A cardboard box from the attic hits the floor of the garage. A cloud of dust circles around the room.
“Hey, easy there” says Charles as he enters the garage with a freshly cracked beer in one hand. The remainder of the six pack rests with the other hand on the side of his protruding belly. He takes a hefty swig of his ale. Droplets spill from his beard onto his Hawaiian shirt.
Behind him enters Cynthia with her long silver hair down to her waist. She towers a good foot over her older brother. Despite their height differences, the two share the same face. Plump cheeks, narrow eyes, thick eyebrows, even their ears look the same.
Another cardboard box collides with the floor in an unwelcoming fashion. A mixture of glass and clay crackle upon impact.
Cynthia marches toward the base of the attic ladder and places her hands on her hips. Her eyebrows scrunch together.
“Is tossing the boxes really necessary?”
Around turns Michael, the fittest of the three. Rocking a buzzed cut of his dark black hair with specs of gray. His chest wide like a gorilla. He looks down upon his younger siblings before he turns and grabs another box.
“It is when you’re doing everything by yourself.” Says Michael.
Cynthia waves her arms in the air, “you didn’t have to start without us. We told you we were coming out to help.”
Michael turns around with another box in hand, “you said you’d come out in 5 minutes, 20 minutes ago.”
“We were reminiscing, man” says Charles. He places his drinks on the floor and joins his sister.
The two extend their arms toward Michael.
“We’re here now and that’s all that matters. Now pass us some boxes already. Let’s get this thing over with” says Cynthia.
“Ready to go back to California so soon? Can’t stand us even when we’re grieving” says Michael. He hands the box over to his siblings. They grab it in unison and place it on the floor.
Cynthia rolls her eyes, “that’s not what I meant, asshat. I meant let’s get this whole ‘going through Mom’s stuff’ over with.”
Michael grabs another box and looks down at his sister. He smirks, “I knew what you meant” he says as he drops the box into the arms of Charles.
Charles let’s out a chuckle, “this one has my name on it! Oh boy, it’s a Christmas miracle in June.”
He takes his boxed treasure and plops down next to his beers. Charles crosses his legs crisscross applesauce and tears at the box clumsily with his bare fingers. The box is torn apart and mangled in seconds.
“Yeah, there’s one for each of us” Michael hands his sister her box, “Cynth, here’s yours.” She places it down by her side.
Michael stretches his body from the latter and leans deep into the attic, “almost…Got it. Okay, last one.” He hands the box off to Cynthia and descends the latter. Michael takes his box back from his sister.
“Get anything cool for Christmas?” asks Cynthia.
Charles puts down his drink mid-gulp and let’s out a gleeful smile. His cheeks shine bright red and his slanted eyes glisten through his bristly gray eyebrows.
Charles proudly displays a 14-inch Superman action figure, “Oh it’s wonderful. Just as I remember him.”
Cynthia and Michael both let out laughs.
“You used to love that thing so much. It went with you practically everywhere” says Michael.
Cynthia sits down next to her box, “I thought you got rid of it in High School when your girlfriend made fun of you for having it… What was her name again? Short brown hair. Played tennis. Mom hated her.”
“Sue” chimes in Charles. He cracks open a beer and hands it over to his sister.
Michael reaches over for a beer, “I remember you tossing it too. You made a big stink about how you were maturing and over all that silly stuff.” He pops it open barehanded before taking a seat on the floor with his siblings.
Charles admires his long lost toy, “I did throw it away. Along with my comic collection. I was trying to impress Sue, I think. I always regretted that.”
“Okay, I’m next” says Cynthia as she opens her box. She slices through tape on the edges with her nail and peels the tape back in a quick and efficient manner. Her eyes instantly light up.
“Ha! My old cassette tapes. Would ya look at that” she holds up a signed copy of The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. “I waited outside the old movie theater for what felt like hours just to see Robert Smith let alone get him to sign this.”
“We all know the story. He asked for your friend Stacy’s number right in front of you and you were devastated” says Michael chuckling.
Cynthia let’s out a cackle, “God, I hated her in that moment. I was so jealous. I don’t think I’ve spoken to her since that day.” She shrugs, “At least the music is still good.”
“That’s debatable” says Michael. He opens his box in one movement of strength. The flaps burst as he rips the box open. He smiles as he puts a Kansas City Royals baseball cap on his head. He adjusts the straps.
“Oh wow, I’m surprised it still fits” says Charles.
“Like a charm” rebuttals Michael. He tosses a baseball a few feet into the air and catches it without looking. He studies the ball and his eyes glisten.
“I remember going to the games every Month with Dad growing up. After they split, Mom started taking me because I loved going so much. One of the last conversations I had with her, she told me she still didn’t understand the game but that her fondest memories with me are the times we went.”
Michael sniffles and rubs at his eyes in attempt to wipe his tears away before they drop down his cheeks. He succeeds.
“She took me to see all the Superman and Star Trek movies in theaters. Multiple times. I don’t think she understood a word let alone even liked the movies” chuckles Charles.
Cynthia laughs, “I was too young to go to concerts alone so she was forced to see New Kids on The Block… 3 times.”
Michael and Charles join her in laughter.
Charles pulls a container of film reels out of his box, “oh wow, haven’t seen one of these in a long time.”
The other siblings rummage through their boxes and pull out similar containers. Each labeled with their names.
Michael walks over to the stash of cardboard boxes, “I bet Mom’s old projector is still around here somewhere.”
“Let’s hope it’s not the box we heard all the breaking from” replies Cynthia.
“Nah, that box was titled mugs. There’s one that says projector or photography right over…here!” says Michael victoriously. He reveals an old projector that looks like it used to be white long ago. Now it’s closer to yellow. He plugs it into the nearest outlet and the power light flickers alive.
“Ooh! Me first!” says Charles. He tosses a roll of film to Michael.
Michael pops it in the machine and points the light of the projector at the garage door.
Before them they see an image of seven year old shirtless Charles at the dinner table with a smile as wide as Texas. To his left is Michael with a fork in hand and to his right is little Cynthia in a high-chair. All three with their faces stuffed and covered in chocolate cake. Around the table stuffed animals are seated in the chairs as the appointed guests of honor.
Their mother stands behind the table with one hand on Charles’s chair and another hand on her stomach laughing at the scene before her. Her smile shines bright from dimple to dimple, even in the dim lighting of the garage. She looks as young as ever. Her brown wavy hair is tied up in a ponytail, not a gray hair in sight. Her apron has specs of flour and cake batter on it.
Michael let’s out a loud laugh, “holy shit. Is this Winnie The Pooh’s birthday? I had almost forgotten about it.”
“Damn right it was” says Charles smiling. He starts to snicker. “I remember telling Mom he wanted a Chocolate cake. And Mom kept asking, ‘you sure he wouldn’t want something with honey? Are you absolutely sure?’”.
All three siblings laugh in unison.
“I remember Mom telling this story almost every Thanksgiving. She said that once you figured out that she could make cakes outside of Birthdays and Holidays, it was someone’s birthday every day!” laughs Cynthia.
Charles wipes away a tear from his cheek as his laughing fit calms down, “I’m pretty sure I told her it was Eeyore’s birthday the next day. She caught on quickly.”
“She looks great in this, doesn’t she?” asks Michael.
“Yeah, she does” says Cynthia.
Charles nods his head in agreement.
Michael flips through the film and images of the birthday party fly by until the roll hits its end. The projector lets out a loud click.
“My turn” says Cynthia. She sorts through her container of films and reads each label quickly. “Bingo” she tosses her roll to Michael.
Michael inserts the roll and the image changes to the scene of a wedding. A six year old Cynthia walks the center isle tossing flowers from her basket to the onlooking rows of spectators. All eyes are either on her or the bride off camera. Smiles come from all of the guests.
Teenage Michael and Charles can be seen in proper suits standing amongst the groomsmen. At the base of the alter stands a tall man in a tuxedo, the groom to be. With his black hair slick and combed backwards. With a clean shaven face to match. His look says it all; Eyes watery, head tilted to the side, his lip quivering. A man in absolute disbelief of the beauty before him.
“That suit was so uncomfortable” says Charles, “I remember having to scratch my crotch constantly.”
Michael chuckles, “Look how happy Daniel looks.”
“He’s about to marry our Mom. He better look happy” remarks Cynthia.
The three laugh. A moment passes.
Charles raises his beer in the air, “he was a good man.”
Michael takes a drink from his beer and mimics the motion, “more importantly, he was good to her.”
Cynthia scrunches her eyebrows together and concentrates on the drink in her hands, “I don’t ever remember Mom and Dad together. In fact, I think this may be one of my earliest memories after their divorce.”
“It’s a good memory to have. Mom and Dad were never truly happily married. I know you always wished you had time with them together, but I’m thankful you missed out on the fighting years. Because these two, they were good together” says Michael.
Cynthia looks up from her drink to both of her brothers, “I know none of us grew up believing in that Church stuff, but lately I’ve been finding comfort in believing that Mom and Dan are together again up there.”
Charles scoots over and wraps his arm around his sister. He puts his head next to hers, “I like to believe the same thing.”
Michael clicks the projector over to the next image.
There she is in all of her glory. A shining white dress, brighter than sunlight itself. Skin the color of sand with the smoothness of pearls. Her wavy brown hair flows over her shoulders. Where her hair ends, the floral embroidery begins. Her perfect white teeth match the dress, while her eyes glisten like diamonds.
“Wow” says the three of them in unison.
“I had forgotten what she looked like on this day” says Michael.
“Like an angel who descended from Heaven” says Charles.
“What a babe” says Cynthia.
The siblings chuckle together.
Michael pops the film reel out, “Okay, enough of that.” He places one of his reels in the projector.
A young mid-twenty-something Michael stands in a blue cap and gown with a red tassel over his shoulders. He holds a diploma proudly in his hands that reads “Class of Kansas University, 1984”. His smile is from ear to ear. To his right is a young and much slimmer Charles sporting his Sunday best. As well as a teenage Cynthia around the same height as the two boys.
To the left of Michael and under his arm is their mother. She looks just as happy as the graduate. Other than the salt and pepper hair, she shows no signs of aging.
“I would kill the pope himself to have that body again” says Charles.
“Look how slim we all look! I want my old metabolism back, let alone the body” rebuttals Cynthia.
Michael flexes his arms, “That’s cute of you two.”
The siblings laugh together.
“Between you and Mom, I can’t tell who is happier that you graduated” says Cynthia.
Michael replies, “It feels ironic now looking back on it. Despite appearing so happy that day, I was an internal wreck inside. I had no idea what was next after graduation.”
“I think we all kind of went through that patch until we found our way” says Charles.
“Mom was so proud you went to college. I remember her telling everyone that her son was going to be a lawyer” says Cynthia.
“She believed in me before I ever did” replies Michael.
“Dude, she believed in all of us before we ever did. I remember having multiple less than stellar report cards and she still wrote the checks for college without hesitation. She really went all in for us” says Charles.
“You two at least had somewhat of an idea of what you wanted to go to school for. I was undecided until my junior year. She must’ve driven around half the country touring colleges with me until we found the right one” says Cynthia.
A tear flows down the side of Michael’s cheek. He lets his siblings see and turns to them, “we had the best mom, didn’t we?”.
“Hell yeah we did” says Charles.
“I’ll drink to that” replies Cynthia.
The three raise their drinks and toast the bottles together in her honor.