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Toy Chests, An Excerpt from Trawling Oblivion (a novel) by Eric Beeny

Clipping his nose hairs, Merrill imagines he’s disarming a bomb, telling himself in the mirror, “Don’t cut the blue wire.”
     In the shower, Merrill puts his head against the tile wall beneath the shower head, the water spraying down his neck and back. He looks at his penis. He puts his ankles together, spreads his feet a little, making his penis look like a butterfly with feet for wings, toes for feathers. Butterfly feathers. “Where will you go?” he says. “Take me with you.”
     Like tourists they drive around the city they live in, looking at things, taking pictures of them, of themselves near those things.
     They drive down to the marina, take pictures of themselves by the rocks, by the ice cream and hot dog stands, by the naval memorial’s decommissioned battleship and submarine docked in the harbor—however many people they killed—, by the seagulls pecking bread crumbs they tossed, by the lighthouse.
     They go to Rosa’s pre-school, Merrill’s, take pictures of themselves near the signs out front.
     They drive past the baseball stadium, neither of them at all impressed by or interested in sports, take pictures of themselves with the team mascot, a man wearing a striped jersey over a bison costume—the jersey number, Merrill’s age.
     They drive past the Memorial Auditorium as it’s being torn down, where the hockey team used to play, imagining the view from the offices of the HSBC tower across the highway, the crane claws tearing the stadium down like a bomb going off in slow motion (thankfully, all those people made it out in time), never really exploding—a gaping wound, infected, getting worse.
     They drive past a tax services office and a woman stands outside dressed as Lady Liberty, silver-green paint on her face, in her hair, the crown, the torch, all of it.
     “Want to take a picture with her?” Merrill says.
     Rosa says, “No.”
     “How come?”
     “She might grab me and never let go.”
     Merrill hugs Rosa tightly.
     The building Rosa, her sister Amelia, and their parents live in before their parents buy a house is tall. Eight stories. They live on the top floor, fourth apartment.
     The elevator is scary. One day, Rosa gets her finger caught in the elevator door as it closes. Her father helps her get her finger free.
     Rosa’s fingernail gets all black and purply and begins to slide off her finger, slowly. It comes off one day before school. Her finger looks weird without it. “Gross,” Amelia says.
     At the bus stop, Rosa and Amelia wait in a vacant lot where a house was torn down years before they were born.
     Amelia says, “Gross,” over and over. Rosa throws a rock at Amelia. The rock hits Amelia in the back and she falls. The bus comes as Amelia runs away, crying.
     Rosa watches Amelia run away, screaming for their father. The bus waits with its doors open. Rosa looks at the inside of the bus, at the driver.
     She doesn’t ever want to go back home.
     Rosa and Merrill run next door to Rosa’s backyard, and into the little plastic Fisher Price house. The little plastic Fisher Price house is white and the little plastic Fisher Price front door is blue.
     Inside the little white plastic Fisher Price house, sunlight squeezes through small, empty windows. The warm air feels hard and hollow, smells like plastic.
     Rosa says, “Okay, you’re my husband, and I’m your wife. We’re happily married, and we love our daughter.”
     “Okay,” Merrill says. “Where is she?”
     Rosa says, “I’m still pregnant.”
     “Oh,” Merrill says, scratching his head.
     Rosa says, “I’ll go to the hospital and have her. You wait here, and I’ll be back.” Rosa runs out the little blue plastic Fisher Price front door and across the yard into her bigger, real house. Merrill stands and waits in the little white plastic Fisher Price house.
     Every room Merrill stands in feels like a broken elevator. Lying in bed, Merrill begins to feel his DNA is made of barbed wire. He picks up a book, reads the word Shakespeare and thinks it says Speakerphone. Merrill takes his glasses off.
     Merrill feels like a twenty-nine year-old trapped in a thirty year-old’s body. The older he gets, the more ape-like his hands. He looks out the window. The driveway is covered in bright green moss, like a toxic spill.
     The roof is covered in thick, furry, bright green moss like some grinch using itself as a blanket, the moss erupting in tufts beneath the shingles, curling around the shingles like muppet fingers around the lids of coffins, prying them open from inside. Maybe not coffins, Merrill thinks. Something more cheerful. Toy chests. Grinches emerging from all the roof’s little toy chests.
     12:01am, January 1st. Rosa says, “Happy Belated New Year.” Merrill holds Rosa’s hand crossing the street. They order food in a restaurant. Rosa says, “I like how this tastes.” She’s eating octopus. Merrill looks at her food.
     “If I was the cook,” he says, “I’d amputate all the octopus’s arms and nail its body to a telephone pole.”
     Rosa says, “What?” Her lip trembles. She thinks, I’m going to die of prolonged youth.
     “I’d spray-paint it red and write the word STOP in whiteout across its belly.”
     At home, Merrill shaves Rosa’s legs in the bathtub. Rosa watches Merrill’s face concentrating. Her mouth smiles. Merrill shakes the razor in the water, taps it against the tub, the foam from the cream dissolving into the warm water Rosa soaks in like marshmallows in hot chocolate.
     Merrill stands in the little white plastic Fisher Price house. He looks around. There is a little white plastic Fisher Price refrigerator, a little green plastic Fisher Price sink, a little red plastic Fisher Price stove and some plastic Fisher Price cupboards, all yellows, pinks, and blues.
     There are stuffed animals everywhere. The floor is made of grass. The grass goes up past Merrill’s ankles because Rosa’s dad can only take the lawnmower around the little white plastic Fisher Price house, like walking a dog.
     The little blue plastic Fisher Price front door swings open, and Rosa comes in holding a little cloth doll with a peach-colored plastic head and thick, brown strands of yarn for hair. Its eyes are blue, which match neither Merrill’s nor Rosa’s eyes.
     Rosa says, “Here she is.” She holds the doll up by one of its arms, the doll’s other arm and legs flopping around as she shakes it.
     Rosa says, “You go outside. You’ll be at work, and I’ll stay here raising our daughter.”
     “Okay,” Merrill says. He goes outside and closes the little blue plastic Fisher Price front door behind him. He looks up at Rosa’s real house. It is big and has gray vinyl siding. There’s a chimney, but no fireplace inside.
     Merrill sees Rosa’s dad in the kitchen window. Rosa’s dad gets a glass of water from the kitchen sink, sips from it. He looks out the window at Merrill, and walks away from the window. Merrill looks at the grass in the yard around the little white plastic Fisher Price house. It’s short.
     An ambulance drives past the house with its siren on. Ice cream truck, Merrill thinks. He’s suddenly overwhelmed by a vague sense that everything is going to be okay. It scares him to death.
     Merrill puts his glasses on, sits up in bed. It feels like Thursday. Not even Thursday. Sometimes, Thursday feels like other days. If Thursday could be any other day and still exist, Thursday, and, by extension, all other days, would disappear. It would never be Thursday. Thursday must only be Thursday.
     We need things to rely on, things that mean nothing without our desire to define them. We need things to name, things that need names. We are nothing without things to call things. All purpose is plucked from the arbitrary.
     Rosa walks into the bedroom where Merrill is lying in bed writing in a notebook and says, “What are you doing?”
     “Trying to quantify how many of my misconceptions might be true,” Merrill says.
     Rosa lies down beside him, rubs her cheek against his arm. Her cheek itches. She says, “Probably the worst way to discover you’re allergic to something is to have an allergic reaction to it.”
     “We’re not getting a dog,” Merrill says. “They only love you because they’re hungry, and people want to believe it’s real love so they pretend to themselves they’re loved by someone to feel less alone, and they feed the dog.”
     Rosa says, “How is that not the case with us?” She reaches over him, turns off the lamp. Merrill continues writing.
     “Did you know,” Merrill says, “that a gallon of gas is cheaper than a small hot chocolate at McDonald’s?”
     Rosa pulls the blanket over her shoulders, curls her legs, puts one hand under her pillow and the other between her legs, moves her head around on the pillow, yawns, says, “What the hell is McDonald’s?”
     “There are so many McDonald’s products I’ve never tried,” Merrill says. “I’m almost thirty and I grew up on three things. I’ve really only ever eaten three things.”
     “What do you want for dinner?”
     “I don’t think I’ve ever really been hungry.”
     Rosa yells, “Okay,” from inside the little white plastic Fisher Price house. “You can come home from work now.”
     Merrill opens the little blue plastic Fisher Price front door and goes into the little white plastic Fisher Price house. “Hi, honey” he says.
     Rosa says, “Where’ve you been?”
     “At work,” Merrill says.
     “You’re always at work. When are you going to come home on time and start helping me take care of our baby?”
     Merrill goes to the little white plastic Fisher Price refrigerator and opens it. He pulls something out, something that isn’t really there, something neither Rosa nor Merrill can see. Merrill holds it in his hand.
     “You’re the one who wanted me to go to work,” Merrill says. He cracks a tab on the invisible thing in his hand, makes a ppsshh sound with his mouth and brings the invisible thing to his lips. He pretends to drink from it.
     Rosa says, “Because we need things, Merrill. We need food and things for the baby, for our daughter. We need this house.”
     “What’s her name?”
     “You don’t know her name? Your own child?”
     “Look, you’re being silly. Can’t we just forget this whole thing and make up?”
     “You are so selfish. You think everything’s about you.”
     “Can I hold the baby?”
     Rosa says, “You’ll probably drop her.” Rosa turns her body around, her head still partly facing Merrill.
     “No, I won’t,” Merrill says.
     Rosa says, “You’re not responsible.”
     “Am, so.”
     “I want you to leave.”
     “But, I thought we were playing,” Merrill says.
     Rosa says, “I’m not playing anymore.”
     What day is this, Merrill thinks. He’s just woken up. He doesn’t know what to do. He has no energy to get out of bed and brew the decaf.
     He thinks, You have no choice—you have to make a decision. Merrill walks into the kitchen.
     Merrill pours the milk into his cereal. The milk is almost empty, only a few dribbles left. He puts the empty gallon jug on the counter near the sink, goes back to the fridge and opens the new gallon of milk.
     He holds the gallon over the cereal bowl, afraid to pour it in, afraid to mix the two different milks together. He takes a deep breath, prepares himself for the possibility that, when the two different milks touch, they might explode.
Eric Beeny (b. 1981) is the author of The Dying Bloom (Pangur Ban Party, 2009), Snowing Fireflies (Folded Word Press, 2010), Of Creatures (Gold Wake Press, 2010), Milk Like a Melted Ghost (Thumbscrews Press, 2011), Pseudo-Masochism (Anonymosity Press, 2011), How Much the Jaw Weighs (Anonymosity Press, 2011), and Lepers and Mannequins (Eraserhead Press, 2011). His website is Dead End on Progressive Ave.