I didn’t tell you what I found in the cellar. A stack of magazines in a shopping bag, wedged behind the furnace. Caked in dust and cobweb. They’re the kind of magazines that warrant hiding behind the furnace, and it’s a pretty sizeable collection. If I told you about the stash, we’d have a good laugh (Our realtor didn’t mention that!) and I’d throw it out.
I found the stash while you were up in one of the bedrooms experimenting with gender-neutral paints. I was in the cellar to do the shelves. Floor-to-ceiling shelves for the things we don’t quite need, mostly from the wedding: fancy dinnerware, empty picture frames, the backup food processor. But where did the stroller come from?
The stash I didn’t tell you about, it’s very, very graphic. It felt a little strange, at first, to leaf through another man’s magazines. That sort of thing is so personal. Plus there’s the possibility of, you know, certain pages sticking together. Do you see why I haven’t mentioned it?
For one thing, I had to tell you about the plumbing. It’s possessed. Out of nowhere there’s a droning belch, then a few minutes of piston hisses. Then a low thrum, louder than the belch, deep enough you almost feel it in your teeth. Even worse is the silence that follows: so sudden, nothing but the light bulb’s quiet ring, the whisper of pages.
Let’s call a plumber, you said. Then you gave me two cans of gender-neutral paint, neither the right shade, to bring to the cellar. I didn’t tell you I was saving an entire shelf for your rejected paints.
The magazines in the stash are from different years. The collection shows the evolution of my predecessor’s tastes. The oldest magazines are totally hardcore. Nothing but holes. Later magazines show a preference for businesswomen: all the ladies are in pantsuits. I mean they all start out in pantsuits.
My predecessor also went through a stocking phase. Silk, nylon, fishnet. The ones you swear you’ll never own with the slutty line going up the back of each leg. The most recent magazines are, thematically speaking, much darker. Even I was shocked.
Something else I haven’t told you: last night, when we were eating Chinese takeout in our bare dining room, the way you stabbed your broccoli with your chopstick—I didn’t know you did that.
Also, when did you start listening to NPR?
It wasn’t the cataclysm in the pipes but the following silence that brought down the shelves. I had just finished loading them up. I was taking a break, flipping through a magazine when the din of plumbing suddenly stopped, the explosion of quiet launching me right into my work. All it took was bumping one corner of a single shelf, which doesn’t say much about my skills as a handyman. After a few seconds of creaking, my floor-to-ceiling shelves and everything on them unanimously quit.
In the ensuing chaos, one of your paint cans spewed across the floor.
But none of that was what made me lose it, throwing shelves, kicking boxes, crashing our backup food processor against the far wall. Going totally berserk until you were there, at the top of the steps, doing that thing with your eyebrows.
After the shelves came down, I was actually very calm as I gathered the magazines and slid them into their bag.
The smashing and yelling happened later, when I noticed the spilled paint. I’d tracked it across the cellar floor, all the way to the space behind the furnace. The footprints are pretty light. I haven’t told you about them and you may never notice, but to me they’re unmistakable. A pathway. Permanent.
I didn’t tell you my predecessor left me a housewarming gift.
I didn’t tell you, I’m keeping it.
Eric Hawthorn is a native of Philadelphia, where he teaches poetry to kids and works as a writer and researcher for a real estate investment firm. Recently, his work has been published in The Big Jewel, The Legendary, and Gloom Cupboard.