The Third Stack

Contributor: Kip Hanson

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There were thirty-seven boxes in all. Stavros had counted them. His daughter’s blocky handwriting covered the side of each one: BOOKS, PHOTOS, JEWELRY in fat, felt-tipped marker, like incomplete tic-tac-toes.
Four boxes marked ATTIC. He’d get to those later. This one said SUMMER CLOTHES. Summer clothes, winter clothes, clothes for every season, not to mention an entire box devoted to swimsuits and three to shoes. How does one teenage girl collect so much?
“Jeannie, get in here.” No answer. He could hear her out there, pacing the kitchen as she yakked on that pissing cell phone. Why wouldn’t she come help? If she wanted to move out so badly, she could damned well participate.
He'd told her to stack them in the garage, and warned against more than four to a pile. Yet here they were, stuffed into the hallway in leaning towers six and seven high. And why had she packed so early, for God's sake? They'd squeezed past them all week. For days now he'd listened to her shuffle boxes and tear away tape as she searched for some prematurely packed necessity.
There seemed to be an unspoken urgency to her move, something deeper than the need to drive a flag into the Mount Everest of her independence. It made no sense. It was only college, and not like she was moving away for good.
Stavros lifted two boxes named BOOKS, and set them down again. What was in there, bricks? Jesus, his back hurt, and it wasn’t even noon. And what the hell was that pain in his chest? When he borrowed his neighbor's pickup truck, he should have grabbed his dolly as well. If his wife was here, she would scold him for talking about hindsight. Mary was always easy with her advice. When they lost her, Stavros assumed Jeannie would stay through college, maybe longer. But then that boy started to call. What was his name? Steve? Dave?
He carried SPRING CLOTHES down the hallway, stopping for a moment to glare at his daughter. “Jeannie? A little help here?”
“Just a minute, Dad,” her voice impatient. Rude, even. She was talking to that boy again.
His neighbor’s beat up F-150 sat in the drive, already half-full. John had offered to help, but Stavros said no, explaining this was a father-daughter thing. The truth was he didn’t like the way the man stared at Jeannie’s ass when he thought no one was watching. Stavros set the box on the tailgate, wedging it between DOLLS and CDs.
His daughter stood in the doorway. "You okay?"
He grimaced. "Finer than frog hair, girl."
“Do you want me to make you a sandwich?”
Stavros shook his head. “Are you sure about all this?”
“Daddy, we’ve already been through it. I'd have to drive almost forty-five minutes in traffic.”
Stavros knew it was only twenty miles, and most of it on the Interstate. She hardly ever called him Daddy anymore.
“Besides, I'm eighteen. I can't live here forever, Dad.”
No, of course not. Just a few more years, that's all. It's not forever. “It might take two trips. Do you want to stop for pizza when we're done, at that place we used to go? What’s the name…Sullies, Stillies?”
“It’s Scully’s, Dad. And we haven't been there for years. Besides, I have to meet Becca later. Thanks anyway.” Her phone rang again.
Stavros went back inside to start on the third stack. He was a little short of breath. Maybe he'd turn that spare room into a gym, but knew she'd end up coming back, once she got a taste of dorm life. Stavros bent to lift two boxes off the stack, the top of which was marked PERSONAL. Why does she need a box named PERSONAL?
Sudden pain shot through his left arm. PERSONAL slipped, tumbling the entire stack. The contents scattered across the hallway’s tired shag: lip-gloss and hand-cream, Chapstick, a spiral-ring notebook, gauze pads, women’s razors, tape and band-aids. Stavros shied from the womanliness of it all—the spilled tampons, the gaudy blue eyeshadow. Mary would never have tolerated that color. At the edge of it, two small foil packets read HIS N’ HER PLEASURE.
He was holding one of the condom packets when Jeannie came around the corner. When she was ten years old, he’d picked up a dead hamster like that, after she forgot to feed the poor thing. It had looked like a moldy brown prune.
“What the hell is this?” He flicked the packet at her, a half-ass suburban ninja. It veered off and struck the wall with a krinkly whisper, then bounced neatly into the open top of PERSONAL.
“Why are you going through my stuff?”
“I wasn't. The box fell over.” And it wouldn't have, if you hadn’t stacked them so high, he didn’t say. Overhead, the furnace ticked. Have to change that filter before it gets cold outside. “So you’re screwing, is that it?”
Jeannie cringed. “Daddy, I’ve been seeing Mark for two months.”
His daughter looked so much like Mary at that moment. “Two whole months.” He picked up another box. “Fine. It's your life. Why don’t you clean up this mess and I’ll finish loading.”
“Daddy, are you okay?’
“Yes. I’m great. Let’s go.”
Stavros carried the rest of the boxes out in silence, letting her take care of PERSONAL. He shoved the last one in and closed the gate. It turned out to be one load after all. The pain in his arm had quieted to a dull throb. He climbed behind the wheel and honked the horn.
Jeannie climbed into the cab. “Can we still go out for pizza?”
“No, I’m going to watch the game tonight. Pre-season’s starting. You go have fun with your friends. Say hi to Becca for me. She’s a nice girl.”
Stavros started the engine and pulled out of the drive.

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Kip lives in sunny Phoenix, where his wife makes him watch Poltergeist while insisting clowns are not scary. You can find his work scattered about the Internet, at Foundling Review, Inkspill, Monkey Bicycle, Absinthe Revival, and a few other places, proving that a blind squirrel does occasionally find a nut.
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