After Mom got her hysterectomy, she went out and bought a suitcase. It was an old-fashioned steamer trunk purchased firsthand from some luggage store in town, and it was a soft blue and big as a house. She and Dad did not really travel as far as I know, save for a brief honeymoon trip to the National Parks just before Yesha and I were born. We kids did not understand what was going on, did not even understand what a hysterectomy was, and so were all mystified and scared and thrown to the tenterhooks by its purchase and presence in our house. On weekend days, she would sit with it in the living room, decorating her bandaged lap, humming tenderly to herself. She would come home with stickers sometimes to adorn its outsides, of places where she had never been nor as far as we knew had any plans of going. She must have been specially ordering the stickers, for I cannot imagine a shop in our town trafficking in commemorative Phnom Penh decals or vinyl pictographs of the skyline of Gdansk, yet it seemed that every week or so a new sticker made an appearance on the trunk. On one occasion, I recall my father, who was a gentle, soft-minded man, asking nervously, Hey Jo, what precisely was the deal with the trunk ha-ha, and my mother, who was in the process of adding a sort of false chinoiserie to the duck cloth surrounding the trunk’s imitation-brass C-slat clamps, looked up blinking as if she’d only just realized he was in the room and replied, Ask me no questions I’ll tell you no lies, and my father had left the room crying.
It was not long before we all intuited its meaning. When, for instance, my parents had to be called in for Tutorials with Mr. Charlotte (my twin sister was a particularly poor student and had tried to steal Mr. Charlotte’s hairpiece), my mother did not pass irate comment nor even evince much interest in Yesha’s poor academic performance, but the next evening on her way to the bathroom, my sister opened her bedroom door and went crashing to the carpet on account of the steamer being placed just outside her bedroom with its top open, yawning widely at the hinges like some sort of hungry ghost. Yesha swore that Mom had actually meant for her to trip and fall inside and be locked in the trunk overnight, but Yesha can be quite dramatic, and my father assured us this was not the case. Mom never responded directly to the accusation so it is honestly difficult to say.
When on a day in late September my father caught Mom in the car of a coworker a few blocks from our house, and spent the weekend stalking around the yard in a show of wounded melodrama, the steamer made it as far as the front hall carpet, fully packed. On the occasion of her fiftieth birthday, when we all, as a surprise, chartered a boat along the Hudson and filled it with her extended family and college friends, and had it catered by Mom’s favorite artisanal crab-cake maker and social activist, the steamer retreated all the way up the stairs to just outside my parents’ locked bedroom door. But mostly, for the duration of my pre-college years, it sat in some in-between space, sometimes open-mawed and empty, sometimes neatly packed with clothes. Sometimes the clothes were Mediterranean linen and light voile, signaling (to me at least) libidinal sand beaches, fresh olives, and exposed, sunning skin; in other psychic seasons, the steamer appeared packed for months in a Pyrenees cabin, waking every day to the sound of avalanche canons, snow-shoeing amongst the Andorrans and so on. Yesha never forgave her for the trunk, even after the cancer came back and drowned her. Dad still keeps the steamer in the attic now, and goes up mournfully on occasion to visit. I, who was lonely and quiet even as a boy, never minded the suitcase so much. It is probably responsible for my love of travel, in adulthood. I think I was always grateful to her, for teaching me that whatever current moved inside me moved at some sideways pace. That the world has a false bottom. And that God punishes worst those who deign to miss that which comes to haunt them.
Jesse Salvo‘s short fiction has been featured in Hobart, Barren Magazine, Menacing Hedge, Pacifica Review, X-Ray Lit, Cowboy Jamboree, Tiny Molecules, and BULL. Before that, he spent three years working for online comedy magazines. His first novel is represented by Nordlyset Agency.
A Song for Jesse