by Graham Powell
Jody eased the corner of the sofa into place with his knee and sat down on the edge, carefully, so he wouldn’t soil the cushions. He was drenched in sweat and cold, though it was at least eighty-five outside. He leaned over, elbows on knees, and tried to calm his heartbeat.
Laura walked in, a vase in each hand. “Is that the last of it?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Jody said in reply. “A bed, a dresser, a table, a couch, six chairs, and eighteen boxes of books.” He wiped the sweat from his forehead and blew out a long sigh. The smell of fatigue hung about him like a cloud.
Suddenly he was sixteen again, damp shoulder pads pressing him to a hard pine bench. The other players trooped off to the shower to joke and snap their towels at each other’s butts, but he just sat, staring at the floor and breathing slow, ragged breaths. He hadn’t been this tired since high school.
“Well, don’t forget, we’ve still got to get everything put away.” Laura set the vases at opposite ends of the mantle. “How’s that look, dear?”
“Fine,” said Jody. He was staring at a large, irregular yellow stain on the carpet. He was certain it hadn’t been there the last time they’d looked at the house.
Laura shifted the boxes around, moving the kitchen stuff to the kitchen, the bathroom stuff to the bathroom, and Jody’s office stuff to the closet, while Jody sat there with sweat drying on him. He glanced up at the swelling in her belly and said, “You be sure to take it easy.” She just smiled in return.
After a while, Jody heaved himself up from the couch with a mild groan and clumped off to the kitchen. He rummaged around in one of the boxes until he found a glass that looked more or less clean, then filled it from the tap. The chairs were still swaddled in blankets and tape, so he leaned on the counter and stared out the window, mentally counting up the chores that the back yard would require. He’d reached a depressingly high number, and was about to add ‘Uproot that hideous shrub before my wife sees it’ when her voice called from the front of the house.
“Just a minute,” he said. He stood up and noticed that his forearms had left smudges on the speckled formica. With a glance over his shoulder he pulled out his shirttail and wiped it clean. He took another sip of his water, then poured the rest down the sink. It tasted funny. He wondered if it would always taste funny, or if he’d get used to it.
“Honey, what’s this?” his wife called again. He went up to the front of the house to see what she wanted.
It was a box, but an old box, not like the others, which had come brand new from U-Haul. It was dusty, stained on two sides, and sloppily sealed with duct tape. It was marked only in illegible squiggles. “Huh,” said Jody. He dragged out his keychain and, selecting the key he deemed sharpest, busted the seal. “I’d forgotten about this stuff,” he said. “I must’ve grabbed it with the rest of the boxes from the attic.”
“But what is it?” Laura asked again.
Jody dug in with both hands and pulled out – a baseball glove, the leather turned brown by age and linseed oil. “These are some things I kept when we cleaned out my dad’s place. I haven’t looked at this stuff in years.” He tried to work his fingers into the glove, but it was too old and stiff.
Below the glove was an egg-shaped pillow, with two big, happy eyes and a broad smile. Stuffing leaked from the seams like air from a leaky balloon. “Humpty Dumpty,” murmured Jody. He laughed and playfully tossed it to Laura.
There was a framed photograph of his father and mother, young and smiling, leaning against an old sedan. A blue ribbon, the only blue ribbon he’d ever won, from his third grade Field Day. His fireman’s hat and badge, given to him by Sparky the fire dog. An “autographed” picture of Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.
In short order the living room looked like Christmas morning, but without the tree, the snow, and the wrapping paper. Jody looked around at the old friends he’d almost forgotten and grinned. “It’s like a dream I used to have when I was little,” he said. “I’d find a secret room or a forgotten closet, and on the top shelf, pushed way to the back, I’d find everything I had ever lost.”
Laura noticed a book half hidden in the dust at the bottom of the box. She pulled it out gingerly and shook it. “You missed this, honey,” she said as she handed it to Jody.
Jody’s eyes grew large. “Oh, wow,” he said, as he took it from her almost reverently.
“What is it, Jody?” his wife asked.
Jody turned the book over and over in his hands. “My father used to read this to me every night before I went to bed.” He glanced at his wife’s abdomen again, and thought back to his father, sitting on the floor, huge body scrunched up in the space between the wall and the little bed, trying to read by the dim glow of the night light. He smiled and carefully opened the book. It fell open to a well-thumbed dog-eared page. “‘The Animal Store,'” he said.
“If I had a hundred dollars to spend,
Or maybe a little more,
I’d hurry as fast as my legs would go
Straight to the animal store.
I wouldn’t say, ‘How much for this or that?’
‘What kind of dog is he?’
I’d buy as many as rolled an eye
Or wagged a tail at me!
I’d take the hound with the droopy ears
That sits by himself alone,
Cockles and cairns and wobbly pups
For to be my very own.
I might buy a parrot all red and green,
And the monkey I saw before.
If I had a hundred dollars to spend,
Or maybe a little more.”
Jody smiled again and turned to another page. He opened his mouth to read, but no sound came out. Instead, tears rolled out of the corners of his eyes and down through the sweaty grime on his cheeks.
Jody Veers, age twenty-nine, sat on the living room floor of his new house and wept.