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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Vichinsky

Arthur Undun



The only light on in the house was the light over the kitchen sink, which illuminated the sink filled with dishes. It was because of this she rolled up her sleeves and started scrubbing. She longed for the mundane exercise to relax her, because in reality she hated the dishes and always had. The dirty dish water on her hands had always made her feel anxious, but forgetting problems through tasks was a trick she picked up from her dad. It was a battle of desperation - numb or anxious.

Regardless of this - the dark and the small task - her mind wandered and so did her eyes. Her tired mind looked at the pictures on the wall around the kitchen which were seemingly just dreams now: her father and her on her fifth birthday, her fathers doctorate ceremony, and his authorial recognition. She looked at the hardwood floor her dad had put in, and at the open cabinets her father made. She looked out of the window in front of her that he installed.

Inside looking out, she observed a family running jaggedly in the rain. Her eyes just fit through the blind cracks. The father and the mother grabbed the little girl’s hand and lifted, by her arms, over each puddle. They laughed. She wondered, then, where it had all broken. When she stopped being the little girl in the rain when he officially stopped being the man lifting her over puddles.

Behind her, Her father sat in the rocking recliner, his head back and rocking, the TV playing in a quiet white noise.

Have you seen my wife? His voice seems stuck behind a phlegm.

This broke the woman’s concentration and she cut her view of the blinds. She turned around with a soft smile. She left the water running and her hands wet.

You- you, look just like her. He kept a pointed finger at her and then suddenly dropped it.

I’ve seen her - he’s told her that - she’s quite beautiful.

He looked lost again.

She faked a smile, the man curdled. Let’s get you some food.

Hey! He pointed outside where she stared out.

She ignored the gesture.

The kitchen was dark, and it was dark outside. The rain had turned into a dusk thunderstorm, which had darkened everything except the occasional light produced by the storm giving small glimpses into the world outside.

She shut off the water and flicked her fingers, spattering on the window, and wiped the rest on her stained sweatshirt.

Methodically she set the microwave for one minute and twenty-two seconds to get the soup to a perfect temperature. Too cold he won’t eat it, too hot he burns himself and spills it all over. There had been many occasions she had to explain to him she was not his nurse, that she was his daughter, and that it was inappropriate to make those types of comments while she tended to his soup burns. The thought gave her chills. He said it with the remains of his meal set in the cracks of his lips.

The microwave alarm sounded.

She walked to the sleeping man in the chair, keeping this image in mind, to wake him the only way that worked, a quick pinch of the nostrils. Sometimes, she tested her frustration by putting a pillow over his eyes and face pulling it tight just a little bit - but not this time. His eyes cracked open and his mouth quickly shut.

I need you to eat this.

Fuck off, I don’t have money.

I’m not- a huff. I’m taking care of you. I made you soup - Your wife told me it was your favorite.

He softened, Have you seen her?

She faked a half smile - Not in a while.

He frowned and sat himself up to eat the soup.

The thunder continued. She sat down and listened to the slurps and closed her eyes.


 

She found herself upstairs. Maybe it was being furthest away from the man as possible, maybe it was the flier reminding her that the neighborhood garage sale was in two days and she hadn’t had any time, or energy, to sort old things. Either way, she found herself in the attic.

The attic was dark and smelled like wet wood. The raindrops hit harder. She felt around until she felt the string from the overhead lamp hit her face. She pulled the cord and was suddenly in a jungle of boxes. Surrounded by compartments of who her family once was and to some degree, in these boxes, will always be. Each box signified some identifiable moment in their life.

She felt that the best way to do this is left to right. For a moment she thought biggest to smallest, but felt that she was not ready for the burden of the biggest challenge first. It helped, she realized, that half of the boxes had already been labeled “Arthur” in preparation for his death years ago.

She grabbed the first box. Ripping open the top with nothing but force. This ended up giving her a papercut. She licked it, for a moment, shook her hand, sighed, and finished with the box.

Inside the first box was a set of his pictures. He used to always take pictures on his phone, and I think what she appreciated most, was the fact that they were never scripted. In this box, filled with outdated polaroids he continued to buy, were pictures of mom caught off guard, of the woman just waking up, a half piece of sausage and an egg, his backyard, his first day of teaching, and his dog sleeping. His capability to love. Nothing to sell or donate. She kept the picture of herself in her hand.

She stood up, suddenly feeling a weight on her eyes from her exhaustion. She rubbed her eyes and looked up toward the ceiling catching herself in a reflection of the attic ceiling window. This is a body that had lost its bones, figuratively, of course, she had nothing left, skin melting off of her. She felt the burden of the pictures more intensely, the burden in which her life had existed for years. How long had it been? How long had she watched him deteriorate? How long hasn’t she noticed herself?

Another sigh. Almost. She whispered. She gave herself small slaps on the face. Next box. She struggled to open this one too.

In the next, a couple of hard, black, latched cases. He was always a leftist, which seems odd for a gun owner. It wasn’t until he had a daughter, he used to say, that he realized that he would go to all means to protect her. That meant buying her one, and teaching her to use it.

On the first day of lessons, she remembered how uncomfortable she was. Although it made her feel powerful. She felt it was a useless tool. She felt that even if she knew how to use it, she would never actually be able to use it.

Her dad, on the other hand, ended up atop the class in accuracy and knowledge. Little did the people know, in the class, of his perfectionist tendency. He studied information a week before.

The accuracy was impressive, he admitted. Lightning struck again and the image of the man in the corner of the room, with warmed-up soup running down his chin - helpless, arose with it.

The short-lived memory of shooting lessons warmed her but she resented - madly - what was left of a body, of the mind. The capability to protect to learn - gone.

Throughout this organization she found temporary relief. Reliving parts of herself gone, reliving the soul of the man on the chair. Boxes passed, piles were made, Donate, Sell, and a small pile was for keepsakes. These small moments, the pictures, the guns, and finally his writings - which was the last box, the biggest one.

He loved to write and she loved to read his writing. So, naturally, these notebooks kept an interest in her own inner child. The first notebook of poems entitled “Observations From the Porch”, she remembered as a beautiful book of sonnets about his life. The next one, “Car thoughts”, is a good bathroom read - witty, simple, and loving. She drew her hand over the last lines of these writings as if it was an artifact from a lost time. She cried over the lines she knew were about her. The resentment grew like a shadow at this moment.

She looked down once more at the bottom of the box finding a final notebook. She had never seen it before. There was nothing written on this green “Topps 70” notebook, like the rest of his unofficially titled work. The pages, seemingly less ruffled then one that had been used. She grabbed it and shook, struggling to get the first page open and to catch a breath. She opened it. First page - nothing - just ripped frays. Second - nothing, third, and so on. She threw the notebook down and pushed her palms into her eyes. The pressure hurt and was pleasurable and a tear dropped from her cheek. She looked up and saw her reflection again and in the grossness of what looked back, she immediately looked down.

Her heart fluttered. She sniffled. Her eyes traced the faded hardwood stain, scapes and some decay until it landed back on the last page open. Scribbles, like a message written into the sand.



 

It is important to note here, to him, these days seem long and empty. He remembered less but realized he was more often scared of his own reflection. Like a nightmare where a familiar place becomes, all at once, the creepiest. The aging man was a stranger. That age spot grew in one day. His daughter, he did not recognize. He feared rest, yet he was often tired, knowing that he did not know again when he would remember that precise moment. Often, in the plane between lost dreams of his daughter, and the small consciousness, he mumbled silently for death. It was in one of these moments that he grabbed the notepad next to him. With eyes closed and a shaky hand.

Help.

His wife, alive at the time, must have seen his scribbles. In desperation to not act on the request but not lose, possibly, the last piece of evidence left of the man - she hid it.

Help.

What both her parents didn’t know, what they couldn’t know, she - his daughter - heard these inaudible whispers, day after day. Each time, she felt it a little deeper, the echo of a man she once knew, the man that left the scribbles. She’d watch and listen with a clenched jaw. Like the whispers written with the small piece of chalk on the pavement - fighting through bloody knuckles to convey a message - I was here, yet illegible. It wasn’t until this short poem, buried at the bottom of stored time, that she understood what he was saying. Help. The last remaining call from her father.

Help.

And so, memories unfolded like a picture wallet. Those of consistent groping in his lost mind paradoxically sat next to the memories of movie nights on the couch. Of watching from behind a mad man at a desk typing his next great story to tell her, of the man who drops and spills soup from the corner of his mouth. From the fights of self preservation when he thinks he is kidnapped, to family vacations on the beach in blissful protection.

Help.

Suddenly anger shot from the pit of her stomach. Anger she had stored. Anger for her mother, being a coward unable to act on the call, for being dead. Anger for her father, regressing, disappearing, leaving her. For herself. For being unable to recognize herself. For being angry.

Help.


 

The thunder boomed loud, the lightning shot brightly, and the rain pelted harder. The man looked out the window and traced a raindrop down the glass racing the one to the left and the one to the right. There was no thought, and for a moment he really cared about who won that race, the next movement he forgot what the intrigue with the window was.

He looked across the room at the woman, now there, leaning against the archway.

Hey, where are you going? He suddenly remembered his line, you look like my wife.

The woman responded. This response, whatever it was, seemingly felt like dishwater on his hands.

Answer me.

He pictured her asking something about his career changing the subject. He decided to go along.

Well, I was a teacher for many years. The students loved me. And uh - I became a college professor. He waved her off with his hand like she knew the rest of the story and he didn’t.

The woman continued to stare at the mumbling man in the corner.

He looked back out the window.

She turned off the TV, pulled up one of the wooden chairs, and sat in front of him.

Hey! He wagged his finger aimlessly.

The woman sat staring.

Dad, when -

Have you seen my wife?

No, listen, When -

Okay, I suppose -

She reset. Listen! I’m Ruthie, your daughter.

He looked like he realized for a moment.

When I was a kid -

His eyes started to wander away.

Listen. On days like today, when we got caught outside in the rain for run reason or another, you’d run for the doors every time. But, everytime, you’d look back and see that I had laid down in the rain. Sidewalk, road, driveway, our yard it didn’t matter. I would lay down. She smirked at the thought of the memory he had clearly forgotten. And suddenly you’d lay next to me and we’d just lay in silence. You’d smile and say, don’t let me forget our days like today.

She looked up and he stared at the corner of the room emotionless. She took a deep breath after a short laugh and bit her lip. Resetting again and letting sadness and anger speak. I remember, specifically, when you sat me and mom down. It was snowing and just after a bitterly cold New Year when we drank too much champagne, all of us. Again she smiled. He continued to stare.

You had your doctor's appointment on the second. You were going due to the fact you felt yourself zoning out in the evenings. You felt like it had something to do with iron deficiency. When you came back you walked in silently.

She picked up the notebook, now.

You walked to the table in your pea coat and hat, glasses - fogged and speckled with melted snow. I have dementia, you said. Mom dropped her fork on her plate and excused herself without a word. You walked over to me and kissed me on the head and told me you loved me. I love you, Ruthie, you said. I almost asked if you were okay, but I realized I was talking to a ghost at that point. That was the last night I had my dad. I don’t remember any other memories besides me taking care of you after. Her jaw tightened. Fire was in her heart.

The old man stared out the window at the racing raindrops again. A thunder shook in the distance. There were birds starting to sing that neither of them heard. He chased a bug on the ground with his eyes and pushed his head back against the chair pillow, closing his eyes. The man mumbled something. The woman pulled out the poem.

I found this.

His eyes opened a little, but again didn’t say anything.

I never thought I’d hold it against you, your mind leaving you. But look what it has done to me… to you. Look what I’m left with, look what you asked for. She handed it to him.

The paper shook as he held it. A tear fell from his eye.

Ruthie, he said, in a scratched whisper.

Help. He said, or so she thought.

His lip quivered.

Help. In the same voice that he would.

He looked out the window again. In the reflection, in which he did not notice, was Ruthie standing with a pillow. A tear in her eye.

Another mumble. He looked up at the ceiling.

Dad. She was behind him. His eyes opened.

Then she acted. With both hands, she pulled the pillow on his face as hard as she could. Her teeth grinded, and her knuckles, from the pressure put on them, ached. She put one foot on the back of the reclining chair and pulled now, while the other held the whole bodily contraption up. The skeleton barely fought, first putting his arms up to the pillow, as if trying to figure out what it was, then pulling on the arms of the chair to wiggle himself out.

The two minutes felt like five. It was an intimate kill, one that required human will and force, one that meant something. She could not breathe.

She dropped to the floor. Blood in her palms from digging her nails into them.

She allowed herself to cry. She cried for her actions. For the bag of bones that could not remember to breathe. For her dad that died long ago, for which she could not grieve. She could not control what came out of her.

She is alone. Left with a bag of bones and bloody palms - some things she already had.

From the shelf above the couch, a picture of her, her mother, and her father now looked down at her. The sun shone through the window down at the chair.


And then she woke up.


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