It began with my son.
“Dad, what’s this?”
We were clearing out the attic after his grandmother died. She was the last grandparent he had and Steven wanted to help me put everything in order and clean up all that we had to settle. I still remember the thick dust in that heat, all of the cobwebs, and the sunlight that was unmerciful through the windows. It streamed in and I felt the sweat and dust trickling down my body.
I turned, and saw that he found a box that I had not seen in a very, very long time.
“What is, ‘You can’t take it with you’?”
I remembered everything about it. But I knew that he was not ready to hear the whole story.
“Let me see that.”
The shoebox that he was holding was wrapped up with silvery duct tape that did not seem to have aged at all. The black lettering was still fresh, too. Yeah, I remembered this one.
“We’ll check it out later.” I went back to sorting through some boxes of old dresses and suits while my son stacked some other shoeboxes that were either just filled with old baseball and hockey cards, or sewing equipment and other things that his grandmother had to give up when her hands were taken over by arthritis. The sun was rising, but I felt pretty good with that box in front of me.
I did not feel too bad at all.
Steven was out of the car before I had even parked my car. The trunk was already full, and I knew that we would have to go back to the hot box later that week. But I did not mind after our little find. I knew that he would appreciate what it was all about once I explained it to both of them, them meaning his patient mom and my very patient wife.
Steven ran back to the car.
“Mom’s not home yet.”
“Yeah, I figured she would still be out.”
“You wanna start unpacking now?”
I knew what he was trying to do.
“Okay, okay. I will get the box out.”
I did not leave it in the back with the other junk. It was not going to be lumped in with those hideous dresses and all those boxes that I already knew were filled with sewing patterns, cheap jewelry, knick-knacks and other nonsense that we would have to sell off or dump. I took the box out and walked up the drive to the door.
“You really want to know about this one, doncha?”
“Yeah, well…you never looked so happy before, unless the Leafs were in the playoffs.”
“A rare condition.” I kicked off my shoes and found a clean space on the kitchen table. Steven just stood there for a moment.
“‘You can’t take it with you’?”
I had to smile at that. “Well, it was an old movie and I just thought that it was right for the stuff in there.”
He was almost hopping up and down as he moved to the fridge to look for a drink.
“You want something?”
“Naah. Strangely not thirsty.”
He looked at the box as he sat across from me.
“You’re gonna wait for mom, right?”
I could see the sweat that was still dripping off of him as he polished off a can of no-name soda.
“Well, that would be really cruel, wouldn’t it?”
He turned the chair around and faced me, resting his head on the back of our carved set of knock-offs.
“So, this is what it’s all about.”
I found an Exacto knife and began to carefully remove the tape.
My wife came back several hours later, all sweaty and tired (must have had that yoga class today; completely forgot). I can’t even remember the number of times I told her that she really did not need those damn classes with all of those ugly housewives and lonelyhearts. Some combination of genetics and diet; some great discipline in her; something that still made me want her when she was most surprised.
She was at those classes. I saw her drop the gym bag and purse on top of each other and slowly crawl over to the fridge. She went right for the grapefruit juice that she squeezed this morning; the same one that Steven would never touch. Neither would I. Too healthy.
“How was the house?” She brushed her hair back as she dropped into a chair.
“Still dirty, still hot. Cobwebs are the worst of it. I think maybe three more days before we finish it up.”
“Yeah, at the very least. Worst long weekend.”
“Poor baby.” It was a beautiful kiss on my forehead and more of that scent behind the sweat and strain. “You should rest tonight.”
“I truly will.” Glad that we had Heineken in the house.
“And how was your assistant? No complaints?”
“Steven was Steven.”
“Hmm.” She drained her glass. “And where is he?”
“Oh, you’ll see him later on. But for now, you should see this.” The box was still on the table, now uncovered and exposed to the light.
“More junk?” She looked confused.
“No, more of my past. Something that I never expected to find again.”
“Well, it is something I thought I couldn’t take with me?”
She frowned over that, so I flipped over the cover.
“‘You can’t take it with you’? Isn’t that a movie?”
“Well, yeah, but it is also my collection.”
She looked inside, and almost choked on her laughter. “Oh my Christ! Is that an Instamatic?”
“110 Kodachrome. Yes, indeed.”
She picked it up and examined it carefully. “I have not seen one of these in…well, not a hell of a long time. My brother was the photographer. I just did not see the point of it, I guess.” She looked me over carefully, putting her glass down. “I knew that you liked photography, but all the expensive shit in the basement was where I thought you started.”
“We all have to start somewhere.”
“Rather neat.” She put the camera down and looked inside. “You got some old photos and film in here, too. Do you even remember what you have here?”
“They are all just memories.” I noticed that it was getting late. The heat of the day was gone and there was a slight chill in the house now. “You should take a look.”
“Bet Steven really loved it. He must have gone nuts over this antique and all this…”
“You should look at some of the new ones.”
“New ones?” She was frowning as she shivered. “How did you take…?”
And she did.
No one asked about the photos. The police and the reporters stuck to questions about my wife’s habits and why my son was upset with us. Watching my family on the evening news – I refused to stay on any channel that stuck on a twenty-four hour rotation – was what some people would call surreal.
Surreal? Ha. If they only knew.
It was strange to see them all develop in my little lab. Good thing that I remembered how to do these things as a child. Did not have to worry about too many nosy people asking the wrong kind of questions.
Everything's on paper...
So, they are all memories now, something that I can keep in that box and take out and view whenever I want. It was a good idea that I made sure to use the same camera to capture them both. And at least they were curious enough to stay still. Such a difficult process…
You might be thinking that this is mean-spirited or even – does it matter? – inhuman. But I have been doing this for a long time, back since the days when they were all taken in on silvery plates put into big boxes cloaked with dark cloth. All I want to do is keep them safe and forever in one place where I know they will be with me.
And they look so happy together.
I think I can take this with me.