In the Spirit of Stuff
The wood table hides under a blanket of brightly colored cardboard and stray shavings. All nine hundred and ninety-nine pieces of the one-thousand-piece puzzle. The high gloss photo on the laminated box taunts. Circus smiles, red noses, and soulful elephants—all under the big top. I spend the hours between eight and twelve searching for the missing piece. Under the table. In the radiator. On the floor. The dog sleeps. The kids study. The heater hums. I do not find success.
Old Hallmark greeting cards—birthdays, get well soon, sympathy, and holiday wishes. The signature lines are as varied as the email closings that now puncture my day at a frequency far greater than the postal mail ever did. Best, Sincerely, With gratitude, All my best, Best regards, ___. I don’t know what any of them mean. I also do not know why I saved them. The best is surely either in the past or yet to come. Most definitely not the present. I’ve taken to deleting emails, though my inbox is never empty. At last look, I had 42,657 unread messages in my inbox. I could spend all day, every day, for weeks on end, sorting electronic mail. Why, then, do I crave connection?
One cabinet houses—no, hides—seven sets of identical salt and pepper shakers. Surplus everywhere. Tiny glass bottles perched on—no, in—the belly of a sterling silver duck with extra-large webbed feet. Well-balanced even while well out of proportion. An outcome of my one-time interaction with QVC. Or was it HSN? I had ordered a single set after a return from Boston and a visit to the Gardens. When travel was still friends with time. When time told stories and stories were worth sharing. Make way for the ducklings and Beacon Hill still fresh in mind and water. The outlet sent one carton—stocked of twelve. Wide eyes frozen in horror. We all know ducks prefer fresh to salt water. I never entertain, prefer, if not require, solitude—like the ugly duckling. No one understands my humor. And so they sit. Behind the warped oak cabinet door, to the left of the window. We’ve grown to tolerate each other. They don’t quack and I don’t quibble.
I should have tossed the crumpled paper receipts but tossed salad instead. Raspberry vinaigrette over honey walnuts. The receipts, along with dozens of others, stuffed in the top right drawer. Impulse cheesecake. Late night Grub. Amazon QR codes. Insomnia calls, yet the Internet always waits. Bullseyes on me. Minutes tick as fingers click. Finds and finders everywhere. I should have turned down the covers but turned up the volume and turned off the alarm clock. Just in case. I’ve been afflicted with concerns for just in case for as long as I can remember. Caught the desire for records young and never outgrew their grip. Not desire. Not Records. Not Receipts.
I should have but did not.
I should have traded baseball cards but traded stocks instead.
I should have collected late-night jokes and half-squeezed lemons but chose leavened bread and buttered biscuits instead.
I should have touched his right cheek but tousled his remaining hair instead.
I should have returned the pleasantry but returned the stare instead.
I should have resisted temptation but chose to tempt fate instead.
I should have painted bedroom walls lilac but painted beds of nails violet instead.
I should have sprinkled sugar but sprinkled salt instead.
I should have consumed macaroni and cheese but chose macaroons and Madeira instead.
I should have counted coins but counted horses instead.
I should have picked flowers—daisies, daffodils, roses—but picked dryer lint and fights instead.
I should have calculated time left but calculated time spent instead.
I should have sorted laundry but sorted lipsticks tubes—glossy, matte, sheen—instead.
I should have listened but chose to languish—stocking slow-burning candles and Dum Dum lollipop suckers by the dozen—instead.