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Fiction Contemporary Inspirational

This was going to be hard. He had dreaded this ever since his mom had died a month ago, but the house was going up for sale and everything had to be cleared out. He faced the storage closet in the basement, juggling the key in his hand. The door seemed to threaten him with its battleship gray paint and its menacing presence. There were deep claw-like scratches for numerous moves, and hinges rusted to a deep brown and it presented an aura of foreboding, something he felt even as an adult. 

         He didn't know why he was afraid, there was nothing in there that should be a surprise to him. He had a rough inventory of the room from talking with his mom over the years and although the task seemed to be insurmountable, he felt that ninety percent of the contents could be classified under one word. ‘Out”.

         “Arthur!” he heard from the top of the basement stairs. “Are you down there?”

         “Of course, dear!” He yelled back.

         “What are you doing?” she asked as she tried to crouch down to the level of the basement ceiling to see better.” From her vantage point she could now see him standing there, facing the beast.

         “Oh, I see.” She said with pity in her voice. “Are you going to start that now?”

         “I guess so.” He replied still unconvinced that he had too, although the facts said otherwise.

         “Well,” she hesitated, sensing the resistance that was coming. “I have to go over to the library to return some books your mother had checked out. Then I am going to the grocery store to get some food for lunch.”

         There was a brief pause. “You are watching the kids, right?”

         Another pause. He hated when she phrased it like that. A request wrapped in a question with a demand neatly disguised in the center of it all.

“I was hoping they could help you.” she offered when he didn’t reply.

         Typically, this request would be easy to brush off. Drawing a clear line in the sand between what he HAD to do and what she WANTED to do was easy after fifteen years of marriage. But she had leveraged this very well, and he knew their two sons, Austin and Tyler, were at the top of the stairs listening. Anxious for their father to say ‘yes’.

         He exhaled slowly. “I spose.”

         Suddenly, two screaming boys, one eight and the other six, vaulted down the bare wooden stairs, their legs moving so fast they seemed like a blur, ecstatic that their father would agree to spend time with them no matter what the circumstances. As they tumbled down the stairs he faintly heard his wife’s voice as she slipped away like a Christmas ghost having left its warning of what was to be. “I’ll be back shortly.”

         The two boys ran over to their father, stopping at his feet, jumping up and down as if on springs. The youngest, Tyler, was still in his pajamas, while Austin was in clothes, but he had apparently ventured outside as the knees of his jeans were already stained from falling in the grass and his cheeks had mud on them.

         “Okay!” he yelled, holding his hand up in the air to quiet them.

         Reluctantly they obeyed, Tyler wringing his hands with anticipation.

         “Here’s the deal.” He began. “You two monkeys will not open any boxes unless I see them first. Also, no one does any climbing. On anything. Got it?”

         They both quickly nodded in agreement as they looked up to their father with widened eyes.

         “Okay,” Arthur said, then turned towards the door to face his gray opponent. “Here we go.” he said aloud.

         He approached the door and raised the key. Surprisingly, the key slipped in easily and he turned the lock with one hand while he turned the door handle with the other. With a pop, the door sprung open, but just slightly. He then released the key and pulled the door the rest of the way. Protesting with a soft groan, the hinges acquiesced, and the door opened to its full width revealing a dark portal.

         The two boys ran behind their father, Tyler, grabbed his dad’s leg transfixed with morbid curiosity. Austin also stood behind his father, yet stepped to the side and peered into the room when the door opened. Like a crypt it beckoned them, the cool, stale air slowly creeping into the basement. The dark nothingness in front of them daring them to move forward.

         Arthur stepped forward with one leg while dragging the other with Tyler surgically attached to his pant leg. Reaching around the door frame, he instantly found the switch and with a loud click, the cavern flooded with light. The room was narrow, but long, appearing as more of a hallway than a closet. Three large overhead lights lit up the room nicely. He could see some stuff jumbled in the back, with lines of neatly arranged white banker boxes along the sides. The room was smaller than it appeared because of all the stacked storage.

         Arthur continued to ‘shuffle’ into the front part of the room, then stopped and surveyed all he had inherited. As it was Arthur’s father’s way, everything had been stacked neatly against the walls, reaching a height of three feet tall with the contents of each box printed neatly on the outside in neat black letters. As Arthur walked back towards the rear of the room, the stacks appeared like soldiers under review. Tyler released his fathers leg and the boys followed quietly in tow, amazed by the height, which to them must have appeared as monoliths. 

When he reached the back of the room, there was a large accumulation of brown boxes that seemed out of place with the orderliness of the other stacks. They were tossed haphazardly in a large pile; some were open, others water stained and greasy. All of them with corners crushed. There were no markings on them so clearly they were not his fathers.

         “Ok boys.” He began. “We start with these.”

         “What about all of those boxes?” Austin asked, pointing towards the white boxes. He turned to look at his father with hope in his eyes.

         “Those are just papers and clothes.” Arthur said. Anticipating the next question, he followed with. “There are no toys in there.”

         Satisfied with the answer to a question that was never asked, Austin turned his attention to the brown boxes that seemed out of sorts.

         “What about those?” he asked. “They look different.”

         “Those are okay.” Arthur said, then had a thought. “How about you guys go through those while I start to haul out these other ones.”

         Suddenly faced with the greatest challenge of their short lifetimes, they scoped out the cardboard wall in front of them while Arthur reached for the nearest brown box and lowered it to the floor for them. Eagerly they dug into it and began to pull out assortments of old clothes, souvenirs, picture albums, and shoes.

         “What’s this?” Austin said, holding up a baseball hat with two cup holders on the side and two small tubes leading from the cans to approximately where the wearer’s mouth would be.

         “That was your uncle’s Stan’s hat.”

         “You mean Big Uncle Stan?”

         “That’s the one. He wore that anywhere there was a game. Loved wearing it to Bears games. He never paid for a beer; people just loved filling up the cups for fun.”

         Tyler grabbed the hat from his brother and placed it on his head. It slipped quickly down to his eyebrows, and Tyler grinned from the fun. He was reaching for one of the tubes and began to pull it towards his mouth when Arthur gave him a stern warning

         “Do… not… put those in your mouth. I know where your uncle has been.” sheepishly Tyler tossed them to the side.

         As Arthur viewed the stuff being pulled out of the boxes, he realized that Stan had been here earlier (possibly years earlier) and he had clearly broken the house rule; subtract, don’t add.

         In between pulling out white boxes, he would occasionally lower new brown boxes for the kids to go through. As he pulled out one of the last lower boxes, he noticed that in the center, there was a large bundle covered and taped with moving blankets, some sort of furniture apparently.

         “What’s that?” Austin asked.

         “I don’t know, let's see.” Arthur said, then felt around for a seam in the blankets. Finding one, he grabbed at the edge of a blanket and slowly pulled. The tape resisted slightly, then fell away with age as though it were exhausted from decades of work.

         When the blankets fell away there was an office desk standing before them. The desk was pristine. There was not a knick or scratch on it. It had a rich mahogany finish, and the edges were graced with elegant cornices and burnished sides. The desktop itself was completely smooth with a unique bevel around the edge. The drawer handles shown with a bright gold inlay giving off a beautiful shine from the lighting of the room.

         “It’s my dad’s desk.” Arthur said. “I thought mom had gotten rid of it years ago, but she obviously kept it.”

         “What does it do?” Tyler asked.

         “It doesn’t do anything.” Arthur said softly as the memories of the desk began to filter back into this mind. “It’s a place where people work.”

         “What’s work?” Tyler asked.

         Not sure how to answer that question, Arthur replied with the truth. “Work is what my dad did. It’s what my dad always did.”

         “Is it fun?” Austin asked.

         “No, it isn’t fun. In fact I think it is something people do to get away from fun.”

         As Arthur stared at the desk, he began to remember the evenings when his dad would have dinner with the four of them; him, his mom, Stan, and his sister Claire. They would approach the table as instructed and then did their best to follow the rules. No speaking until father spoke first. If you did, have something to say, say it quickly and be precise. Eat everything given to you, it is expensive and there are people in this world who have nothing to eat. Most importantly, don’t waste your father’s time. Arthur would watch his father at the end of the table, still in his dress shirt and tie, with a small stack of reading materials by his plate. He would peruse them while he ate, yet he was still attentive to the conversations around the table, interjecting only to correct or reply.

         When his father finished eating, he would take the table napkin off his lap and gently place it by his plate. Then he would retire, after retrieving his briefcase by the front door to his study where the desk was. They could then all leave but never before his father excused himself. You didn't even bother to ask to be excused early. Once he was in the study he would then close the door, leaving it open slightly, and go through the contents of his briefcase, working softly into the night.

Sometimes his dad would finish early and come and join the family in the den where the kids and his wife were watching tv. He would sit in his lounge chair staring into the tv as the kids watched their programs, the volume was turned down such that it was barely audible. Sometimes he would look away from the tv and gaze out through the picture window onto the huge expanse of the back yard. On summer nights it was aglow with lightning bugs. During the winter it would be dark and endless.

         Arthur remembered trying to enter his father’s office once when he was there. Softly he had opened the door, then he tried to approach his father as quietly as possible. His father’s head was bowed down over the desk, the sound of his pen scratching on the paper being the only sound in the room.

         “”Why are you here?” his father would ask without turning away from what he was doing.

         “I just wanted to see what you were doing?” Arthur would reply.

         “Nothing that concerns you.” Was the muffled response. “Go back downstairs, I’ll be finished soon.”

         “Can I stay just for a little bit to watch you?”

         His father slowly raised his head and turned it to the side. “No.” Was the response. “Now go.”

         The tone was enough, Arthur turned away as softly as he had approached, closing the door behind him.

         “Did he work a lot?” Austin asked, interrupting Arthur’s chain of thought.

         “Yes, he worked all of the time.” Arthur answered.

         Tyler went over to the desk and opened one of the top drawers. Seeing nothing, he slammed it shut, then opened the next one and seeing more of nothing, he closed that one also.

         Arthur turned away from the desk and began to carry out boxes while trying to decide whether to try and sell the desk or haul it out to the curb for anyone to take.    In the meantime, the children began to explore more of the desk and the remaining boxes around it. As Tyler continued to search the drawers for treasures, he became discouraged after not finding anything of interest. Finally in frustration, he opened the center drawer and a plethora of office supplies appeared before him.

         “Austin!” he said softly yet hoarsely.

         Austin turned away from the box he was dissecting to see what the matter was. Intrigued they both dove into the world of paper clips, rubber bands, and pencils.

         Arthur glanced at what they were doing, somewhat amused by the simplest things they were finding, then continued with what he was doing. In the meantime, Tyler had reached deep into the desk drawer and pulled out a package of colored markers.

         “Wow!” Austin replied.

         “Crayons!” Tyler said softly.

         Austin pulled out a red one, while Tyler pulled out a yellow one.” I don’t think dad likes this desk, let's make it look better.” Austin said.

         As Arthur began to haul out more boxes, his mind became further involved with the past. Resentment began to rise and he began to get angry with having the responsibility of removing the debris of someone who never wanted to spend any time with him. As it began to consume him, he became oblivious of what his children were doing until he suddenly realized they were very quiet.

         He turned and almost jumped back at the sight of his two kids, one kneeling on the desk and the other drawing along the side.

         He ran down to the desk and lifted Austin off of the top.

         “Stop this!” he said. “You’re going to ruin it!”

         Both kids suddenly jumped behind him, scared from their mistake, still holding the instruments of graffiti in their hands.

         Austin spoke for the two of them. “We just wanted to make it look better.” Was his excuse, while tears began to well up in Tyler’s eyes.

         Arthur looked at the desk. A red circular cat was drawn on top, while on the side he could see a circle with errant yellow spikes coming from it.

         “See dad. I drew our cat Sofie and Tyler drew the sun.”

         Arthur studied the marks and in his mind he realized that he had always viewed the desk as some sort of temple. A temple where his dad always went to pray, and to hope and definitely to hide. To worship at a place where he could keep a distance from his family, using his atonement to the ‘work’ god as a device.

The images seemed to have broken the aura around the desk, and now the desk didn’t seem so imposing. Positioned there in front of him, it was softer now. It didn’t threaten him anymore, and he began to realize that as with all places of worship, temples eventually fall.

         “I love it.” He said. Then he looked through the center drawer and found a black marker. In the center of the desk, he slowly drew a large image with one long uninterrupted line. Austin looked over at the desk when his dad had finished.

         “Why did you draw a heart?” Austin asked.

         “I thought I would draw something for you.” Was Arthur’s reply. He stood for a moment over the desk, then turned away and got back to moving boxes. “Keep going boys, it looks terrific.” He said.

         Like feasting lions, the boys continued drawing using reds, yellows, black, and blues. They were adding dogs, balloons, kites, mice, and lots and lots of suns because that’s all Tyler could really draw. After some time, Arthur heard his wife come home and she called the boys away so they could go up and help her with the groceries. They eagerly jumped off the desk and ran out of the room and towards the stairs to relate the unusual task that their father had allowed. Austin hesitated before running up with his brother.

         “Are you going to get rid of the desk dad?” he asked.

         “Never.” Arthur replied.   

         As the boys ran up the stairs, Arthur looked back into the room from the doorway. It was like a kaleidoscope now with the long narrow walls ending an explosion of color. The dull desk was now full of violent yet playful imagery. Illustrations were cluttering every flat open space.

         Arthur thought for a few moments about the desk and realized that in some way, the one thing that drew his father away from him, was now in front of him and his kids had now drawn their grandfather into their lives.

         Slowly he reached around and turned out the light, then he went up the stairs to have lunch with his family; the arena of no rules.

March 23, 2023 19:04

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1 comment

Alasdair Perry
19:04 Mar 31, 2023

Nice work Gregory, a very nice message. You have a great eye for detail too, scenes and actions were very vivid!

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