Things Lost

 

 

He was unpacking their lives in the living room, still swearing this would be the last time they would ever move. The corrugated cartons were neatly sealed and had been stacked in the center of the room. When he moved a heavy carton to open it, pain flared in his knuckles and his spine where he was afflicted with bones spurs, a common ailment of retired carpenters. He straightened up, as much as a man his age could, and groaned. He took a bottle of pain-killers from his shirt pocket. After fumbling with the childproof cap, he popped a pill in his mouth and swallowed it dry. He recalled all the times in their lives that his wife and he moved into a new home. When they had been young, in the 1950s, they lived in a quaint cottage, where they stayed until the children came. Slowly one by one the children drove them into bigger and bigger houses. They lived in their largest house, a Victorian, with their five children, three boys and two girls, until one by one they grew up and moved out, leaving the roomy old Victorian to his wife and him and the echoes of their footfalls while pursuing their winnowing daily activities. Finally they found themselves here, in this condo, this lifeless shell they were now supposed to breath life into; it hardly seemed possible that either he or his wife could afford to spare life to share with the condo, which he suspected would remain lifeless.

Sometimes he marveled at the peak and valleys of life. Actually there were only two valleys and one peak. Out of the mist you emerge with little or nothing. You worked yourself up to the peak; that is where you have the most, the most children, the most cars, clothing, kitchenware, tools, and collectables. On the slow downward descent, little by little, you lose things until finally you are all alone in the mist. He would try to explain this to his wife, who never understood. She was a collector, a keeper, a saver; she could not comprehend the idea of loss, loss that was as inevitable as nightfall.

She was in the bedroom now, unpacking things, setting things on shelves, hoarding things into closet corners.

He walked over to the window, which showed a pleasant garden view. Three floors down elaborate patterns of perennials adorned the ground of a courtyard. The most beautiful thing about the building was common area and had to be shared with people in the other condos.

At his feet, on the floor, sat the telephone. The line had been activated yesterday, and no one had called as yet.

He turned away from the window, unsealed a case and opened it. Porcelain statues neatly rolled in bubble wrap were nestled tightly together. He took one out and unwrapped it: a six-inch unicorn frozen in mid-gallop wearing a colorful saddle. Did anyone every ride a unicorn? He couldn’t imagine. He wondered, if he were to open the window, and drop the unicorn, would his wife ever miss it? Would the janitor sweeping up the colorful shining shards recognize it as a unicorn, or in some dimwitted way sense the significance of its destruction? Probably not. He went to the faux fireplace and set the unicorn on the mantel, where it looked lonely and small.

The pain pill started to work, and he sat on the sofa. From here he could hear his wife bustling around in the bedroom, mumbling to herself.

He glanced across the room at the phone. Not a single word from the kids. He was certain his wife had told them that they were moving today. Maybe they’ll call later. They are probably occupied with their things: their front lawns, their cars, their kid’s baseball camp plan; their hopes of promotions and pay raises and better parking spaces. Suddenly, and for the first time in a long while, he started to feel alive. He couldn’t explain why, but he would cherish the feeling as long as it lasted.

Just as he reached the pinnacle of serenity, he wife stormed into the room.

“Have you found the elephants?” she asked him. “I can’t find them.”

“What elephants?”

“The elephants! The family of elephants,” she said, meaning the porcelain statues that had adorned shelves in every house they had ever owned. The Papa elephant, followed by the Mama elephants, followed by three baby elephants, all of them hooked trunk to tail, excepting Papa elephant, which was in the lead.

“No,” he said, “I haven’t seen them.”

“Do you remember packing them?”

He shrugged, watching her, remembering how she had been, seeing her as she was, imagining how she would be. It was all good and fine.

“Don’t worry about it.” he told her.

“But what if we lost them?”

“Everything will be all right.”

 

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