“Holy guacamole.” I coughed as a cloud of dust flew up from the cardboard box I was opening. “Could Dad have been any less of a hoarder?”
“Well, I’ll not say that he was exactly sensitive of peoples' allergies,” Alex began, trying hard not to let his features bend into a snicker, “but let’s not push our luck, Ky. It’s only his office that we’ve got to go through—Mom and Viv have all the rest.”
“Thank God we’re the family’s worst cleaners,” I muttered, folding back the box’s flaps.
Alex glanced at me and sighed, leaning back on his heels. He slowly dropped into a sitting position on the floor. “Ky, did you ever really like Dad?”
“You loved him, of course—we all did, as our legal obligation; we had to: he was our dad. But…” Alex scrunched up his nose at me, frowning. “Did you like him? I didn’t.”
I bit the inside of my cheek; it tasted like guilt. “Actually, me either,” I admitted quietly, like we’d both been caught heading for a chocolate cake on top of the fridge we knew we weren’t supposed to eat—however sheepish the act, at least we could feel guilty together.
Alex nodded in understanding. “He… this is cliché, but I feel as if he didn’t care about us much. Like, thinking back on your memories, during our childhood or teenage years--where was he, other than around the dinner table at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday nights? Mom was really the only one who took care of us…” Alex trailed off, biting his lip, his last few words distorted by the action. “And I--I know that he had to provide for the family and all, but he could’ve provided time, too.” Alex looked at me again; I caught the action out of the corner of my eye, still staring at the dusty box in front of me. “Is any of this making sense?”
I sighed and leaned back on the hardwood beside Alex. “Actually, it’s making more sense than I’d care to admit.” I cast my gaze around the hazy room, feeling oddly peaceful despite the fact that our dad was gone and we were having a conversation about how much we didn't miss him as we went through his old stuff. Everything was a bit blurry; I hadn’t put my contacts in that morning, and my glasses were in the kitchen, next to a cold cup of chai and a day-old piece of burned toast with nut butter. “I just wish he'd have been there for us.”
“Yeah, me too.” Alex rubbed a dirty spot in the floor with the pad of his thumb. “Do you ever wonder why he and Mom got married? She could have done so much better.”
“Well, if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here, so I think it’s best not to question it.” I leaned forward again and poked into the box. “We should probably get going.”
Alex started to answer, but I cut him off: “What--the heck?”
I lifted a dozen neckties out of the box, the cloth dangling like angel hair spaghetti from in between my fingers. “Why…” I began, without really meaning to finish.
Alex scooted over to me and pawed through the box. “You know what, I’m not even going to ask,” he said wearily. “Why wouldn’t our father have an extensive necktie collection?”
I coughed as even more dust floated through the air, tiny particles illuminated by the Friday afternoon sunlight rifling through the window. “Is this what he did instead of spending time with us? Is this where his money went instead of to pay for our college?”
Alex gave me an oh-don’t-be-serious look. “Kyra, you dropped out.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t have if Dad helped fund my tuition!”
Shaking his head, Alex made a move towards another unopened box, and revealed--surprise surprise--yet another bin filled with neckties in all patterns, shapes, and colors.
Alex seemed to choke on his own spit. “This one is two seals having sex--why--”
This time, it was my turn to shake my head. “This is ridiculous. All these are useless. Useless!” I dramatically flung the ties I was holding into the box and stood up. “This is giving me a headache. I’m going to go get coffee.”
“Ky, wait,” Alex said, grabbing futilely at the exposed ankle between the edge of my frayed jeans and pink, heart covered-socks (I wore them year-round; I never liked Valentine’s Day, anyway). “Wait,” he pleaded, laughing at his useless efforts to detain me. “I have an idea.”
“And what is that?” I said, pausing to look down at the brother now sprawled out on the floor, laughing even harder from the scene we must be making.
Alex poked my ankle a few times to calm down. “I have an idea.”
“I caught that part,” I replied snobbishly, acting the mature sibling despite being three years younger as I took a seat on the edge of Dad’s old oak desk.
“What if,” he said, and looked innocently up at me.
I rolled my eyes. “Alex, you’re unbelievable.”
“What if,” he said again, “we--well.” He frowned. “No, wait. So. Here’s what’s gonna happen. Mom and Viv, probably, are going to want to save these, or donate them, or something, right?”
“Presumably,” I said, angling my face away from the ties, the dust they’d disrupted still lingering in my respiratory system.
“But we don’t want that to happen, because Dad’s memory doesn’t deserve to have his neckties preserved--and also--what kind of sicko would donate a tie to any organization that has seals having sex on it?”
“Fair point,” I replied, swinging my legs back and forth, the bottom of my Valentine’s socks covered in a light layer of grime.
“So, as one last final farewell to Dad--a kind of seeing-him-off ceremony, something in his memory, a little stick-out-our-tongue--what if we burned them?”
I blinked rapidly, like I’d just been smacked in the face with a wave of water. “Excuse me?”
“We’ll take them out to the backyard with some matches and lighter fluid, start a little fi--”
I smirked. “Okay, I like where you’re going with this, but absolutely not. Viv and Mom would see us and halt proceedings immediately. We need a way to be more discreet.”
“We could shred them?”
“In a paper shredder? Alex, it would probably implode.”
Alex hmphed. “Well, I don’t know. What would you suggest?”
I cast my eyes around the floor, searching for ideas. A few pairs of scissors lay dejectedly next to some packing tape and bubble wrap. I pointed at them. “What about that?”
Alex thought. “You mean like… cut the ties?”
I laughed. “Why not? It’s a way to get some pent-up aggression out, right? Cutting stuff? What better to cut then--” I glanced at one of the boxes-- “ties with poison dart frogs in black robes starting a cult around a campfire?”
Alex grinned. “Yeah, what better?”
And so we began.
It was hard at first, our scissors jolting through the cloth like a teenager’s uneasy application of the gas pedal, but after a few dozen ties, we got the hang of it. Some, when cut, we threw back in the box; some we flung into the ceiling, across the bookshelves, on the back of Dad’s old office chair; some we tied around our hair as headbands; and some, in a moment of hysteria more ecstatic than the rest, we knotted together into a cord and played jump rope with, laughing and teetering around, kids high on sugar, adults letting go of the things they’ve kept inside for far, far too long.
Eventually, we were done, sitting on the floor among the scattered ties, like girls amid goose feathers after a midnight pillow fight. Alex and I looked at each other across the room, silly expressions of contentment on our faces as we grinned at one another.
I sighed quietly. “Want to go get coffee?”
Alex smiled. “Sure.”
And we did.