so much, he made two of you. You’re obviously the one on the right.”
“But where’s the other one, now?”
Sophie shrugged. “If you don’t mind my asking, why are you hearing about him at this late date?”
He pointed at the other baby in the picture. “Is this Raphael?” Gabe told Sophie about his Dad’s last word.
They discussed this odd turn of events for hours. The questions never stopped.
“Who is he? Where is he? Is he alive? Near-by? Who raised him?”
“Watch the road, Gabe…”
“Does he want finding? How do I start?”
They entered his father’s memorial. People from the college were there.
Friends expressed their condolences. Each said, “I didn’t know you were a twin!”
Gabe and Sophie looked around. Uncanny, despite his facing away, they knew him immediately.
Gabe approached. “Raphael?”
He turned and smiled. “Gabe?”
Speechless, they embraced for a long time. Laughter and tears blended. And the years melted away.
Raphael introduced his wife, Sophia, to Gabe and Sophie. Sophia’s twin sister didn’t attend.
Sophie laughed as she asked Raphael, “I’m trying to process… You didn’t know you were a twin… but you married a twin…? Named Sophia?”
Everyone felt known by the others forever.
Raphael teaches English at a local high school. Gabe’s a Math professor at the college.
Together, they filled gaps in their shared story. Leo’s sister, their Aunt Mary raised Raphael. No one knew why the secret was kept, or for so long. Their mother had been ill from the beginning. Tough decisions were made.
All that was in the past.
Their meeting became a reunion. A celebration.
People joining the party asked “Is he your ‘clone’?” Everyone laughed.
Suppressing a giggle, Raphael claimed Gabe could only manage his punishing class load, by being two places at once. He said being Gabe's clone made that possible and that he was handsomely compensated for his efforts.
This got the biggest laugh of the evening.
Gabe and Raphael were orphans no longer.