If you haven’t seen part 1 yet: Lost and Found, Part 1
I’ve been dragging my feet for Part 2 because the speaker refuses to stop talking about the death of his parents. I delete the sections and he shuts up until I add them back in. It’s a sensitve topic for me.
The story is not about my Mom and Dad, their lives or deaths. It’s about the speaker whose life and voice and style of speaking I’m exploring. Besides, Mom and Dad didn’t exactly die like the ones in the story (you’ll understand soon enough why that sentence makes me laugh). Apparently, I need this convoluted, awkwardly dark-humored voice of someone who lacks social skills, so I’m grateful for him. He’s helped me admit that Mom and Dad are no longer in my life. It’s official.
In the story below, you’ll see the phrase, “flipped the nut switch”. My wife, Alane, came up with it about five years ago. I wish I had thought of it. I wish I had thought of a lot of things she says. The phrase is on loan to me, but at some point, I anticipate being charged a daily useage fee. If she thinks I’m paying, she’s flipped the nut switch.
Lost and Found, Part 2
I’m in love. According to the paperwork, it’s a 30-day trial run, but aren’t they all? If it holds (and I think it will), I’ll order six more just like her. Did I say I’m in love with a washing machine? I am. She’s not just any washing machine. She’s the new Sea-Thru Model XS-1000.
My old faded love was a metal-lidded thing with rust flaked hard edges. She died in mid-load, spewing smoke and water. I paid good money to see her dragged off by people who do that sort of thing. Left behind, all I could do was sweep dusted rust and found coins from the unoccupied space.
For a moment (and no more) I reflected on what was. I wanted time to wonder about time and what happened to it all and how it got so warped. I wanted time for that but didn’t get it. What I got was delivery guy shoving a Sea-Thru XS-1000 into the vacated space. He smelled of onions and sweet relish, and I told him so.
Also, I told him to ask where I wanted her next time. He said they didn’t pay him to waste time listening. He plugged her in and left me to count the ways I could love the replacement unit. It’s amazing how quickly a soul forgets about misplaced years when the possibility of wasting new ones presents itself.
Did I say this was a 30-day love trial?
Day Seven. My love is alive. Sea-Thru is alive, and not just a little bit. She hums, vibrates, and swishes, just like us humans. She’s a living kaleidoscope, too bulky to lift up to my eye, but no less hypnotic. This model comes with a speaking voice (multi-language functionality is an optional upgrade). Her tone is moderately pleasant, although she lacks the emotional depth I’d prefer in an upgraded lover. Still, she’s elegantly designed with beautiful rainbow of wiry guts.
Day 15. Sea-Thru is hypnotic. I pay street people to soil themselves so I can watch my Sea-Thru unsoil them. When people disappoint me and choose to remain unsoiled, I just toss, bang, feed, sprinkle, press and obey. I toss in some Lost and Found, bang the change machine until it vomits coins, feed Sea-Thru, sprinkle under-sized, over-priced detergent residue from the retina-searing trashed boxes, press the touchscreen, and obey my love’s command to enjoy my Sea-Thru experience. Then, as much as my wheelchair allows, I stare. I always stare.
Day 23. Last night I stared into her wantonly, and she did not let me down. She drug me through a journey of patterns and colors that would make Woodstock say wow wow wow. This I say as a mostly drugless and drunkless man.
Day 28. Want proof that Sea-Thru is alive? I’ve read the fine print. She comes with end-of-life decision options. I checked the DNR box. This way, when I stare into her with greater intensity, because it could all be over in an instant. We’re on our own the day after our warranty wears out, all of us.
Day 29. I’m crying because I know some day through my same tears, I’ll pull Sea-Thru’s plug. Then I’ll stare as her dead weight is dragged to a dump. I’ll say try not to scrape the floor, because last thing I need is another permanent scar.
Day 30. I’m smitten by Sea-Thru’s cycles of life. That’s why I stare. I stare to see through sadness. Last night I stared into her until my shadow changed sides.
Day 31. She’s mine you zombie laundromat wanderers. Enjoy your Sea-Thru experience with the other six Sea-Thrus. They arrive tomorrow. I told you we’d make it through the trial-run of love. Tonight’s the night I lay claim to unit #1. I’ll put on some music, wheel myself to her glass door, toss some Lost and Found in for comfort, then roll in headfirst. Nothing says I lay claim to you like falling asleep in your lover’s spacious ceramic drum suitable for two king-size quilts. It’s like a cavernous man-made ceramic-coated womb.
Enough about my love’s inside parts. Last time I promised to tell you about the death, and about becoming a thrift store donation. Here I go keeping that promise: My father died on Christmas day when I was twelve. I had a permanent fireside seat, courtesy of my little accident earlier that year. Let’s just say it was my first Christmas getting (and needing) only one sock.
Dad was asleep on the floor, annual victim of Christmas aftermath. Mom’s two nut-cracking soldiers kept watch from the fireplace mantle, directly above a sleeping Dad. The red and gold sentinel held a long-handled axe, his green and gold counterpart was sword-wielding. Both had crowns maliciously carved from solid wood. There was nothing hollow about those two. The nutcracker pair measured an even four feet in height. They had working handles in the back, and moving jaws that opened wide enough for mythical football-sized nuts. I’d tested them on many household items, but never that.
They fit perfectly next to the fireplace, but that was never good enough for Mom. Every year Mom grunted and stretched and placed and teetered and scooted, all the while mumbling that some day she was going to regret this she just knew it, she just knew it. No matter how many times Dad said push them back farther, and Mom said but they won’t go back farther, and Dad threatened to saw off their bee-hinds as he called them so they would fit flush against the wall, and Mom said oh just shut up and take a nap right there in the floor like a dog, it ended the same way: Mom red-faced and out of breath, and Dad red-faced and snoring with four wooden boot-toes protruding from the ledge directly above his red snoring face.
Every year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the soldiers stood high-altitude guard duty on the balls of splintered feet, until they became reluctant circus performers afraid to look down. Often, I imagined one saying January 1st could not come soon enough, and the other saying January 1st only meant put back in cardboard coffins for a year minus about six weeks.
Then I imagined the pair deciding to end it all with one step forward. In unison as they death-spiraled, I imagined one screaming about life-flashes of lumber yards and fires and saws and bore bees and worms, and the other saying shut up, so I can get lost in a lush dense peaceful forest in the time remaining before splat, then splat.
Only it was the green and gold one who jumped or fell or dove. Not like I had imagined at all. The splat would have been nearly unbearable to watch, but I had to go and add a squish and crack to the splat. Gravity gave 110% that festive evening, maybe because it was Christmas. We all tend to give a little more than on the other 364 days.
Thanks to my new wheelchair state and my freshly absent leg, I didn’t or couldn’t leap quickly enough to help, which means I did the opposite of helping, a split second late for the splat, but just in time for the subsequent squish and crack.
You know how they show Olympic diving on television, and the camera follows the diver into the water and under it, and the really cool-as-heck way the diver executes a graceful upwards arc to avoid bottoming out? They usually don’t have a plummeting three-limbed kid literally on their heels.
The green and gold nutcracker did. No graceful arc was executed. The nutcracker diver went to the bottom of the pool and a little beyond, and things cracked like bone. Dad didn’t say much more than huh, which was a blessing.
Mom said more than huh in response to the heaviness of my good intentions. She watched broken son rise from broken father, using broken nutcracker as a crutch, and it was awkward as heck. There was no comfortable place to put my armpit.
Instantly, I became a burdensome son. One day, no warning, she wheeled me to a mirror and watched my face as she told me the man I murdered was not my father, but simply someone she had met outside the strip mall on a random Tuesday afternoon in late August at 2:17PM. I was so relieved. I had belly-flopped a total stranger. Mom smiled, then I smiled with my newly relaxed facial muscles.
She asked if I felt better and I said yes. Then she said good and said she was joking, and the man I had driven home with my chest against the soles of a nutcracker was every bit my father, every bit of him. Furthermore, worse than killing him, I had ruined her nutcracker collection, because her two favorites were now and forever like my legs, an ugly mangled pair of one. I cried and she laughed. The harder I did, the harder she did.
That afternoon, Mom flipped the nut switch. She laid the splintered remains in my lap and wheeled us both down Main Street to the thrift with the missing S. She tilted the chair and shook until everything fell into the donation cart. The last time I saw her was that night when I looked up at her upside-down face backlit by a buzzing and flickering street lamp. She looked like an expressionless shroud, like someone I’d never known. Poor lighting does that.
Sometimes I imagine having one more conversation with Mom. In it, I tell her instead of blaming me, she should blame Dad for annually sleeping at the feet of a deadly hazard, or she should blame herself for enjoying such a precarious tradition on the birthday of Jesus. He’s the reason for the season, not all of this.
I’d tell her if she ever sells our house, she should never disclose what had happened. Call it a red wine stain instead of what it was. Then I’d say on second thought, the thing took place when blood and brain were still just blood and brain, and not a biohazard, so it’s probably okay to call the stain whatever we felt like calling it.
Before we ended our imaginary conversation, if still I had time and Mom showed signs of listening, I’d say however she felt about me was okay, because I chose to stare inside her soul, and look deeper than her harbored resentment.
When she asked what in the world I was talking about (she always did), I’d tell her exactly what I saw when I stared to her soul. I’d say what it looked like to me. I’d say while it wasn’t orchid-shaped, the term for a certain type of orchid described what existed just below her resentment layer. I’d tell Mom she had a showy lady’s slipper soul. Then I’d pause and wait for her to ask how so, then I’d tell her it flowers best in bright sunlight, but if necessary, it can grow in semi-shaded areas, like the one we’re planted in now.
I’d wait for her to say just about anything, then I’d close by saying that she and I could get through this, but if we couldn’t, for the rest of my life, I choose to remember her and Dad well, even when it’s difficult to do so, like now. Then if she’d lean down to me and close her eyes and look away, I’d kiss her on the cheek.
Did I tell you that Mom died before she and I could have an imaginary conversation? She was found in the showroom window of a furniture store two towns away. A summer intern had the good intentions of adjusting the slouching mannequin in the window, only to find that Mom was the slouching mannequin. She was found in deep and permanent sleep in the new love seat she didn’t own and never would. I imagine it to be avocado in color and velour in fabric.
The store owner told the police that Mom had had her eyes on the love seat for a while and had often tried it out, but never for this long. The store owner added that if only she had died next week, she could have been found in it in her own home and not in the storefront two towns away.
Sometimes I see Mom still slouched, or sometimes still kicking and screaming and wailing to beat the band like she was that Christmas night, her showy lady slippers flung from both feet. Sometimes Dad is still sleeping where the wine stain is, only I’m not jumping on top of him. I just sit and stare and both nutcrackers stand and stare.
You now know about Mom’s showy lady slipper soul, but did I tell you that a granite soul lived inside Dad? I don’t mean he had a steadfast foundational soul. I mean it was a heavy soul, dense with earthly matters, one not easily hauled from one place of rest to another. Mom died the way most things do: incrementally and unexpectedly. Dad died like the rest: sudden, with a thud, and unexpectedly.
Next time I’ll tell you the final part of my story, and how I will die, at least in my imagination. I’ll reveal the shape of my own soul, and the waif-like creature who poked at it until it ran out into the open. You’ll learn that her name is not Sea-Thru. I love Sea-Thru #1, but our love goes only so far. She’s a washing machine for crying out loud.
Here’s a hint: The waif-girl’s name doesn’t start with an S. This is not some predictable poetic wrap-up where the name is a metaphor for the missing S encyclopedia volume in part 1 of the story. Life rarely works out like that. Life is raw and ragged and nonsensical on a good day.
The waif-like girl not named with an S taught me to embrace phantom pain, to celebrate it. I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll gush about her next time, and then I imagine I’ll shut up and go away.