“Wow,” Jimmy Civello said as he opened the door to the spare bedroom. He continued to clutch the knob, his arm outstretched. “What the hell is all this?”
The room was small, nine feet by six. Once it was the nursery, where the three brothers Perry, Roland, and Jimmy, had slept and played in turn, from birth to age three. At some point–after I moved out? Jimmy wondered–at some point their mother had handed off the crib and baby furniture to a new generation, and turned the space into … stacks of cardboard file boxes? ”There must be dozens of them.” He was reluctant to enter. Mom made me the executor, and it’s my responsibility to dispose of her property. Roland and Perry need a place to stay; I need to get this sorted before everyone gets here. As if on cue, he heard the rattle of stoneware and glass downstairs, as friends, aunts and cousins began cleaning up and setting out food and drink for the wake.
Jim sighed and stepped inside, drawing the door closed behind him. “Okay, let’s see what this is all about.” The shoe-box size containers were different colors but otherwise uniform. They were neatly stacked in columns floor-to-ceiling along the walls. He approached the array opposite him, and randomly selected one of the boxes. Up close he realized each was actually a cardboard drawer inside a cardboard frame; he curled two fingers into the small, oval handhold cutout and gently pulled. He stopped halfway and leaned backwards so he could see the label. “‘Roland’s Teeth,’” he read. He yanked it the rest of the way, supporting it with his other hand as he brought the entire drawer in front of him and stared down.
Inside were several diminutive, shiny white teeth resting on a bed of white Kleenex.
Jim remained still for some seconds. “Okay, so she saved our baby teeth when we put them under our pillows for the tooth fairy.” He replaced the box, chose another. “‘Jimmy’s First Fish’ … what the fuck?” He worked the container loose and slid it out in one motion. He sniffed, then peered inside. “Geezus, Mom,” he said, wincing. The form of a goldfish, encased in the tight plastic of a vacuum-sealed baggie, odorless and oily looking, lay neatly nestled on several layers of pink tissue paper. Jimmy’s stomach began to feel queasy. He returned the drawer to its slot. This time he looked for his name, and each time he found it, he tugged. “‘Jimmy’s Toy that Hit Martin Moynahan in the Head.’” Replete with dried blood. “‘Jimmy’s Hair and Lice.’” He remembered that, staring at the collapsed baggie with the insect specks and curls of dark-blond hair–the time she shaved him bald and poured something that stung and smelled over his head. “‘Jimmy’s Cat Yoda.’” He paused. Yoda had disappeared. “He ran away, you said Mom. He pissed in my closet, and you said he ran away.” Jim felt his eyes sting; the bottom of his belly felt like it was falling down a black hole. He pulled out the box; inside was another vacuum-sealed bag molded around the desiccated remains of…. “Oh sweet Geezus,” Jim said and pushed the drawer back.
He quickly read more labels. “‘Perry’s First Diaper,’” and “‘Perry’s First Haircut,’” and “‘Roland’s Senior Class Ring.’” He lost that. Rolly couldn’t find it; he looked everywhere, Jimmy remembered. He shifted position, knelt so that he could see the lower rows along the far six-foot wall. “‘Vincent’s Glasses, 1973.’” Vincent was his father, who left them one day in 1975 without a word; their mother had been inconsolable for months. “‘Vincent’s Last Undershirt.’” Jimmy sat back, trying to catch his breath; the small room was becoming close and stuffy. He leaned over again–”‘Vincent’s Last Cigarette,’” he read. And “‘Vincent’s Wedding Ring’ … this is too fucked up….” He almost opened the box to see it. He lowered his head to read the label right below, in the row closest to the floor. “What?” He straightened then bent in half, almost into fetal position, to make sure he was right the first time. The label only displayed one word: “‘Vincent.” In fact, on every one of the labels along the bottom-most row was printed, with a red marker, the single word: “Vincent.”
Jimmy’s hand was shaking as he gripped one of these “Vincent” drawers, jostled it, worked it free just enough so he could get a glimpse of the contents. He saw the plastic edge of the vacuum-sealed bag. He lifted himself higher, held his breath as he recognized the contours of the two round objects, covered with something rust-colored and stringy, that looked up at him, brown irises and dilated pupils unblinking, frozen in a shocked stare, floating in their airless Ziploc void.