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Fiction Sad

There was something at once compelling and depressing about the task of cleaning up after a dead man. Trying to sort through the detritus of a long life, and figure out what still mattered. What was worth keeping, what other people would want to keep, what was worth selling, and what belonged in the trash. The cardboard box I carried was an example of the latter, filled with old documents and owner's manuals, but also ornaments, souvenirs, framed certificates, things that must have meant something to my father, but their importance was lost on everyone else, so into the garbage they went.

Other people might agonize about throwing away their late father's things, knowing that everything in there was something he'd touched and handled. Something that was once important to him, something that would remind me of him. The task was far easier for me. Ironically because I was so much like my father.

People called us emotionless, sometimes as a gentle tease, other times as an accusation. That was never true, but calling us unsentimental was probably fair. Or maybe just unexpressive. We both made decisions quickly, and rarely felt the need to worry about them afterward. That's not to say that he didn't care about things, far from it, it's just that he had to have a reason for everything he did. If he found a rut that worked for him and made sense to him, he stayed in it.

As if to illustrate the point, I flipped open the cover on his ancient Remington Letter-Riter manual typewriter. It would be laughable to call that “practical”. The thing had been obsolete when I was born, now it was more like a museum piece. The amount of work dad put into keeping it running, fiddling with ink ribbons, finding (sometimes even making) parts to keep it working was ridiculous. But I guess, in his mind, it worked well enough, so he wasn't about to change it. I could practically hear his voice. “What do I need a damn computer for? I don't need a gizmo to write a letter.” He'd accepted the necessity of using a computer at work, but resisted having one at home until his daying day.

My entire childhood, the rapid clacking of those keys was an indication that my dad was in his office, expeding three times the effort to write a report that he needed to. On a whim, I sat in his worn, leather swivel chair, grabbed a sheet from the stack he kept carefully on the corner of his desk, and threaded it into the typewriter. He really had kept it in impressively good shape, everything fed smoothly and easily. I lined up the sheet, and pressed a key.

Ka-THUNK.

It sounded louder than I expected. Maybe it was just the silence of the room. I hit a few more keys. Ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK. I had to admit, there was something appealingly physical about having to push each key that hard. It slowed down my typing, but it felt very deliberate. Like the words I was putting down had real weight. I pulled the carriage return and moved the paper back to start the next line. I was starting to get use to the sound that every key made.

“William Zechariah Dyson”

“1941-2021”

I stared at those lines for a minute. I realized, for the first time, that I hadn't actually cried since I'd gotten the news. I mean, he'd been sick for a while, and it was hardly a shock, but I'd wept when mom died, and somehow I hadn't shed a tear for my father. I honestly couldn't say why that was.

I pulled open his desk drawer. I knew he made carbon copies of all his important letters, and kept them all in there, neatly organized. There was a stack for mom, a stack for my sister, a stack for Uncle Pete. I found the stack for me, and started to unfold the letters and read through them. I never though much of his letters when he sent them, but sitting there, I started to think about what he was thinking and feeling, sitting in this chair, rapping out each of these, one key at a time.

“Dear Jeremy, on your graduation day, I wanted to give you a few words of advice...”, “Dear Jeremy, I know college took longer than you expected, but I hope you'll take pride in what you've accomplished....”, “Dear Jeremy, I know your father's advice is probably the last thing you want to hear on your wedding day, but I'd like to share some of my experiences....”, “Dear Jeremy, you know that Susan and I have never seen eye-to-eye, but I'm truly sorry to hear that you couldn't work things out...”, “Dear Jeremy, thank you for being here during your mother's final hours, it meant the world to both of us to have you here...”

As I read the last one, I noticed a smudge his thumb had made in the carbon, right next to where my thumb was holding the paper. Maybe he'd held it in the exact same way I was, sitting in this same chair. I remember thinking how dirty and clumsy the letter looked when I first got it, with all the smears and imperfections in the letters. Now, it seemed incredibly precious, like every flaw in the typed letters made them unique, something nobody else in the world could have in quite the same way.

I put down the letters, scrolled down the page, and started typing.

“Dear dad, as I try to accept that you're really gone, I worry that I never appreciated you enough while you were alive.” The old keys seemed like they were forcing me to type slowly, consider every word. Each letter I pressed was stamped into the paper forever, permanent and irrecovable.

“I find myself thinking about all the things we were never able to say to each other. Or maybe you were trying to, and I didn't know how to listen. I guess I always figured there would be time someday, but time always runs out.”

I was typing the words in a steady rhythm now, like a ticking metronome, lining my thoughts out on the page where I could see them. As a vague thought become a solid reality.

“But whatever you were trying to say, it's too late for me to answer you now. For whatever it's worth, and for whatever it means, there are things I still need to say. You were always there for me, whether I noticed or not, and that made me feel safe. You gave me an example to live up to, and you gave me the comfort of always being accepted. Now that you're gone, I don't think I'll ever stop feeling that something is missing from the world. I count myself privileged to have known you. I love you.”

By the time I got to the end, I could barely see the page. I sat back in the chair and sobbed.

When my tears finally stopped, I wiped off my cheeks, and pulled the sheet from the typewriter. I was genuinely unsure what to do with it. On the one hand, maybe it was enough just to have written it. On the other... well, maybe being sentimental sometimes did have meaning.

I folded the letter carefully, and tucked it in with the stack of letters my dad had written to me. Then I carefully closed up the case on the typewriter, and hefted it from the desk. Perhaps, on occasion, the old ways had their uses after all.  

August 13, 2021 03:54

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RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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