I’ll have to tell the story because I’m the one most at fault here. I should have known better, I’m the new generation type. Even on the way home from the cemetery, going back to the house with my mother, my two younger brothers and my sister, it was me who should have known better. Lots of things should have tipped me off; instead of being bigger, having more room with a body gone from it, the house appeared smaller, at least to me. It felt smaller, smelled smaller, corners were tighter, the air cooler. I swore, after spending my first twenty-two years in it, it didn’t have its hand out for me, “Not a touch in the tally,” as my father used to say about things found useless, unproductive, too much emptiness to expend much-courted energy on.
My father’s name was Evan Stalworth, a writer of sorts, and once had been a Marine, and stories about the Corps were usually reserved for male audiences. The writing bit began in late years. He’d retired early; what had obviously built up in him for most of his life had somehow gathered into form and was finding a way out of the sepulcher he had devised over those years to hold his material. I don’t know how many times I had heard him say to my mother, in those explosive years after he’d found the computer, “Hey, Artis, you ought to read this piece I just finished.”
He’d say it once, you could count on that, and then you could picture him waiting for the minute or so of silence. You’d hear the promise of exasperation from my mother, “There’s plenty of time, Evan. I’ve things to do now. I’ll get to it bye and bye.” There was sewing to be done, cooking, work on her afghan for the Ladies Society. She didn’t have a lazy bone in her body, nor was she mean. I think she heard little of what he said about writing … as if it didn’t really count, or amount to anything important, nothing like hanging with pride an afghan turned to the last twist of the wrist. An afghan was known and understood.
But then, in that small aftermath, a chair would creak, he’d swing it back in place in front of the computer, push a key, start again. That happened a lot of times those days. I can hear the weak echo of her words; I can hear the creak of his chair. All that day, all those days, he’d not say another word, at least not vocally. It was the routine for most of the recent years. And there were so many mornings, before me and Teddy and Gus, and Janny last, had moved out of the house, that Evan Stalworth, late bloomer, early riser, would be at the computer at three o’clock in the morning.
I’d come home for a quick visit from clear across the country. He’d beg me to make a CD of his material. It was, for me of course, a piece of cake. I did it in seconds. I did it every time I came home, which was at least three or four times a year. I never read what he had written. I was a technocrat, a new generation guy who loved the computer in my own way. It was not the memorial way of years that my father was carrying on with.
Teddy was a salesman and was damn good at his work. He came by every month or so, would stay for a few days in the old bedroom, do a few odd errands or maintenance chores, paint a hallway or wallpaper or hang some curtains, and move on. He was making lots of money and kept at it. Gus, driving his special bus for a big-time sports personality, rarely ever came home. Not even at Christmas. When he did drop by, there’d be a crowd of people gathering because they all recognized the big-time coach’s bus, and Gus was able, in his own way, to get a few perks worked off for his folks. Janny had four kids of her own and tried, really tried, but it was tough to get home from Oregon where her husband Charlie, after years in the Navy, settled down. It was too expensive.
But, as it happened, none of us were readers. And we had all heard, growing up, some of the old gent’s stories, Evan Stalworth’s Wealth of Words, as we and some neighbors had come to call it, the pleasant parts of some late evenings on the porch or in the kitchen hunched over a few pops of coke or beer. It was old hat to us. And it was a shame that we had not listened more closely. But isn’t that what we learn in life? … and usually when it’s too damn late.
So the day came, and the day was announced with a thunderstorm and me in a plane and the captain sounding nervous. I promised I’d get home before the day was gone to say hello. The promise stuck. I came around the corner late at night in a rental car and saw the flashing lights of an ambulance and the companion fire truck. It was Evan’s heart. He didn’t make a big race out of it. Just took himself into a final silence, and was gone.
All of us were there the next day, Janny coming last and Gus picking her up at the airport. My mother made only one demand when we came back from the cemetery. “Now, while I have the help, get all of his clothes out of here and gone to Goodwill or the homeless. I don’t care where as long as someone can use them.” She added, a small token of explanation, “It’s what he’d want.”
We did all that in short order, in green bags and dumped them in a collection point. Useless, worn clothes and all kinds of underwear and socks by the dozens we threw out in the trash. Mom pushed us. “I don’t have the hands I used to have. Nor the legs. It has to go now. Give those old coats and those jackets to the homeless. Every last one of them. Those old hats of his, baseball caps by the dozens. His winter boots and fishing boots and his fishing poles. Give them to Harry next door. Give Harry his tools if you don’t want them. I’ll never use them.” She was practical, and realistic, down to the last handkerchief in one of his drawers, the last pair of pliers on a shelf.
That full day we moved as a team. The house, I’m afraid to say, started to grow again. Rooms leaped in size. Corners gleamed like they hadn’t in years. The cellar and garage grew themselves three times over. Space tripled up in an hour’s time. It was a kind of new-birth glory. It happened all the more every time a corner came back from where it had been hidden for years, and a one-time crawl space came exposed and a section of the garage she had never been in showed itself off.
Then, after all that acute labor had been expended on the house, to free up what one might call the debris of a lifetime, there remained only the small room he called the study. It was where his third generation computer rode the edge of his desk, the one I had bought him and shipped home from one of my trips. His first computer was stuffed under a supply desk in a corner, its innards frozen for all time. The second one, one that I had worked on a few times and glimpsed but a few lines of his work, also went astray the day he got the latest one I sent, the one with the narrow console he thought was the next wonder of the ages. He had leaped at that one. I had made him CDs for of all his stuff. He told me he wanted a title printed on it. “Evan Stalworth’s Wealth of Words Most Memorable.” I had softly smiled to myself, loving his ideas, but not listening really… I was a CD maker, cut and dried! A tool merely. I knew my place in all of it.
In one corner of the room, in a closet, on packed shelves, stacks of papers had gathered and grown over the years. He must have spent all pre-computer days doodling on those papers.
Mom said, “What about all this stuff?” She looked at me for the answer.
I said, “He said it was all on the CDs I made. He had me transfer everything. There’d been a whole bunch of files. A whole bunch. I don’t know how long it took him to do it all, but it’s all on the CDs.” I smiled, “We had about a dozen CDs. I made one of his whole system every time I came home. So much repetition, duplication, but he didn’t want to miss a word.”
The judgment was quick. “Get some bags, boxes, anything,” she said. “Move it all. We can decode, decipher, read the CDs some other time.”
We swung into action. The room leaped into life. Walls loomed in clear patches where piles of paper had hidden them for years. Teddy promised to paint and wallpaper his next trip. We moved a history of a man into bags and boxes and into barrels. We rushed. Mom kept looking at her watch. “It’s trash day. It can all go now if we hurry.” It was near three o’clock in the afternoon, destiny calling.
It was done. Outside the gears of the trash truck groaned in concert with weights. The grinding mill of its hydraulic gears swung the overhead crusher into the life-spill of papers. A piece of 8 1/2×11 paper flew on the quick breeze and landed in Harry’s yard. He had been watching his friend being moved out. He picked up the piece of paper, looked at it, shrugged his shoulders and put it into his empty barrel. Toward the back of his house he walked, toting the barrel in one hand.
While the others were outside, watching the truck move away, I plugged the first CD in. There was one message. I have nothing memorable. The CD was empty. The same message came up on each of the twelve CDs. I have nothing memorable. I was shocked. Turning, I looked at the other computers. The emptiness fell down through me. The weight of years and piles of paper and powerful gears and awesome forces pushed down through my whole body. Oh, this awful retribution, this reprisal.
I knew. Oh, I knew. If I mentioned it to my mother she’d raise a hand and say, “Today’s not the day. Time for that later, in the bye and bye.”
I heard the echoes. I heard the chair squeak, the key being punched. I didn’t say a word. There’d be time for that later on.
It was four or five months later. I was heading out of Waylom Village deep in the tip of Michigan. I was passing a gasoline or oil truck with a flat tire. A small service truck was parked behind the big truck. Sun glinted on the bumpers. Two men were talking. The sun was also descending a hillside, tossing shadows aside. I could smell, not oil or gasoline, but honeysuckle or new cut grass or the edge of a barn’s existence, a birthing of one kind or another. Perhaps it was promise itself. A flock of birds was a small cloud against the sun, but only for a second. The radio was on and the man I occasionally listen to when I am in this part of the country was talking:
I swear I never heard his name before, but I know all of you will hear of it someday. I found these pieces in a new, small magazine. Some of the finest, grandest writing I have ever seen. We have to get this man here. We have to listen to what he says. It is most remarkable. It is brilliance itself. These three pieces are all I have. I hope I can get more. I hope I can get all of it, these things he called My Memorable Stuff by Evan Stalworth. Does anybody out there know him? Call me at this number…
Header photograph: By D’oh Boy (Mark Holloway) from Beatty, Nevada, USA (Death Valley Trash) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons