“I’M UNHAPPY,” my father told my mother. “I’m unhappy and I need to find myself.”
My mother is still in her PJs. Dried drool at the corner of her mouth, rat’s nest at the back. My father is standing in sandals he got on sale from the sports warehouse and a Namaste t-shirt. They’re standing in the kitchen and he’s drinking something green.
“Why can’t you find yourself here?”
My father sighs, gives a smile, and lays his hand on my mother’s heart.
“No, my love. That is not my direction.” His hand lifts up into the air, fluttering. “Myself is out there.” I imagine blowing it off into smithereens.
“Don’t,” my mother says. That’s all she can say. She’s not a crier. She’s a clean-the-whole-house-and-run-five-kilometers-er.
“I must,” he says. “I must listen to my heart. I must find my own happiness.”
My mother’s hands are clasped together, pressed against her chest, like some kind of silent wish.
“I’m so glad you understand,” he says. “I’m sorry it has to be this way.”
“No,” my mother says.
“Access your inner truth,” he says. “I have accessed mine. My third eye is open and receptive to the guiding light of the universe. Undertake your own journey, open yours, and then, you will fully understand.”
This is when I wish my mother had slammed the door and told him to fuck off. She didn’t. She cried and grabbed his sleeve.
His parting words, “I will be with you, our souls will mingle together in the greater beyond.”
Later, when she’s telling me this, I ask her what he meant by opening her third eye.
“Did he leave a key?” I say.
“June, be serious,” my mother says. She’s re-potting a plant.
“Where is it?” I say. “Here?”
I touch the top of my head.
“No,” my mother says. She rinses her hands, picks her ring up off the counter. “Lower.”
My mother sits down across from me. She’s holding the ring in her palm. I’m pressing my finger firmly into the middle of my forehead. Pressure point, I can feel my skull. I wonder if this alone can make it splinter.
I haven’t talked to anyone in a week. I’ve been staging my own monkish existence which involves getting up, eating and semi-enjoying it, smashing down parts of the back shed, crying, feeling okay, eating more, starting many books, and working on my pillow marks.
I spent two days trying to channel my energies into hating my father, but it didn’t last long. Hating people is exhausting business. Hating them still involves thinking about them.
“Maybe I’ll start smoking,” my mother says. We’re standing in the backyard holding our demolition mallets, wearing old T-shirts and ski-goggles.
“No, don’t,” I say. I swing my mallet. Wood goes flying.
“It must be nice,” she says. “There must be a reason why so many people enjoy it. I’ll look cool.”
“No,” I say. I swing my mallet again. “Don’t.”
Our family is very good at communicating important opinions with single words. Monosyllabic persuasion. A shard of wood flies off and bounces lightly, gracefully, off my mother’s chin.
We spend another half an hour smashing apart the shed, and then we go inside and stare at it. At the beginning, I asked my mom why we didn’t just get someone to move the shed, or take it. But she said, “No, it can’t be taken. The wood is awful. It shouldn’t be in the world. We should get rid of it before anything happens.”
Like it had the potential to start an epidemic.
Some squirrels go in and hop out. Every day, before we start, we have to do a small animal check.
“But hitting one would feel kind of good, right?” I say.
“June, what a horrible thing to say.”
“It would be an accident.”
My mother leaves me staring at the back shed and then comes back with two pieces of toast. She gives me one, all dry and not hot. We crunch on them.
“I forgot I made them,” she says mid-crunch. My feet are covered in crumbs.
“Oh,” I say.
We keep staring at the shed until my mother finishes her toast and dusts her hands off.
I’m still not done mine when she returns with a broom and dustpan.
“June,” she says. “Stop making such a mess. Go eat over the sink.”
I relocate my barbaric habits to the kitchen and watch as she cleans. When she’s done she stands there, staring at the ground with the broom and dustpan and it takes forever for her to move. I want her to move. I want her to get going, to do something. She doesn’t. She just stands.
We get a postcard from Thailand. My mother is the one to find it, of course.
“What does it say?” I ask.
“It says,” my mother throws it onto the table and it nearly slides completely off. She opens the fridge door and stares inside. “It says, it says, it says…”
She sits down with an apple. I’m already picking the postcard up and reading.
“It says,” she lifts her hands up, “Eureka! I’ve found it.”
“Isn’t that redundant?” I say.
My mother doesn’t answer.
My father’s postcard is confusing. It says nothing while saying too much. There are no clues as to how long he’ll be there or if he’s coming back. It’s also only addressed to my mom. Soul searching does not allow for the existence of offspring. It says stuff like “my soul is eternally bound to you, but I must be free,” “You are a possibility,” “I miss you daily,” “This is a hard decision that I am happy I’ve done for myself,” and my favourite, “I have learned not to get drunk on hope.”
I start to crumple it up but my mother says, “No, June. Don’t.”
I leave it in its half crumpled form. My mother looks at it and then rubs her mouth.
After she’s done her apple, we go back outside to smash the shed. We go at it for a solid hour. Then my mother holds her hand up to me to stop and we take a break. My mother brings out fig newtons and juice boxes. Sustenance for children.
“Where should I put it?” she says.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Where the shed is?”
We have ski goggle shaped imprints around our eyes. Deep white lines. It makes my mother look perplexed. She drinks from her juice box.
“No,” she says slowly. “Too obvious.”
“Obvious to who?”
My mother just shakes her head, her eyes scanning the backyard. Before we started, we had a shed sale. Not many people wanted to buy anything, so in the end we left it all on the curb. It disappeared quickly that way.
“How about there?” I say, pointing under the tree.
“Oh,” my mother furrows her brow. “No, no. Too shady.”
“Right,” I say. “Bad crowd.”
My mother doesn’t laugh.
We go back to smashing the shed and then go inside because we’re both tired. The postcard is still crumpled on the table, making friends with a housefly.
“You think he’s coming back?” I say.
My mother doesn’t say anything. She just puts her hand on her heart and flutters it up in the air with a sarcastic look on her face and then goes to take a shower.
I feel best when I know my mother is off somewhere and all she can hear is water. Water makes me feel okay about being up front with how sad I am and letting it all out.
In the morning I wander into my father’s old office. I turn on his computer and go through his desk. I want to find something. The papers that are left in there are useless, scraps of legal pad that have coffee stains on them. Stuff about taxes. Stuff about case studies. My dad, the legal beagle. I chew on my nails and spit the scraps onto the carpet.
I go through his books. I go through his Internet history. Nothing. Nothing about Buddhism or soul searching or zen wisdom. On the bookshelf across from me, my eyes catch on a picture frame featuring my father’s smiling face with his arms around my mom and me.
I go outside in my PJs with my nails half-chewed and my mother’s ski goggles and smash the shed. I smash it and smash it and smash it. When I come back inside my mother is standing near the back window, admiring my work. I sit down and sulk.
“Time to go to Home Depot, then?” she says.
I don’t answer and she takes my silence as a no.
We get another postcard. This one is also cryptic and written in messy handwriting.
“Petal flower,” it says, in its way of addressing my mother. “I breathe beauty and forgiveness. My journey continues. Bliss is eternal in the garden of my soul. Allow for space in the world. The universe will reward our openness.”
My father doesn’t even sign off. He’s certain he’s the only one we know who’s travelling and would want to keep in touch.
My mother tacks it up on our corkboard with its crumpled predecessor.
“Why?” I say, pointing at them.
“Let’s continue, shall we?” she says. She picks up her mallet and trots off.
We finish the remaining parts of the shed, which mostly involves making contact with the grass and feeling bad about the divots, and then we go to Home Depot.
My mother picks one with grey speckle and two fake birds on the edge, to entice visitors or to confuse them. We get it carried to our car while we choose grass seed.
At home, lugging it out of the car takes a lot of ingenuity from my mother. We make a ramp out of skis my mother isn’t too concerned about and then we drag it slowly to its destination. It scratches against the driveway and leaves long white lines on the blacktop. We place it in the space between the tree and where the shed was. I’m not entirely sure how much of the choice is based on aesthetics and how much of it is based on the fact we’re exhausted.
“Shouldn’t it be at least a little closer to where the shed was?” I say.
“Otherwise, what was the point?”
“Oh, no, no…it’s best this way. If the shed was still there, it wouldn’t look as nice. The shed was an eyesore.”
“Right,” I say. I point to the square spot of dead grass and dirt where the shed used to be. “That’s much better.”
My mother ignores me.
“Besides,” she says. “Nobody used it.”
“I guess so.”
My mother nods. “Except your father.”
It stands there for three weeks and no birds come.
My mother is persistent, unfaltering. She changes the water, she even puts up a bird feeder to attract them. No birds. A greedy fat squirrel sees the birdfeeder as paradise, so later my mother takes it down.
It takes another two weeks before my mother takes the two postcards down and puts them in a box with her ring. She places the box at the top of our front closet, underneath some winter hats.
We sit at the table and look at the bird bath.
“You want to get rid of it?” I ask.
My mother sighs. She rubs her face.
“I can’t,” she says. “We got rid of the mallets.”
A week after the shed was gone my mother put our mallets out on the curb. She wiped the handles down while wearing garden gloves, in case someone was going to use them for murder.
“Oh,” I say. “Right. No mallets.”
Our family never did get rid of things properly. We break things into messes. ∞
Nicole Chin is the author of the House of Anansi Press Digital Short, “Shooting the Bitch”, which received the McIllquham Foundation Prize for best original short story. Her work has appeared in Joyland Magazine, Room Magazine, The Puritan, Found Press and others, with work in “The Unpublished City”, an anthology curated by Dionne Brand. She has been long-listed for the House of Anansi Broken Social Scene Short Story Contest and was the recipient of the Helen Richards Campbell Memorial Award. She is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph and is currently working on a novel.