By Will Kelly
Featured Art: Hotel Lobby by Edward Hopper
Dad was reading the encyclopedia from cover of A to back cover of Z right up until the week he died. He had been at it for two years, and was somewhere in the Es that night the tie rods failed. We’d never know exactly which article he left off on, because he could remember page numbers and had no need for bookmarks. He was amazing like that.
If five volumes in two years sounds unimpressive, I should add that this was on top of all his regular reading: all the novels, the popular nonfiction, the medical journals, and every one of those yearbook supplements that went with the encyclopedia itself. I don’t know of anyone else actually reading those things, but he did so every year as soon as they arrived in the mail.
I dream about Dad this morning. I dream he’s alive again, as are Peter and Denise, both of them adults now, though Mom and Dad are still young. Matt and Henry are there too, the former with his shins, the latter fully mobile. All seven of us are having a quaint dinner way up in an Alpine chalet. Halfway through our meal some beams split and the ceiling caves in, but nobody is hurt, just caked in plaster dust, which Dad starts vomiting out. And then laughing, and then taking a big gulp of his wine, even though it’s filled with debris.
This is when I wake up to Logan’s elbow in my abdomen. He lets out a whine in his sleep and rolls over.
Logan is 25 and lives with his parents, though I didn’t learn that until we were many drinks in. The type of guy who assumes that his willingness to sleep with older women is both unique and commendable. Logan has daddy issues, which he went on loudly and at length about last night at the bar. His father is a deer hunter, and a football fan, and I suspect a loyal Fox News viewer, or worse.
But at least you have one, I wanted to say. A father who loves you and lets you stay at home rent-free while you look for a job. I thought about sharing one of my last clear memories of my own father—in the lagoon at River Country, the old Disney water park, when I was 6. But I didn’t, because I’ve never really talked about that memory with anyone, because I don’t really know how.
When Logan wakes up, I decide it’s best not to offer him coffee. He says we should get together again some time, and I say sure, of course, let’s stay in touch. I let him out the back door, and lock it, and run into the bathroom where I immediately throw up in the toilet.
* * *
It happened in the summer of 1981. Peter was 13, Matt, 11, Denise, 10, Henry, 7, and I, Annie, baby of the family, 6. We were only in Kansas City for the night, on the way to visit Mom’s side of the family down in Dallas. We didn’t need to stay in the newest, swankiest hotel in town, but Dad being Dad that was exactly where we ended up. It was a Friday night, and there was a tea dance going on in the lobby—an extravagant weekly event where people dressed in their finest and partied like it was 1926.
I don’t remember anything about the ride down, but we had been in the van for nine hours, everyone was exhausted, and I’m sure Mom would have preferred to just find a McDonald’s and put us all to bed right after. But Dad was stiff from the drive, and wanted a cocktail, and was a sucker for throwback jazz-age romanticism. So they unpacked our good clothes and got us all dolled up and took us downstairs.
As in many urban hotels of the period, the lobby was a cathedral-esque space, and its most striking feature was a set of three futuristic skywalks that cut across the void, suspended from the ceiling by skimpy, almost invisible steel rods.
Dad wanted to dance but Mom didn’t, so they took us upstairs to watch the whole spectacle from one of the skywalks. I vividly remember the band playing. I can also envision what the eight of us must have looked like from down below: Dad and Mom with their martinis in hand, and all us kids lined up next to them like a row of particularly elegant ducklings. And the rest is history, although I fucking hate that expression.
* * *
When my headache and nausea begin to subside, I decide to call Matt and con- firm the logistics for next week. Matt sounds like he’s in one of his moods again, so I tread lightly. I ask what time I should be there to pick him up. I ask if he wants to go to the store to get anything beforehand, since he doesn’t drive. I ask him if there’s anything else he needs from me.
Matt tells me in no uncertain terms that he’s not going.
“What?” I say. I’m surprised. It would be very much in character for him to be bluffing, but I can tell from the sound of his voice that he isn’t.
“You can go without me, but I’m out.”
“You expect me to go to this thing by myself?” I say.
“It’s bullshit. They had decades to build a fucking memorial, and they didn’t. It’s all posturing. And why do they want us to be at the dedication so badly? To put us through that?”
I remind him that our losses were particularly noteworthy. That our presence would mean a lot to the other survivors. I remind him that Mom would have wanted us to be there. I almost remind him that Henry would have wanted us to be there, but I decide not to, in part because I don’t actually know if that’s true. It turns out the first two reminders are enough. I promise I’ll be there at noon on Wednesday, and he responds with an unintelligible grunt.
* * *
I usually tell people I have no recollection of it actually happening, and only my therapist knows this is a lie.
The fourth-story skywalk was directly above the second-story one, and originally both were supposed to hang from the same set of steel tie rods. At some point a miscommunication occurred, and they ended up using two separate sets of rods, increasing the tension severely. The bottom skywalk now literally clung to the upper one, which had to support twice as much weight as intended. It bore its burden dutifully until the night we were in town—just about a year after the hotel opened.
I can still hear the popping noise.
When the rods broke free from the ceiling, the lower walkway came collapsing onto the revelers below and the upper one immediately followed. 114 dead; 216 injured, some of them—like Matt and Henry—permanently.
Dad, Peter, and Denise were killed either immediately, or not long after. Henry was rendered paralyzed below the shoulders, while Matt—who was pinned between the upper and lower skywalks—had to have his legs amputated with chainsaws. They gave him morphine, but he was wide awake the whole time. Mom had a few broken bones but nothing too serious, and I—somehow—was the only one to escape physically unscathed. I must have fallen off the skywalk as it hit the ground, right before the upper one landed on top of it. There was a window of less than a second when this could have been possible.
I remember wandering through the chaos for what seemed like hours, wailing, looking for my family. The collapse set off the sprinkler system, and the ruined skywalks sealed off part the lobby, which then started to flood. Those trapped were now at risk of drowning on top of everything else.
I can remember the water turning red as it pooled on the floor. We’re talking about battlefield- or plane-crash-level carnage in an accident that involved neither weapons nor vehicles. Dad was not an engineer, but he would have found the engineering angle of it fascinating all the same. He was always reading up on fields outside of his own.
* * *
I arrive promptly at noon on Wednesday to pick up Matt on my way to the airport. It’s always a headache with the TSA, going through with his prostheses, and he generally makes a point of being as uncooperative as he can get without breaking the law. He has this habit of tearing people down to make them feel sorry for him, even though they’re just doing their job. It’s not unlike a tactic used by my abusive ex- from years back, though he didn’t have the excuse of being a double amputee to hide behind.
Matt comes hobbling out with his carry-on in tow, and I quickly get out, grab it, and put it in the trunk. Then I go over and give him a hug, and he gives me a gentle pat on the back.
“Kansas City, huh?” he says. “You ready for this shit?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I say, helping him into the car.
“Do you really think Mom would have been up for it?” he says.
“Of course.” “Do you think she’d bring Henry?”
I don’t want to say anything to this, but I say yes.
“Do you think we would have?”
I don’t want to say anything to this either, so I don’t. My 15-year-old car has a 6-disc CD changer, but Matt doesn’t like anything that’s currently in it, and neither of us like anything that’s on the radio. So we drive to the airport in silence.
We check in, and get our boarding passes, and get in line for the security screening. I’m praying this whole thing goes smoothly. I go through the full- body scanner first, and the spot where my clavicle meets my sternum gets flagged for some reason. The TSA agent comes over and pats it down lightly, and tells me I’m good to go. I get my purse and shoes off the conveyor belt, and wait for Matt off to the side.
The agent who screens him is a young black woman, doubtless underpaid, and I’m sickened by the possibility that he might say something nasty to her. Fortunately, despite his dour expression and neglecting to wish her a nice day in return, he gets through without incident. I ask if he wants a wheelchair to get to the gate, but he doesn’t. He was 11 years old. The doctors didn’t think he’d ever walk again, but he proved them wrong, and has an ongoing obsession with trying to prove things.
* * *
The circa early Seventies through the circa early Nineties will always look scary to me thanks to the convenience-over-quality ethos of the period’s media: the dirty off-color snapshots from cheap point-and-shoot cameras, the fuzzy washed-out look of analog videotape.
Accordingly, most of the visual record of my childhood looks rather nightmarish, which seems fitting. There’s a video of my ninth birthday party at a Showbiz Pizza in 1984, shot by Uncle Monty with a giant camcorder he carried around on his shoulder. Those places were deliberately windowless and dark, with all kinds of colorful games that made noise, spit out redemption tickets, and then made even more noise. Also those terrifying animatronic bears and the songs they sang.
The video shows me eating cake, playing games, and romping around in my little blue dress with a bow in my hair looking deeply satisfied with my lot in life. There’s also gangly Matt, age 14, sulking and pouting in the standard early-adolescent way, his mouth silver with braces, wearing baggy pants to hide his fake legs. And then there’s Mom, mostly sitting around tending to Henry, who, despite being confined to his wheelchair, despite being force-fed pizza and cake, looks happy and content. As for Mom, she mostly looks exhausted. But then she pulls me into her lap, tenderly smooths my hair, whispers something to Matt that makes him laugh in spite of himself.
I watch it frequently, even more so since Mom died, and I feel like I learn something new every time. Much harder for me to watch is the news coverage of that night itself. The footage looks like shit in all the ways I mentioned, and shows ashen-faced men in blue tuxedos running around trying to help other garishly dressed patrons in warlike chaos.
The clips on YouTube are brief, and they don’t show you much. But I often think about the raw, unedited footage sitting in some TV station vault and wonder how much more it shows. Does it show the bodies of my family? Does it show Matt with his legs crushed under the collapsed bridge? Does it show Mom, screaming, covered with blood, stumbling around looking for us? Does it show me?
* * *
My own memories of the cavernous lobby itself have been largely overwritten by those dark and grainy news segments, though I do remember the bad orange carpet that was present at the time. So I’m pleasantly surprised when we step inside the hotel, and it’s full of natural light, and has clearly been renovated multiple times over the decades. They never did replace all three of the suspended walkways. There’s just one now, on the third floor, and it’s a big, hulking bridge that cuts the space in half, supported from below by concrete columns. They weren’t fucking around this time.
We check in, and I explain to the girl at the desk who we are and why we’re here, and she extends her condolences as she hands us our keys. The hotel has been taken over by a new chain since the collapse, and they’re picking up the tab for both the memorial and our stay.
The Hofstetters never so much as unturned our sheets the last time, ending the night in either hospital beds or body bags.
Up in the room, Matt wants to take a shower. I ask him if he needs help, and he just sort of looks at me in a way that suggests he does not. I tell him I’m going down to the bar, and he says he’ll be there soon. On my way out the door I stop to examine the premium bottled water on the dresser. There is no indication they will waive the fee if we open it, but I guess you can’t be a victim forever.
* * *
I don’t know how much more mileage I can expect to get from our story, but I tell the bartender that I was in this very lobby during one of the darkest nights in his city’s history. He says my first drink is on him. I order a scotch on the rocks and try to pace myself, because Matt wants to have dinner at a nice steakhouse nearby, and I want to make Matt happy for a change.
A cute young woman with freckles and very short brown hair sits down next to me and orders a drink, and I feel compelled to introduce myself. She was clearly born long after the collapse, so I don’t even bother asking if she’s here for the memorial. Her name is Megan, and she’s into convention centers.
“What type of conventions do you go to?” I ask, misunderstanding. “Comics? Anime?” I pause. “Furry?”
But no, she and her boyfriend are into the convention centers themselves— the buildings. They find everything about them fascinating: their grandeur, the vast numbers of people who pass through them, the essential role they fill in our society. The endless, subtle variations on the same basic design principles: sprawling, fluorescent-lit expo halls; smaller meeting rooms with adjustable walls for panel discussions; majestic auditoriums that have hosted all manner of keynote speakers; little out-of-the-way places to mingle and network between events. They haven’t been to a major city unless they’ve seen its convention center. They’re part of a subreddit full of enthusiasts who frequently talk about hosting their own “convention convention,” which would really be a means of having carte blanche with the facilities and an excuse to snoop around normally off-limits areas. But there are too few of them to make such a convention economically feasible, she says.
She tells me all of this in the room where half my family was killed. I explain briefly why I’m in town, and her doe-like eyes fill up with empathy, and I say, it’s okay, let’s just talk about convention centers instead. I ask her questions about them, and nod my head, and sip on my scotch. I’m on my third by the time her boyfriend arrives. They’re going to check out this newish entertainment district downtown where you can carry your drinks around outside, so long as they’re in plastic cups. They invite me along, and I tell them I can’t now, though there’s a good chance we’ll end up there later.
Matt gets off the elevator right as they’re leaving and walks over to the bar.
“Who were you talking to?” he says. “Convention crashers, apparently.”
“Huh,” he says, and I wonder if he’s thinking about Henry like I am.
On our way out the door, I see a mom and two little boys in swimsuits, and I’m overcome by the same flashbulb memory of Dad that hits me at least a few times each week.
Our final, ill-fated trip was supposed to be our second that summer. On the first we went to Disney World and stayed at the Polynesian Resort. We stopped at NASA on the way down, and went on a behind-the-scenes tour, and saw the Space Shuttle Columbia being prepared for its second flight—Dad was always a huge space nerd. But the major highlight of the trip for me was River Country, one of the earliest water parks, which we visited on the last full day of the trip. It’s abandoned now, left to rot, and apparently a popular destination for post- modern archeologists. But my memory of it in its prime is vivid, and that fleeting moment of Dad picking me up out of the water is the last I can remember him alive. I remember arriving in Kansas City, and I remember that night, but I don’t remember him, at least in a way that’s unique or distinct from my other memories of him. I couldn’t tell you what he was wearing, but I remember the bright red swim trunks he had on that day at River Country.
We take an Uber to the steakhouse, which is too far away for Matt to walk comfortably. We’ve exhausted most possible topics of conversation by this point, though I don’t find anything especially unusual about this. It’s not like we don’t see each other often.
As we wait for our food to arrive, Matt is transfixed by a couple at a table nearby, a young blonde woman in a tight mini-dress, and a khaki-panted and Polo-shirted man in his fifties or sixties with leathery skin and slicked-back silver hair.
“Look at the hooker over there,” Matt tells me.
I don’t like the term hooker, but I don’t want to pick a fight, and that is exactly the sort of thing he would fight over.
“How do you know she is?” I say.
“Because she looks like one, and he looks like the type who would hire one.”
The woman has now slid her chair right up next to the man and is showing him something on her phone. They aren’t touching their food. Matt seems very fascinated by all of this. I ignore it and sip my cocktail and try to let the people have their privacy.
At the end of our meal, Matt is outraged by the unusually high sales tax. The waiter calmly explains that there’s a special tax for this particular neighborhood, which was once dilapidated and cost the city a lot to redevelop. Matt curses quietly. I smile at the waiter like a living breath mint trying to mask the foulness emitting from his mouth.
After dinner, we head down the block to see what this entertainment district is all about. It turns out to be loud and touristy, and the alleged open-container zone is actually just a big courtyard in the middle of a bunch of bars. The presence of a stage makes me think live music is imminent, which I’m not thrilled about. I’m pretty drunk now.
We go inside one of the bars—a faux Irish pub—and somebody calls my name. It’s Megan from the hotel with her boyfriend. They ask if we want to join them, which we do.
Matt and the boyfriend are mostly silent, leaving me and Megan to chat. All the liquor I’ve consumed has made me much more willing to talk about why we’re here. I tell her about Dad. I tell her what a wonderful, respected pediatrician he was back in his day. I tell her how well-traveled he was, how he took Mom on an around-the-world cruise on the Queen Mary right before it was taken out of service. I tell her about his keen sense of style, and his various intellectual interests.
“Dad was a Republican,” I tell Megan. “But this was back in the Sixties and Seventies. He definitely wouldn’t be one today, I can tell you that much.”
“You don’t know that,” Matt says wearily.
She asks me about my other siblings, about Peter and Denise. I tell her we were all so young, and I never got to know them as well as I would like. How does one truly know people who died when you were only 6? So much of what I know about Dad I only learned years later.
“But how does your other brother feel about this memorial? Does he wish he could have come along?”
My other brother. I don’t remember telling her about Henry. How long have we been here? Matt is glaring at me.
“He . . . Well, he died,” I say. “Two years ago he died. Only about six months after Mom. He died. That’s all there is to say about that.” I laugh awkwardly.
“We should get going,” Matt says. He orders us another Uber. Out in the courtyard a band is playing, though they’re drowned out by the crowd who don’t seem to be paying attention at all. I’m gradually sobering up, but I’m still dizzy.
“You made a fool out of yourself in front of those people,” Matt says. “They’re just kids, Matt. Who cares?”
He doesn’t say anything. I tell him I’m sorry, though I’m not sure for what. After a few minutes our ride shows up, and we’re on our way back to the hotel.
* * *
When Mom died of cancer three years ago, we used a significant chunk of our inheritance to put Henry in a nursing facility. We didn’t have a choice. Neither Matt nor I was in any position to care for someone 24/7.
We tried to make his room as homey as possible. We filled it with all his stuff, put his artwork and posters on the walls, his collection of vintage toys. We visited multiple times a week, tried to take him out when we could. We took him to the local Comic-Con, which he loved. Of course, every time we visited, we had to leave him there. But he knew we would always be back.
We thought he was as happy as he could be, given the circumstances. Somewhat more perversely, we couldn’t have anticipated what happened because we assumed he was a prisoner in his own body. We hadn’t considered the possibility of Henry driving his motorized wheelchair into the pool, but he had no trouble finding a way himself.
* * *
When we enter the lobby, it’s nearly midnight, and the lighting conditions are now the same as they were that night. I look at the wide, sturdy bridge that was built to replace the fallen skywalks. It looks threatening and out of place, as if there’s a negative correlation between appearance and safety, though I know I’m projecting. I’ve sobered up considerably since the bar, and now I’m starting to feel anxious.
Matt asks if I’d be up for a nightcap. I tell him sure, but let’s take them up to the room. We order two beers at the lobby bar and head straight for the eleva- tors without looking back.
* * *
Up in the room, Matt is gloomy and morose. He sits down in the chair by the window, and gets out his laptop. What he’s doing on it I’m not sure, but he’s ignoring me. I get up onto my bed and turn the TV on, and soon turn it off again.
“Matt, what is it this time?” He takes a deep breath.
“I think you’re full of shit.”
He takes a sip of his beer. Mine is almost gone. I suddenly wish I had brought two up.
“Matt, what did I say? I remember most of what I said, but I don’t remember all of it.”
“I don’t know, you were drunk. You’re always running your mouth.” “Did I mention Henry?”
Matt stares at his laptop and ignores me. “Matt, what did I say about Henry?”
“Well. Your new friends said something about a comic book convention they snuck into in Minneapolis. And you told them how your brother, who was paralyzed below the shoulders, liked to go to those; how we used to take him in his wheelchair. And you said…”
I think Matt is crying now, but it’s hard to tell. He always tries to hold it in.
“What did I say, Matt?”
“You said that he seemed happy. Happy about seeing the original Batmobile, and getting Stan Lee’s autograph, and all that other fun stuff. You told them you assumed HE WAS FUCKING HAPPY.” Now tears are running down my face.
“Wasn’t he though? I thought he seemed pretty happy that day.”
“Would you be Annie? Would you be happy? Having people . . . I don’t know, wiping your ass and lifting you in and out of bed every day? Could you be happy under those conditions?”
“Matt, we did everything we could.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“Well, Annie, there’s the inconvenient fact that of the three of us, you were the only one who didn’t suffer a debilitating injury, so . . . just what was Mom able to do all those years that you couldn’t have?”
My head feels like it’s on fire. I’m drunk again. I look at the beer I’ve been guzzling—a Belgian-style ale—and learn that it’s 10.5% ABV.
I want to respond, but can’t find the words. After a few minutes of tense silence, Matt hobbles over to his bed and pulls down his pants and begins the process of taking off his legs for the night. As he’s removing the right one, I march over, and I yank him up by the armpits and stand him up. Then I knock him down on the floor like a bowling pin.
It’s all over within seconds.
He just looks at me and doesn’t say anything. I think he’s in shock.
I know I’m in shock. His right stump landed on the loose prosthetic, and it’s bleeding. There’s a moment of silence, and suddenly I’m weeping, and I’m on the floor, helping him up onto the bed.
“I’m sorry, Annie,” Matt says, flatly. He doesn’t need to be, but it’s so rare to see him apologize for anything that I don’t object.
“You bastard,” I say, as I’m hugging him.
“I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I say.
“Just . . . fuck it. It’s fine.” “Do you remember when we were kids?” I say. “And I was afraid of spi- ders?”
“No. I mean, maybe?”
“I was. And spiderwebs, too. And I heard people talking about cobwebs, and I was confused about the difference.”
“And I asked you one time, when we were in the basement playing. I must have been about five or six. I asked you what a cob was.”
“I don’t remember this, I’m sorry.”
“And you told me: ‘A cob is like a spider, but worse. They’re bigger and hairier and have more legs.’ And I asked, ‘Do they bite?’ And you said ‘They don’t bite, they rape.’ And I said ‘What’s that?’ And you said ‘It’s like a bite, but worse.’ You were about 10. And then Mom—”
I am sobbing and laughing at the same time. I continue:
“I was sick some time after that. And Mom was taking my temperature. And I said, ‘Mommy, Mommy . . . I think I was raped by a cob!’ and she was like ‘YOU WHAT?’”
Matt is crying now, and I’m laughing, soon we’re both laughing. “You scared the shit out of me!” I say. “And Mom.”
I help him into bed, and it’s almost 3 A.M. by the time we fall asleep. Soon the alarm goes off bright and early for the dedication.
* * *
The memorial is located in a small park on the grounds of the hotel. There are about fifty or sixty people in attendance, some of whom I assume are survivors, others must be local dignitaries. We don’t know anyone. We were never a part of any support groups; Mom was never about that kind of thing, despite the fact that we experienced more casualties than any other family.
Some corporate representatives from the hotel chain have things to say. Next, the mayor of Kansas City has a little speech to give. A bunch of media figures are here, and I make a mental note to avoid them by any means necessary.
The mayor talks a lot about the impact this disaster had on the city. Community this, community that. But we weren’t part of any community that night; we just happened to be passing through. Accordingly, I feel a certain dissociation between the tragedy being commemorated, and the one we actually experienced, the one we’ve had to live with all these years.
“Do we need to stick around for the reception?” Matt whispers to me.
“No,” I say.
We duck out before anyone has the chance to make us introduce ourselves, but not before going up to the memorial and seeing the names of Dad, Peter, and Denise engraved in the marble. Mom and Henry aren’t on there, nor should they be, but it feels like an omission all the same. A woman nearby is distraught to find that her sister’s name was misspelled. A confrontation ensues. We leave the park, and then the hotel for what I’m fairly confident will be the last time ever.
* * *
In the car on the way to the airport we pass a billboard for a big water park, and I’m once again taken back to that day in Florida, the last day of our last full vacation when Dad lifted me up out of the water and put me on the swing.
“Do you remember River Country?” I ask Matt.
“At Disney World?” “You mean the place with the steamboat and the barrel bridge?”
“No, no, that was in the Magic Kingdom. This was an entirely separate park, a water park. We went there on our last day, remember?”
“Water park . . . Oh yeah. I had forgotten about that. I guess I’d forgotten water parks were even a thing back then. Huh.”
* * *
Several months pass before Matt and I are able to take time off from our respective jobs at the same time. There was disagreement between us about how much to actually do; whether we were coming here for a vacation, or whether we should just get to the point.
We end up staying at a non-Disney motel not far from all the action—the official ones being out of our budget—and decide to go to EPCOT on the first day, a park which hadn’t yet opened the year we went. We visit replicas of countries Dad might have taken us to had he lived. Mom never traveled again after the collapse, and neither Matt nor I have ever been overseas. We go on cutting-edge rides and view exhibits promoting technological developments Dad would have no doubt appreciated.
The second day is when we get down to business.
We scoured the Internet for advice on how best to get into River Country, which has been derelict for nearly 15 years, and where one cannot trespass without risk of a lifetime ban from all Disney parks.
We enter the park as discreetly as we can, through a hole in the poorly maintained fence. I try to hurry Matt up, terrified we’ll run into the security guards who periodically patrol the area. He loudly accuses me of being ableist, and though he probably thinks he’s being ironic, I take the criticism to heart.
River Country is sad. Not just because of the decay—which is substantial— but also compared with today’s water parks, so I’m not surprised they decided to shutter it. There’s a big central lagoon, which is now drained and home to all manner of wildlife. There are a couple of large (for the time) waterslides that now resemble rotting snakeskins on toothpicks. There’s a smaller pool—now about half-filled with greenish water—featuring a couple of smaller, very steep slides. These abruptly drop off about five or six feet above the water line, and there’s no way they’d be considered safe today. The whole park is overgrown and filthy.
“Where do we want to do this?” Matt says, and I tell him to keep his voice down in case the Disney goons are nearby.
I open my backpack. I’ve brought a memento from everyone. There’s a baseball glove that was Peter’s and a little stuffed dog that belonged to Denise. The latter is particularly hard to part with, since Denise loved her stuffed animals, and would likely be horrified at the prospect of me leaving one behind. I brought a few pieces of costume jewelry that Mom always wore, and a vintage R2-D2 toy that was Henry’s. Matt initially objected since it’s a collectible, but it’s been collecting dust itself since he died. For Dad, who was the hardest to choose for, we ultimately chose three things: a fancy silk necktie, a silver dollar from his coin collection, and the “E” volume of the 1970 World Book Encyclopedia, which I inherited from Mom, and which has been sitting in a box in my basement ever since.
We put these items in a big metal box purchased at Wal-Mart right after we landed. I bury it in a patch of swampy mud near the lagoon, along with one of the placards we had made. We brought two, and decided the other should be placed on prominent display, even though it will most certainly be removed at some point in the near future.
Matt is crying, and not trying to hide it for a change. I put my hand on his shoulder. And that’s when I notice the metal boom suspended over the lagoon, from which a tire swing once hung.
Ignoring Matt’s warnings, I take off my shoes and step into the ankle-deep water of the lagoon and wade out to where the swing used to be. I am taller now, but with the swing gone and the water drained, the top of the pole is still out of reach. I would still need my dad to lift me. So, to the base of the former tire swing I affix the second placard, which reads:
To our beloved parents, Dr. William and Helen Hofstetter and our siblings, Peter, Denise, and Henry, in memory of the good time we once had here, and all the other good times we shared, together and apart. We miss you. love, Annie and Matthew.
Will Kelly was born and raised in Dubuque, IA. His stories have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hobart, Puerto del Sol, and the Beloit Fiction Journal. He received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.