I pulled a pair of scissors out of the island drawer, then drew them across the top of the box, splitting the line of tight brown packing tape. The return address, like all the others, was Waterville, Maine.
Dear Mr. Queen,
As one of our most valued EZ Products customers, please find enclosed our latest innovation for your perusal. We feel assured that you’ll find it will become as important and time-saving a part of your daily life as the many other products you’ve purchased from us over the years. If, however, for some reason you’re not completely satisfied, return it within thirty days and your account will not be charged.
Thank you again for your patronage. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our friendly customer service staff at the number below. It’s for people like you that we work to make daily life better, more productive, and most of all, easy. It’s not just a name: it’s a promise.
Walter F. Tempest
President, EZ Products
I scooped out Styrofoam peanuts, piling them neatly next to the box, until I found the package inside. It had two pictures on the front. In the first one, a woman was standing at a kitchen counter with about twenty rolls of tinfoil and waxed paper stacked up in front of her. She had a frustrated expression on her face, like she was about two breaths away from some sort of breakdown. In the picture beside it, the woman was at the same counter. Gone were the boxes, replaced instead by a plastic console that was attached to the wall. From it, she was pulling some plastic wrap, now sporting the beatific look usually associated with madonnas or people on heavy medication.
Are you tired of dealing with the mess of so many kinds of foil and wrap? Sick of fumbling through messy drawers or cabinets? Get the Neat Wrap and you’ll have what you need within easy reach. With convenient slots for sandwich and freezer bags, tinfoil and waxed paper, you’ll never have to dig through a drawer again. It’s all there, right at your fingertips!
I put the box down, running my finger over the edge. It’s funny what it takes to miss someone. A packed funeral, endless sympathy cards, a reception full of murmuring voices, I could handle. But every time a box came from Maine, it broke my heart.
My dad loved this stuff: he was a sucker for anything that claimed to make life simpler. This, mixed with a tendency to insomnia, was a lethal combination. He’d be downstairs, going over contracts or firing off emails late into the night, with the TV on in the background, and then an infomercial would come on. He’d be sucked in immediately, first by the happy, forced banter between the host and the gadget designer, then by the demonstration, followed by the bonus gifts, just for ordering Right Now, by which point he was already digging out his credit card with one hand as he dialed with the other.
“I’m telling you,” he’d say to me, all jazzed up with that pre-purchase enthusiasm, “that’s what I call an innovation!”
And to him, it was: the Jumbo Holiday Greeting Card Pack he bought for my mother (which covered every holiday from Kwanzaa to Solstice, with not a single Christmas card), and the plastic contraption that looked like a small bear trap and promised the perfect French Twist, which we later had to cut out of my hair. Never mind that the rest of us had long ago soured on EZ Products: my father was not dissuaded by our cynicism. He loved the potential, the possibility that there, in his eager hands, was the answer to one of life’s questions. Not “Why are we here?” or “Is there a God?” These were queries people had been circling for eons. But if the question was, “Does there exist a toothbrush that also functions as a mouthwash dispenser?” the answer was clear: Yes. Oh, yes.
“Come look at this!” he’d say, with an enthusiasm that, while not exactly contagious, was totally endearing. That was the thing about my dad. He could make anything seem like a good time. “See,” he’d explain, putting the coasters cut from sponges/talking pocket memo recorder/coffeemaker with remote-control on-off switch in front of you, “this is a great idea. I mean, most people wouldn’t even think you could come up with something like this!”
Out of necessity, if nothing else, I’d perfected my reaction— a wow-look-at-that face, paired with an enthusiastic nod—at a young age. My sister, the drama queen, could not even work up a good fake smile, instead just shaking her head and saying, “Oh, Dad, why do you buy all that crap, anyway?” As for my mother, she tried to be a good sport, putting away her top-end coffeemaker for the new remote-controlled one, at least until we realized—after waking up to the smell of coffee at three A.M.—that it was getting interference from the baby monitor next door and brewing spontaneously. She even tolerated the tissue dispenser he installed on the visor of her BMW (Never risk an accident reaching for a Kleenex again!), even when it dislodged while she was on the highway, bonking her on the forehead and almost hurling her into oncoming traffic.
When my dad died, we all reacted in different ways. My sister seemed to take on our cumulative emotional reaction: she cried so much she seemed to be shriveling right in front of our eyes. I sat quiet, silent, angry, refusing to grieve, because it seemed like to do so would be giving everyone what they wanted. My mother began to organize.
Two days after the funeral, she was moving through the house with a buzzing intensity, the energy coming off of her palpable enough to set your teeth chattering. I stood in my bedroom door, watching as she ripped through our linen closet, tossing out all the nubby washcloths and old twin sheets that fit beds we’d long ago given away. In the kitchen, anything that didn’t have a match—the lone jelly jar glass, one freebie plate commemorating Christmas at Cracker Barrel—was tossed, clanking and breaking its way into the trash bag she dragged behind her from room to room, until it was too full to budge. Nothing was safe. I came home from school one day to find that my closet had been organized, rifled through, clothes I hadn’t worn in a while just gone. It was becoming clear to me that I shouldn’t bother to get too attached to anything. Turn your back and you lose it. Just like that.
The EZ stuff was among the last to go. On a Saturday morning, about a week after the funeral, she was up at six A.M., piling things in the driveway for Goodwill. By nine, she’d emptied out most of the garage: the old treadmill, lawn chairs, and boxes of never-used Christmas ornaments. As much as I’d been worried about her as she went on this tear, I was even more concerned about what would happen when she was all done, and the only mess left was us.