Richard’s Box

“Dear Diary,

“Excuse my brief pause, I had to get another pen. I hate those tiny crumbles of dried ink that smudge the page – pisses me off. Why do pens have to do that when they’re nearly run dry? I’d use a pencil but it’s such a bother to sharpen it every few sentences. Anyway…

“I’m outside on the porch now with the rising sun to my back – it’s cold – 40 degrees. That’s cold to me, especially today. There’s a certain ‘boniness’ to the chill.

“I walked the dog – briefly – just long enough for him to drop a load and then I just stared at it. I can’t explain the deliberate belligerence that came over me when I lit a cigarette for the sole purpose of dousing it in the steamy pile. And then I stared at that.

“After we got home, I showered and shaved.

“Today we bury my brother, Richard.

“Thing is, Diary, I woke up placid and calm – then once the hot shower water pounded my back a minute or two – I started feeling the anger again. Welling up to the point where I had to vent – standing there naked, wet, seething with paranoia – hatred, overwhelming grief.

“I conjure these vain, imagined scenarios and beat the air with my fists bloody, talking shit to my imaginary oppressor. This can go on for 15 minutes or so until I become self-consciously aware of what I’m doing.

Kenny took out another cigarette remembering with a wry yet slightly embarrassed smirk the last one he extinguished. His shrink recommended he keep a diary meant to help him cope with ‘life’ events he deals with not so well. And now, a death in the family. The phone rang.

Kenny’s cheap apartment still had a wall-hanger phone with a rotary dial and twisted, mangled cord stretched out of reasonable proportion. It didn’t hang straight either – been yanked off the wall before and time again. It rang with that electromagnet clapper bell, reminiscent of school days signaling the end of one class and the beginning of another. Kenny noticed the black Bakelite material stank too – years and years of smoke and liquored breath had pummeled the receiver, grunge encrusted the earpiece, grabbed and abused by grimy, filthy hands – used as a club by beleaguered housewives to discipline an errant son or no-good husband. It was a vile thing with a history. But like most old things, it was built to last and still worked pretty good.

Kenny lifted the receiver handling it as if it were someone else’s snotty tissue tentatively placing it near his ear without touching himself with it. He paused before answering, “Yeah, this is Kenny.”

“Mr. Baker? Kenneth Baker?” The delicately feminine voice asked with an uncertain tone.

“He goes by Kenny. Yeah, I’m him.” Kenny hated being called Kenneth. The name sounded stiffly dignified, almost effeminate to him.

“Oh, okay, Kenny. Uh, Mr. Baker, you don’t know me, my name is Stephanie, Stephanie Hilt. I’m the executor of Richard’s estate. I, uh… have something you should see.”

Kenny jerked upright and peered out the window wild-eyed upon hearing, “…something you should see.” He immediately recalled a dubious, fractured time he and Richard were at church during that portion of the service when the choir lifted their voices in song and praise.

“… And Crown Him Lord Of All…”

“Hey, skinny Kenny” Richard hissed in his ear, deliberately waiting on the distraction of the choir to humor himself at Kenny’s expense. “I have something you should see! Look!”

“…Sinn–ers, whose love can ne’er forget

the wormwood and the gall,

go spread your trophies at His feet…”

Skinny Kenny resisted Richard. In church one’s behavior should be solemn, dignified, respectful. Snickering, Richard cajoled skinny Kenny with a sharp left elbow to his ribs while thrusting a soiled page — Ms. Centerfold 1974 — in his face.

“… Bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown Him Lord of all.”

“Oh, really? Something I should see?” Kenny indignantly blurted into the phone. “I knew my brother, Ms. Hilt. Fortunately, you have not had the displeasure. He was a drunk porn-addict and a curmudgeon that talked openly about his own masturbation. He smelt of old cheese and cut his own hair – and it looked it. There’s not a damn thing of his I’d ever want to see or even know about. And I hope you’re wearing latex gloves if you’re actually handling any of his wares, lady.” Kenny felt his anger rising from his chest and it made his face burn.

“Mr. Baker, please, you don’t understand. Richard left something for you, while it’s nothing untoward necessarily, it’s quite personal and I’d rather not talk about it over the phone.”

Kenny remembered his shrink advising him not to judge or decide a thing based on emotion, to take a moment to consider what he says before he says it, or to consider a decision before he decides it. He was impetuous in thought and deed and he knew it but he was getting better at controlling his outbursts, and considered this Ms. Hilt’s offer.

“So personal you can’t mention it over the phone and allow me to decide for myself what, if anything, I want to do with it?”

“Please, Kenny, please indulge me.” Ms. Hilt responded somewhat anxiously.

Kenny drew in a long breath then began patting is pockets in search of his smokes. “Okay, listen, I intend to arrive late and leave early, so be at Patterson’s Funeral Home by 1:45 or so, out back, behind the morgue.”

Ms. Hilt hung up abruptly not before getting her instructions. This sudden request, untimely as it was, confused Kenny. He slowly hung up the phone, resigned to the fact that his brother, Richard, even dead and about to be buried, still controlled him from the grave.

“I want to be done with you, you bastard, but no, you continue to screw with me, you just have to have the last say. What is it, Richard? huh? What strange weird thing has your sick, derelict mind conjured? What psycho, maligned gesture do you have waiting for me, you selfish, ego-centric, disgusting son-of-a-bitch?”

Kenny never attended the funeral that cold, Spring day and never returned any of Ms. Hilt’s calls. He stood her up and left her holding that strange box back in the icy shade of the morgue. A box she did not want but could not get rid of. She was the executor of the estate. The box was her responsibility. Until she could find an heir to accept and take it, she possessed it.

Richard did indeed have the last word, playing on a mania, a weakness of Kenny’s, a need to know – and yet, he dare not in the case of Richard’s box. Either way, his mind would remain tortured.

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