By John Philipp
Darren Hockner didn’t return home Thursday night.
The next morning, after the clock’s alarm spring died down, a faint voice came from the sink area. It was an object’s voice, the Colgate Toothpaste Gel with Fluoride speaking.
“Where is Mr. Hockner? He missed last night and this morning. I’m worried.” The consumables, short-term tenants, if you will, were always the first to worry when there was a routine change.
“Don’t worry,” said the transparent vinyl shower curtain with the appliqued daisies, a Christmas present from his granddaughter Becky, then age five, now nine. “He often goes on overnight business trips. Sometimes we know because we watch him pack; other times, the trip is spur of the moment, and he takes his backup bag from the office.” Murmurs of agreement echoed through the ample two-bedroom apartment, one of thirty-six in the Clear Oaks subdivision.
The following morning, the master bed was still boasting neatly made hospital corners Darren learned in the Navy. The phone rang four times that day. There were two knocks on the door. All unanswered.
The business trip assumption remained valid, but faint signs of concern began to sprout. For those objects old enough, an absent owner was not normally worthy of concern. But ever since Darren’s wife passed, he had acknowledged them more frequently, like last week when he said on his way to the market, “Keep your heads down, guys, the vacuum ladies are coming after lunch.”
After a week of absence, the contents of Darren’s home had changed their assumption to a business trip extended to a nice weekend away. “When Marilyn was alive, he let her tag along if the place was interesting,” said one of the twin brass living room floor lamps. The other twin added, “and, there was the time when he was at a conference in Hawaii, stayed over the weekend, and returned with those ugly painted coconuts.”
“Thank God. They were presents for someone in the office and didn’t stay long,” said the dining room credenza. “I still shudder when I recall their hairy shells on my shelves.”
As the time absent approached two weeks, the assumption switched to vacation. Darren didn’t vacation every year, but it had been a while. There were no hints of plans, no special clothes, no airline tickets on top of the bureau, no special shirts with tropical flowers all over them, but what else could it be?
“I remember,” came a comment from the L.L. Bean Mountain Classic down winter jacket, “the trip to Aspen with his son, Ronny.”
“And,” chimed in the couch from the living room, “the time he traveled with Marilyn for two weeks in Baja.”
“I liked Marilyn,” piped up the Sunbeam microwave. “She always cleaned up the kitchen in the old house and left us better than she found us.”
After two weeks, all objects were worried, and, as any assumptions would be mostly negative, they stopped guessing. The religious small white statue of the Virgin Mary on the mantle and the rosary hanging on his bedroom mirror that his grandmother gifted him when he was eight, started praying.
At three weeks, the cleaners calling from the building hall ceased, as did the sporadic, then frequent, then sporadic doorbells. The poor goldfish donated as a granddaughter’s heartwarming present floated upside down in the living room. All were sad when Goldie passed. He? She? (Goldie wouldn’t tell) provided constant motion during times when Darren was out.
When the two of Darren’s four children who lived close by, Ronny and Maggie, arrived after four weeks and cleaned out the bedroom closets of suits, pants, and shoes, the apartment objects knew. Darren’s kids put the closet collection into a large Goodwill cardboard box along with the bureau drawers’ complement of clothes.
“What will happen to us?” asked the umbrella stand in the entryway. “Containers will be your near-term future and foretell your longer-term one,” came an unidentified voice in the living room. Some of the objects had been survivors of Darren’s last move. Those major furniture items could speak to the process then. “But,” said the grandfather clock, “that doesn’t mean it will be the same this time. I’ve been through four, and each was different.”
Containers appeared on the scene: hefty black garbage bags for small kitchen items and two trucks outside, a Goodwill van with a heavyset man opening the tailgate, and a large white truck titled “Paul and Harold Movers.”
Everything in the house assumed its own particular fate. Bets were wagered for bragging rights because that was all they had. Objects that remembered a previous life assumed the local truck was for items going to Darren’s children. The armchair thought the TV was relatively new; someone in the family will take him. As for herself, she would guess perhaps the game room she’d heard son Ronny talk about.
The grandfather clock was an antique. This was his fourth family. He thought it was a shame human lives were shorter than furniture’s. After all, humans make both. Maggie said to a mover who was wrapping the clock in a protective blanket, “careful with that. It’s an antique.” He wasn’t surprised. She’d had her eyes on him once she became the only child allowed to wind him.
Then the town garbage truck pulled up and parked right behind Goodwill, and all bets were off.