Chapter 33: Hidden Treasures
Uncle Ron’s Storage was a gated maze of L-shaped one-story buildings with stenciled black numbers on color coded garage doors. He drove slowly up and down the identical rows of the green sector looking for Unit 108.
Maddy broke the silence. “Do you have a credit card?”
He glanced down at the girl. “Do you?”
“I asked you first.”
Evan pointed at a green sign in the shape of an arrow with 85 – 135 painted on it. “Make a right.”
Mason didn’t bother using his blinker. “They make it confusing, don’t they?”
Maddy persisted. “I’m too young to have a credit card.”
“But not too young for a cell phone?”
“There it is,” Evan announced. “On your left, 108.”
He passed the unit, braked, and put the truck in reverse, backing toward the garage door.
“You still didn’t answer me,” said Maddy.
He shut off the engine. “Is there some reason you’re inquiring into my credit or are you just being a nosy little hairstylist?”
Evan answered for her. “We wanted to buy Christmas presents for Mom.”
Mason raised an eyebrow. “With my credit card? How nice of you.”
“We have our own money,” said Maddy. “We just need your credit card to order on Amazon.”
He opened the door. “I don’t believe in Amazon. I’ll take you to the mall.”
“Gross,” said the little girl.
He shrugged. “Take it or leave it.”
He could hear her feet crunching gravel behind him as he approached the keypad. “That’s not nice Mason!”
“Awww, can I borrow your violin?” He chuckled at his own wittiness as he swiped the card and typed the code.
He tried again.
He glanced over his shoulder. Hands on hips, tight-lipped and eyes asquint, Maddy glared back malevolently.
“Can you, um, help me with this?”
She didn’t budge. “They don’t sell what I want at the mall, Mason, and even if they did, it would cost too much.”
The standoff lasted barely thirty seconds. “Okay, you know what? Fine. I’ll give you my credit card number. Nothing irresponsible about that, right? I’m sure adults the world over give out sensitive financial information to seven-year-olds.”
Evan laughed from the bed of the truck. “Sucker!”
“Get down here and help me get this door open, Commando.”
Maddy stepped forward and held out her hand. “I can do it.” She swiped the card and a moment later, a small green light glowed above the keypad. “What’s your number?”
“1970.” To avoid confusion, Sam Caldwell had set all his pins and passcodes to the year of his birth.
There was a snap from inside the unit, followed by an electric hum. Slowly, the garage door creaked open. The couch appeared first, bathed in a halo of daylight and dust. He remembered watching football on it with his father, finding treasures lodged in its sides, bouncing on its cushions as a small boy. It now sagged in the middle and yellow foam sprouted from a rip on its arm. An overwhelming sense of shame washed over him as he stared at the embattled old couch. It was suddenly more family member than furniture piece. He felt responsible for its current state of neglect and disrepair.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
Maddy squeezed his hand. “It’s okay, Mason, I wasn’t really mad.”
The unit was stuffed with memories: book shelves, end tables, lamps, the grandfather clock, his old bed, Nana’s rocking chair, the china cabinet, the dining room table, and stacks of boxes bulging with artifacts from another era.
Evan bounded over the couch, leaped onto the end table, then crawled between the rocking chair legs. “Are we gonna move all this stuff?”
“Nah,” said Mason. “Just a couple trips’ worth of whatever we can fit in the truck. Come help me with this couch.”
He disappeared behind the grandfather clock, resurfaced beneath the dining room table, then hop-scotched across a smattering of boxes to the other end of the couch.
Mason smiled and shook his head. “How’s that hyperactivity thing coming along?”
Evan lifted his side with a grunt. “I’m controlling it.”
He studied the boy as they lugged the couch to the truck. Bifocals steamed with breath, small muscles tense and engaged, even his cowlick trembled with effort. There was an underlying sadness to Evan, a silent companion he never seemed to outrun, outplay, or outlaugh. It didn’t take a board certified psychologist to recognize that he was still grappling with his father’s death.
“Almost there,” said Mason.
Maddy appeared alongside the couch, walking backward with her phone raised in the air.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking a selfie. You said you wanted photoliptical documation. Just in case. Remember?”
He set the couch by the truck. “Did I say that? I don’t even know what it means. What I really need is somebody to look through some of those boxes and see if there’s anything cool in them.”
This earned him an exasperated eye roll followed by a hair flip. “Make up your mind, Mason.”
He watched her march back into the storage unit.
Evan lowered his voice. “She got in trouble in school. Her teacher sent an email to Mom and said she talks too much. I think it hurt her feelings.”
Mason lifted his end of the couch, setting the legs on the lowered gate of the truck bed. Then he walked around to Evan’s end. “Help me get this up.”
Wood rubbed metal. Together they pushed it flush against the cab. Evan clapped his hands. “What’s next?”
“I guess I need the bed.”
Side by side, they walked back up the driveway to the open garage door; the ebb and thrum of traffic from the nearby interstate like waves pounding the shoreline.
“Were there a lot of people at your prison for killing people?”
He glanced down at the boy. “Some.”
“Why do people kill people?”
Mason shoved his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know. Anger, fear, greed.”
“War,” said the boy, his voice continents away.
He nodded. “And war.”
Inside the storage unit they found Maddy sitting, legs crossed, in front of an open box. “I picked this one ‘cuz it said Mason on it.”
He could see his name scrawled in his mother’s familiar handwriting across the cardboard.
She held up a block covered in small squares of various colors. “What’s this?”
“Are you kidding me? Come on, you know what that is. A Rubik’s Cube.”
Evan squeezed between the rocking chair and end table, almost tripping as he scrambled to join her at the box.
She held up a cylinder of silver wire that accordioned from her right hand to her left.
“That’s a Slinky.”
Evan removed a Magic 8 Ball and stared transfixed at its watery message.
“It tells your fortune,” Mason explained.
Piece by piece, they examined his childhood toys like exhibits in a roadside museum. Etch A Sketch, Simon, paddle ball, Speak & Spell.
“Is this an Atari?”
Garbage Pail Kids cards, Remo Williams action figures, Operation, Chinese Checkers, Hungry Hungry Hippo, his Pop Warner football jersey, his old catcher’s mitt, a noseless Mr. Potato Head, a Michael Jackson Thriller jacket.
“What’s this?” said Maddy.
He squinted at the Coke bottle in her hand, a first grade art project covered in now-chalky dried yellow paint with the word Mom etched into its side. A sheet of paper extended from the mouth of the bottle, rolled into a scroll and tied off with a piece of purple yarn.
He put a boot on the end table and leaped over a lamp shade. “Let me see that.”
She passed it back without looking.
Evan had found his old Red Rider BB gun and was pointing it at Maddy. “Say hello to my little friend.”
“Evan, that’s scary. Mason, tell him to stop.”
“Cut it out,” he mumbled, still staring at the paper.
Three words were written down the side in twenty-five-year-old ink. His brain transcribed them in the voice of his mother.
To my son.
Chapter 34: Relic
My Dear Mason,
Welcome Home! I wish your father and I could be there with you. Although none of this will be news to you in the future, I’m writing this letter on the day of my appointment with Dr. Callahan. He confirmed that the spot on my brain is Alzheimer’s. No shock there. I’ve known that something is wrong for quite some time. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to get my house in order since conditions could deteriorate quickly. I’m already taking steps to ensure that you are taken care of. Are you blaming yourself? Stop that! You are no more responsible for my diseased brain than you were for your father’s congestive heart failure. Death is an unavoidable part of life … but that’s what makes life so precious, its fleeting nature. I hope this letter finds you living yours to the fullest. I have loved you since my first pregnancy test, since that first kick, since the doctor said, “It’s a boy,” and put your tiny body on the scale (where you promptly pee’d straight up in the air like a little fountain statue.) Like it or not, you will always be my baby and the thought of you in a cage breaks my heart. Speaking of which, I recently found an attorney who is willing to look at your appeal! I guess only the “future you” reading this letter knows how it all turned out. (Fingers crossed.) No matter what happens, as I enter this next phase of my life — let’s call it an adventure — I do so knowing that I raised a kind, strong, intelligent man for my son. No court ruling will ever make me think differently. While it appears to be destiny that my memories fade, I pray that those of you linger the longest. You have brought me so much happiness. I could not be more proud. Rest assured I’ll be seeing you again Mason. In this life or the next.
With all my heart,