The Dresser

The dresser was the hardest. Dad tried for the first time six months after the choir sang Amazing Grace for my 39-year-old mother with a green thumb and a blown aneurysm behind her green eyes. He opened the bottom drawer where her turtlenecks lay like outdated eggs. But instead of putting them in the Goodwill box, he slammed the drawer shut with his pitching arm and then gave it a good kick with his steel-toed boot. He went out to his engine repair shop, silenced. At supper he finally spoke: guess there’s no hurry. But he was lying. The sooner he cleaned out Mom’s dresser, the sooner he would clean out Mom’s dresser. It seemed so simple, and so complicated, to me, a 14-year-old boy, their only son, only kid.

A couple of months later, he fortified himself--by fasting. He liked to feel hungry, close to the bone, an attempt to get closer to what he was feeling. Other people (mostly Catholics), thought calories cured sadness. He went at the dresser project the second time on a Sunday, when Pete’s Repair was closed and he had nothing on his mind but Mom. He approached the job with all the heft of a man with a sledgehammer taking down a cement silo. Lift, whack, slap. Chisel away at the silo until it tipped and then run like hell before it crashed. Now, in one fell motion, he slapped everything from the bottom drawer into the big cardboard box destined for those less fortunate. Lift, whack, slap. The middle drawer of sweaters was taken out. Besides, there was no daughter to keep this stuff for, and the idea of granddaughter never entered his mind. Or mine.

By now Dad had made it to the top and final drawer; he was on a roll. He opened that drawer and padded, push-up mounds of flesh looked up at him. Or so it must have seemed to stare at Mom’s bras, ready to prance and dance, posed as they were next to neatly folded rows of slips and panties. All the colors of the rainbow were in there, I swear. I mean, I had never looked in there before. Why would I? What once was hush-hush and personal now, to me, felt gruesome and creepy, especially since I had never seen my mother naked or even half-naked. She was very private and very pretty. But I sensed what fun she might have had selecting her secret things. All that finery--was that what they called it? Oh, lingerie, that’s what it was, lingerie: panties and dainties, slips and strapless, clinging and lingering, slinking, longing for sunshine or moonbeams, all that energy storied beneath sweaters or slacks or skirts, waiting. Just waiting.

Dad was in a trance staring at that top drawer. I saw a lifetime of love pass over his face like a front moving in: the pressure drops, and then, bam, the thunderstorm. My father stood there, bracing himself with two hands on the open drawer, blubbering.

“Men don’t cry,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

“They can’t,” he said. He studied drawer’s dovetail corner. “It’s not right.”

“Or something,” I chimed in, feeling any minute lightning would strike my chest. Count the number of seconds between the lightning and the thunder and you know how far away the storm is.

“Women do the crying,” Dad said. I nodded and began to count. By now his face was red and wide as a ripe tomato, splitting seeds and phlegm into the drawer. When he finally turned on the waterworks, I knew it was for both of them, for all three of us. Normally, I would have pitched in, but someone had to be the man. And I was, for the next fifteen minutes until Dad turned off the spigot faster than he had turned it on. He looked at the Goodwill box, took on a farmer blue handkerchief, and blew his nose, hard. Then, without a word, he criss-crossed the flaps of the big box into a kind of square knot.

I don’t know how long that top drawer kept its fullness. Maybe he never threw any of it out. I never saw him rummage in there again and I never looked. Maybe he put the top drawer’s contents up in the garage, in the rafters, along with Mom’s Raleigh Retroglide Seven-AL bicycle. It was a three-speed with hand brakes and white-walled balloon tires. Last time I went home, the bicycle was still hanging upside down, same place all these decades. I remembered how she rode that bike while I rode my Schwinn. We used to take the country roads like we had wings. Least that’s how I remember it because my brain laid down genuine, copper-wire connections about those rides. And then there were other things that were there, that once were so close, that have frayed. I guess that’s why you can spend the rest of your life pulling wire, remodeling and upgrading, and wondering, quite frankly, how the hell all of it happened.

Selected Works

Poetry
Chautauqua Poetry Contest Finalist
A tribute to land and those who honor it
view from a model
a poem about soldiering
A whimsical look at the art world
Fiction
This excerpt from Gahl’s first novel was a Glimmer Train finalist in the Very Short Fiction competition.
Short Story
A one-night stand between an overweight dancer and a disc jockey creates some serendipitous issues.

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