Fiction

Keepsake

“No, no, no. Not that.”

Erika enters from another room to find her father’s hand shaking over a collection of cardboard boxes. “What?”

“That. That doesn’t go there. That doesn’t go.”

The floorboards creak all over the apartment as Erika moves from room to room. Wooden drawers grate open and shut. Newspapers and magazines thud on the floor. Closet doors sway this way and that. Piles are made. Boxes and bags are filled. It’s all happening so fast that Jack is having a difficult time keeping track of what each pile is for. What’s coming or going. What will be thrown away, given away, or loaded in the Chevy Tahoe and unpacked into his daughter’s guestroom, for now. Erika is younger and determined. She only has a four-day weekend to complete the task. Jack watches her breeze through the small apartment, from the bedroom to the study to the joint living room-dining room to the kitchen and back through. She’s like a storm rolling in, blowing things around in little tornados until they settle into their designated mounds. He watches this dance, keeping mindful of things he must stop the production for. “Not that.”

Erika’s eyes follow the line from her father’s index finger to a box of kitchen things they will take to Goodwill: cutting boards, a percolator, dishes, silverware, enamel canisters, a set of pineapple trivets from Hawaii.

“The mug,” he tells her.

“This one?”

“Yes.”

“But it’s chipped.” She holds it out for him to see: a lightweight, ceramic mug with a relief of a cartoon alligator in a suit and tie and holding a briefcase. With a big smile the alligator extends a coffee cup in his free hand, as if to say, “Cheers!” Erika shows him how the rim is chipped and seems to be crumbling away.

“It stays.”

It’s not the jewelry or antiques that concern Jack. Not the family Christmas ornaments or things neatly tucked away, the wedding china they never used, the silver. Not the box of childhood things. It is the everyday. The worn down and used. Smudged eyeglasses that sit crooked on the face. An accordion wallet with a makeshift strap to keep coupons from bursting out. Thinning blankets that smell like skin. Things that have been weathered by touch like stones in a creek smoothed over by running water. Underneath his shirt Jack wears Frances’s crucifix around a string (the gold chain that held it to her neck was too small for his). The features on the face of Christ have faded. The nose and lips are gone, but two tiny dark spots remain where the eyes were. No larger than a quarter, the figure fit perfectly between Frances’s thumb and index finger. She would hold it there between her seesawing fingers, gliding back and forth over the figure of Christ. When she was anxious, when she was happy, when things were quiet, when things were not, she would raise her hand to the charm and pinch it between two fingers—not so much in prayer, although sometimes, yes, she did pray, but mostly for the comfort of knowing it was there. Continue reading

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