Amanda Cline was twelve years old, sitting by the attic window, a short length of twine twisting in her fingers still ringed with baby fat. She was at the age of loss and discovery, anger and fear so thorough it stamps itself on the brow of the wearer. It was the year she began to ponder the strangeness of the human body, her own, her teacher’s, her classmates’, and especially her father’s. A few weeks ago she had caught sight of her father getting dressed, pulling a shirt over the vast expanse of his once powerful frame. The quarterback’s muscles left to waste, the forest of hair twirling over his beer belly. She had slipped her hand under her hand-me-down John Deere sweatshirt from her cousin, and over her own stomach, smooth, hairless, and round from the Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese that filled the otherwise sparse kitchen pantry.
She watched from the window as Marlene Heber drove into the parking lot of the storage units behind their home. The units which comprised the sum total of the Cline family fortune. Marlene opened her trunk to an overflow of boxes and bags of junk which had been recently taken by force from her mother’s hoarders nest. Amanda watched as the middle aged, prematurely graying woman staggered towards number 12, boxes shifting in her arms, and then stop. Her nose lifted. She watched as Marlene set the boxes down gingerly, slowly rising to turn towards the doors of the units nearby.
Marlene stooped to lift the garage style door of number 14, which had been left slightly ajar. Immediately, she staggered back and vomited behind her ancient Volvo, and Amanda stayed seated on the dusty wooden boards. The twine twisted faster.
She watched as Sheriff Tague finally rolled into their parking lot, an ambulance and fellow police cruisers in his wake. She sat, and watched, and waited.
As her father’s ‘87 Chevy roared in behind the police cruisers, the twisting stopped. Two men rolled a gurney from number 14 and towards the ambulance. The bag laid on the gurney was full, but very small. Sean Cline jumped down from the lifted truck and staggered towards the Sheriff who was already walking towards him. She didn’t move as her angry slurring father was steadied and led into the house by the Sheriff, and didn’t move when she heard the scrape of kitchen chairs, the pop and fizz from another beer can being opened. The sounds were so ordinary. The sounds that slunk under the crack in her bedroom door and cackled in her ear every night, preventing sleep.
Broken lines of speech wound their way up the attic stairs to where Amanda sat, now watching the ambulance pull away, the other police officials stepping carefully into the storage unit.
“...told you I don’t remember! I went to the bar and then came home…”
The camera flashes of the officers illuminated a large dark patch on the concrete floor of number 14, documenting, revealing.
“...all the time...customers come and go at all hours…”
“...records or list?...” Tague sounded impatient.
One officer lunged out of the unit, almost knocking over the other who was squatted low, camera viewfinder at his eye, and fell onto his knees on the gravel, just as an explosion from Sean Cline sounded from downstairs.
“...NO! I DON’T REMEMBER!”
“Sean, please! We’re trying to help YOU, the rope that was used on the wrists and ankles-”
“Help ME?! HELP me?! Believe it or not I’ve never had A DEAD KID IN ONE OF MY UNITS! And I don’t care about rope or shit like that, why are you all still here?!”
Another officer went and put a hand on the back of his compatriot, who gestured back inside number 14, to the back right corner.
“...timeline and you need to tell us where you were…”
The second officer who had gone back into the unit briefly, stepped back out to the first seemingly stunned.
“...important for you right now, do you have someone you can call?”
“...divorce, I don’t like lawyers…”
“...at school? With her mom?...”
“...probably school...her mom doesn’t come around much anymore…” Even from two stories up Amanda could hear the note of evasiveness in her father’s voice. The inability to admit how little he knew about the lives occupying the same space as himself.
The second officer shook himself and held his radio up to his mouth. A crackle echoed in the kitchen below.
“...Tague?…We found...we found them. In a bag.”
The heavy oppressive footsteps of men boomed throughout the house, making the floorboards on which Amanda sat shift and shiver. She watched as the men walked back towards number 14, the first officer (recovered but shaking) finishing taking photographs as the second approached Sheriff Tague, his gloved hands holding a Hefty Bag tied with twine out and away from his body as if it were on fire. Tague gestured to the ground and took the gloves offered to him by the second officer. Amanda’s eyes began to glaze and she yawned. Looking back over her shoulder at the clock on the attic wall, printed with an image of ducks flying over a pond in early autumn and surrounded by a cheap fake wood frame. The clock hung beside the collection of taxidermied deer, ducks, and fish caught by her grandfather, her father and her uncles over the years. Animals gutted, sewn back together and given laminate trophy and full body mounts, to create a kind of museum dedicated to resentful early mornings deep in the woods, and forced father-son relationships.
She turned back to the window just as Tague withdrew one glove covered hand, now stained red, from the bag and shook himself, removed the gloves and reached for his radio.
The twine between her childish fingers began to twist yet again, the corners of her mouth to twitch.
Her father, down in the parking lot began to gesticulate and shout. He made a move towards Tague (still on the radio) and tripped over his own feet, the two officers now springing towards him, handcuffs out.
The drunken man, once a pillar of athleticism and importance, now a stumbling overweight burden between the two spry officers who manhandled him towards the back of the police cruiser, suddenly became malleable in the hands of his captors as his head was forced under the door frame. The car drove away and Amanda watched Sheriff Tague greet a van marked POLICE arriving at the storage units. The Hefty Bag, now released from its stained twine, was photographed, placed in a larger plastic bag, and driven away. Tague and a remaining officer closed the door of number 14. As they drove out of the parking lot, Tague stopped his police cruiser to place tape between the posts which marked the entrance to the driveway and the units beyond. He stood for a moment looking out at the Storage Units. Those secret rooms filled with junk, treasure, memories. Secrets guarded by a thin line of tape. He drove away.
It took Amanda a few moments to realize the play was over. She stood from her box seat and made her way downstairs to the cold kitchen, tossed the length of twine into the garbage under the sink, placed a small pot of water on the stove and prepared to make her Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese and start her homework. She smiled at the beer cans in the recycling bin.
Justine Kefauver is a pizza cook and artist working and living in Portland, Oregon. She attended Bennington College where she studied visual art and literature. You can usually find her buried in the novels of her favorite authors, painting at her desk, or under a blanket watching a horror movie.
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