My mother and I are playing the garbage game in the basement. She’s thumbing through papers in filing cabinet, deciding what is important enough to keep and what can become the game’s next victim.
“You’re not going to throw that away, are you?” My dad says. He appears in the corner of the basement next to the green Lawn Boy mower. He’s wearing the outfit I always imagine my dad wearing when I think back on him; holey red sweatpants and a white Hanes undershirt. He stands on the dirty, cold cement floor, a pair of ten-year-old, worn-out Wal Mart moccasins on his feet (this is the second pair he’s owned).
“There’s so much junk in this basement,” my mom replies. “Plus, what are you saving it for now? You’re dead.”
My mom turns back to the filing cabinet. I notice a bleach stain on the back of her navy-blue Bugs Bunny sweatshirt and remember that it’s always been there. I borrowed the sweatshirt in fourth grade, when it still reached my knees; the shirt and the stain had to be at least ten years old. I wouldn’t consider my mom someone who could be characterized by a Looney Tunes sweatshirt, but she seriously wears this all the time. On her, however, it’s funny; it’s not an “embarrassing mom shirt.”
“My death doesn’t erase my possessions of meaning. The kids might want to keep them around,” he says. '
“The kids never come down here. Jen wants to keep your records; BJ fiddles around in the workshop. Other than that, these boxes collect dust.”
“Sticky Fingers is kind of neat," I interject. "You can unzip Mick Jagger's fly."
“That’s the difference between us,” my Dad says. “You’re willing to throw things away too easily. Our marriage, for example.”
“I wouldn’t jump so quickly to assume that I was the one throwing our marriage away.”
“You cheated on me with Nick. Then as we were trying to reconcile, you shacked up with Dale,” my dad defends.
“Don’t bring me into this,” Dale says. He comes down the stairs. “I never intended to break up a marriage. I kept my distance for years, the first few years we worked together at Tivoli’s. I liked her, but I never stepped in.”
My mom, dad and Dale are now having, in my mind, the three-way conversation that never occurred in real life. My mom is now playing referee as two of the timelines of her life collide.
“I don’t understand why you hate Dale so much, why you refused to let him be a part of the kids’ lives,” my mom says.
“I don’t hate Dale. Obviously, I don’t even know him. We’ve had maybe two conversations, ever. I hate what Dale represents.” My dad scratches the salt-and-pepper beard scruff on his chin and lights a cigarette.
“And what’s that? Being in a relationship that’s actually reasonable?” In my head, my mom is sassy. She shoots this question at him.
“What’s more reasonable about your relationship with Dale?”
“Well, it’s an actual relationship,” she says. “He doesn’t expect me to be a housewife and have a job, while he comes home from work every day just to sit around.”
"I never stopped loving you. From when we divorced until the day I died. When you visited, when you brought the kids to the nursing home, I pretended like nothing had ever changed," my dad said.
“For whatever reason, there were no more sparks,” my mom says. “Don’t you believe in sparks? Why hold onto something when the reason for having it is gone?”