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Daffodils by Dare Macchione

Sullen Memories of a Bereaved Adult

By Astrid Henry

In January, I made a trip out to Long Island to visit his mom, my “paternal grandmother." I wanted to tell her about my plans to sell the house. My father grew up in a poor, small boating town where the rain never stops. I stayed in his childhood bedroom, in the upstairs of his parents’ old house. His dad died while he was still in high school. He had to drop out to support his family. He always told me how important it was that I stayed in school so I could turn out smart and get a real job, one that pays nice and keeps the lights bright.

His room is painted navy blue and baseball memorabilia lines the walls like a museum. It feels like I’m in a shrine to his young mind, all the things my father held dear as a child. Old comic books are hidden in the closet, where his brothers couldn’t steal them. I come down for dinner and his mom. Again, my grandmother has cooked what looks like a full 7-course meal. I’m not hungry. I try to shove down as much as I can, but the meat is tough, and the potatoes look like melting snow—the kind that’s been pissed on. It’s way too much food for just the two of us, but I’m not going to say that to her. I only stay for a week, the entirety of which I’m stuffed full of her cooking. She sends me home with enough leftovers to last me until spring. I never ended up telling her about the house.

“Someone told me dust is made up of skin cells, and God knows that fan has never been cleaned.”  

I’m back in the city. Back in the tiny, emptying house I was raised in. I’m back to cleaning and now all I can notice every time I try to take something down or clean an area out is how my father is all around me, from the pictures in frames to the dust on the fan. Someone told me dust is made up of dead skin cells, and God knows that fan has never been cleaned. If I ran DNA tests on the dust up there, they’d probably find Mom’s skin cells too, not just his. She walked out when I was only five to be with another man. Things didn’t work out between the two of them, but still, she didn’t come back. My father was heartbroken, he really had believed it was him and her forever. I think that might have been the start of his death, when he started to put his faith in the bottle.

I could never understand why he did that sort of thing—why he poisoned himself with cigarettes plastered in warnings and spent his evenings swimming in the bottle. The top of our kitchen cabinets were—and still are—covered in bottles, empty and full. That really confused me. It was like he kept it there, in plain sight, to shame himself. Because, really, when you stand in the middle of the kitchen, it feels like one of those church paintings where the angels are looking down on some poor, sacrificial lamb. I think a part of him did it to remind himself of his mistakes, and to remind himself of the easy way out every night. I haven’t taken them down yet. They’ve always been there—it just feels wrong. Taking them down would feel like I’m kicking a part of my father out of his own home.

I feel guilty, like if maybe I had gotten him to quit smoking, this wouldn’t have happened. But I know that kind of feat would be impossible, inconceivable, really. Life was a lot different after he got sick, but his vices were the one thing that never changed—not without an act of God. I remember how they couldn’t stop him smoking until two days before he died, and that was only because he had gone into a coma.

I try to keep the nicest pieces I can find of him to maintain the best image I can in my mind—the best version of my father. In the hallway bookshelf, there’s only about three books that were his. The King James Bible, a copy of Slaughterhouse Five he could never finish, and a book so old the covers have been torn off and it’s just yellow stained pages glued together. He must’ve really liked that one.

I wish he had more possessions left, more things I could collect, more things I could use to get inside his mind. But here I am, left with only a few crummy books and a gaping reminder of all his worst habits. All his other belongings were really just Mom’s stuff, a few pieces of jewelry and a yellowed, dried-up perfume she left behind. It smells like kitty litter.

Cleaning out the house is making me decently miserable. I’ve made arrangements to move once it’s off my hands, probably out to somewhere with a bit more sun. The house is, apparently, a prime piece of real estate, something I really couldn’t imagine affording on my salary. The listing description is pretty crap. It reads, “Nestled in the heart of Queens, this cozy, two-story abode, built in 1928, features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an unforgettable charm.” I finally finished cleaning the house, just in time for the photos. I even took down the shrine of liquor bottles in the kitchen. There were some hidden water stains that had to be repaired, which cost me a lot more than I would like to admit. I feel really empty walking out of the house for the last time, leaving it all clean and empty. The bedroom I’ve slept in my entire life staged as a guest room, my father’s room suddenly bright and well decorated. To my surprise, the house is sold within two days of the listing being posted. The realtor tells me that’s not uncommon, some crap about desirable real estate. She keeps trying to make me look at the other houses she’s listing. She obviously wants me to buy another place, but I just feel sick.

I’m staying with one of my old friends from college until I can secure a place worth moving to. I left most of the stuff I kept from the house in a little storage unit. All the things I don’t have a use for but still want to hold onto. My suitcase is stuffed full, but it’s more convenient than carrying two. I have nothing truly tying me down anymore, and it makes me feel strange. I was told that feeling would be freedom, but it’s something else entirely. I got half a million dollars to never step foot in my home again—the home where I learned to walk and first experienced the offers of life. I am forever rid of the home where my father's spirit breathes in the walls and his presence slips around the corners as you try and catch it. Never again will mold fill my lungs as I try to remember the smell of his cologne.


About the Writer...

Astrid Henry is a young writer from Florida. Currently, she is a Creative Writing sophomore at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.

About the Artist...

Dare Macchione is a freshman at New Orleans Conservatory for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and dual enrolls at Delgado Community College (DCC). Previously she spent summers attending The Art Academy (St Paul, MN). Her medium of choice is acrylic paint. She also has created art in watercolor, graphite and ceramic.

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