I walked across the grass to the driveway, sidestepping a stack of unopened paint cans. “All of this is going?” I asked, as she bent down over a box of stuffed animals.
“Yes,” she said. “If you want to claim anything, better do it now.”
I looked across these various artifacts of my childhood. A pink bike with a white seat, a broken plastic sled, some life jackets from the boat we’d sold years ago. None of it meant anything, and all of it was important. I had no idea what to take.
Then I saw the EZ box. At the top, balled up and stuffed in the corner, was the self-heating hand towel my dad had considered a Miracle of Science only a few weeks earlier. I picked it up carefully, squeezing the thin fabric between my fingers.
“Oh, Macy.” My mother, the stuffed animal box in her arms, frowned at me. A giraffe I vaguely remembered as belonging to my sister was poking out the top. “You don’t want that stuff, honey. It’s junk.”
“I know,” I said, looking down at the towel.
The Goodwill guys showed up then, beeping the horn as they pulled into the driveway. My mother waved them in, then walked over to point out the various piles. As they conferred, I wondered how many times a day they went to people’s houses to take things away—if it was different when it was after a death, or if junk was junk, and they couldn’t even tell.
“Make sure you get it all,” my mother called over her shoulder as she started across the grass. The two guys went over to the treadmill, each of them picking up an end. “I have a donation . . . just let me get my checkbook.”
As she went inside I stood there for a second, the guys loading up things from all around me. They were making a last trip for the Christmas tree when one of them, a shorter guy with red hair, nodded toward the box at my feet.
“That, too?” he asked.
I was about to tell him yes. Then I looked down at the towel and the box with all the other crap in it, and remembered how excited my dad was when each of them arrived, how I could always hear him coming down the hallway, pausing by the dining room, the den, the kitchen, just looking for someone to share his new discovery with. I was always so happy when it was me.
“No,” I said as I leaned over and picked up the box. “This one’s mine.”
I took it up to my room, then dragged the desk chair over to my closet and climbed up. There was a panel above the top shelf that opened up into the attic, and I slid it open and pushed the box into the darkness.
With my dad gone, we had assumed our relationship with EZ Products was over. But then, about a month after the funeral, another package showed up, a combination pen/pocket stapler. We figured he’d ordered it right before the heart attack, his final purchase—until the next month, when a decorative rock/ sprinkler arrived. When my mother called to complain, the customer service person apologized profusely. Because of my father’s high buying volume, she explained, he had been bumped up to Gold Circle level, which meant that he received a new product every month to peruse, no obligation to buy. They’d take him off the list, absolutely, no problem.
But still the stuff kept coming, every month, just like clockwork, even after we canceled the credit card they had on file. I had my own theory on this, one I shared, like so much else, with no one. My dad had died the day after Christmas, when all the gifts had already been put into use or away. He’d given my mom a diamond bracelet, my sister a mountain bike, but when it was my turn, he’d given me a sweater, a couple of CDs, and an I.O.U. written on gold paper in his messy scrawl. More to come, it had said, and he’d nodded as I read the words, reassuring me. Soon. “It’s late, but it’s special,” he’d said to me. “You’ll love it.”
I knew this was true. I would love it, because my dad just knew me, knew what made me happy. My mother claimed that when I was little I cried anytime my dad was out of my sight, that I was often inconsolable if anyone but he made my favorite meal, the bright orange macaroni-and-cheese mix they sold at the grocery store three for a dollar. But it was more than just emotional stuff. Sometimes, I swear, it was like we were on the same wavelength. Even that last day, when he’d given up trying to rouse me from bed, I’d sat up those five minutes later as if something had summoned me. Maybe, by then, his chest was already hurting. I’d never know.
In those first few days after he was gone, I kept thinking back to that I.O.U., wondering what it was he’d picked out for me. And even though I was pretty sure it wasn’t an EZ Product, it felt strangely soothing when the things from Waterville, Maine, kept arriving, as though some part of him was still reaching out to me, keeping his promise.
So each time my mother tossed the boxes, I’d fish them out and bring them upstairs to add to my collection. I never used any of the products, choosing instead to just believe the breathless claims on the boxes. There were a lot of ways to remember my dad. But I thought he would have especially liked that.
My mother had called me once (“Macy, honey, people are starting to arrive”) and then twice (“Macy? Honey?”) but still I was in front of the mirror, parting and reparting my hair. No matter how many times I swiped at it with my comb, it still didn’t look right.
Once, I didn’t care so much about appearances. I knew the basics: that I was somewhat short for my age, with a round face, brown eyes, and faint freckles across my nose that had been prominent, but now you had to lean in close to see. I had blonde hair that got lighter in the summer time, slightly green if I swam too much, which didn’t bother me since I was a total track rat, the kind of girl to whom the word hairstyle was defined as always having a ponytail elastic on her wrist. I’d never cared about how my body or I looked—what mattered was what it could do and how fast it could go. But part of my new perfect act was my appearance. If I wanted people to see me as calm and collected, together, I had to look the part.
It took work. Now, my hair had to be just right, lying flat in all the right places. If my skin was not cooperating, I bargained with it, applying concealer and a slight layer of foundation, smoothing out all the red marks and dark circles. I could spend a full half hour getting the shadowing just right on my eyes, curling and recurling my eyelashes, making sure each was lifted and separated as the mascara wand moved over them, darkening, thickening. I moisturized. I flossed. I stood up straight. I was fine.
“Macy?” My mother’s voice, firm and cheery, floated up the stairs. I pulled the comb through my hair, then stepped back from the mirror, letting it fall into the part again. Finally: perfect. And just in time.