He took a swig from the can and nodded, looking down the hall
again as if on the lookout for an enemy agent. Perhaps there were a few
hiding nearby. I hadn’t explored the entire facility.
“Get the bag, the floral print one. With the other bag inside it.”
“Get the other tablet. The one with no stickers.”
I said I would, and he kept going. His list unfolded like a confession.
He mentioned specific books, ten or fifteen of them in total. The last
book he mentioned wasn’t a book for my mother at all but a book for
him that I could find in his library at home. Once he’d finished with the
books, he began to mention items of clothing, shirts and pants, mostly
for himself, and finally small pieces of furniture. He wanted the bedside
table from his room; he wanted a chair, the teak one that had belonged to
my grandfather. For a moment, his eyes cleared. He looked at me and re-
alized that I wouldn’t be able to get any of the things he had mentioned.
It was too much, but he was afraid to say it.
“Are you going to be okay going back there?”
The fear in his voice was the most rational thing I had heard since
coming home to help with my mother.
“Yes,” I said. Liar.
Driving home, I rehearsed in my head the route, though I had driven it
before. Everything along State Road looked the same, except now fire
trucks had congregated in the parking lot of the gym, which firefighters in yellow pants were spraying enthusiastically with a hose. Dozens
of shivering people in shorts and with blankets around their shoulders
watched in awe as a plume of black smoke, seemingly detached from the
building where it had been created, drifted in the sky like an apocalyptic
blimp. I watched from the stoplight, and only the horn of another driver
prompted me to take my left turn up the hill.
There I found the house waiting.
I wasn’t here to get my mother’s things or my father’s things. They had
their things. If they needed more, my father could return or I could return yet again. The red house had once been a barn, its lofted spaces still
clear in the layout of the second floor. From outside, it looked like a huge
crimson box, maybe for tools or fishing lures. If I had been much larger
and could have opened the roof with my hand, I imagined, I would have
found something I had forgotten, something that would bring me great
satisfaction to find again.