From an elevator I step into a dim basement and there is a vestibule and an open doorway and a few stairs to a sunken room.
In the sunken room a lamp gives off a milky incandescent glow and there is an armchair and a footstool and on the floor a pair of slippers at just the angle of two feet that have slipped from them. There is a polished side table and on it sits a leather folder and a scrap of paper lit to a pale yellow from the glowing lamp.
I see there is writing on the paper in a spiky scrawl.
That is like Dad’s handwriting, I think.
Beside the paper there is the leather folder which is a creamy brown, looks soft as calfskin. It is embossed in one corner with initials.
LSK, it says.
Cold electricity passes through me.
Dad is alive. These are his things. Dad lives here, in the basement room.
I feel a lifting joy. And a bitter anger.
He abandoned us. These years he has let us go on believing he was dead, yet he was here in the basement room, alive as anyone. He has been having a life – though I am not a part of it.
In the dimness I stand and quiver, angry.
And tonight I have just missed him. The position of the slippers makes me sure of this: He has gotten up and gone out, just moments ago.
I look around.
Where has he gone?
He knew I was coming – he has left because he knew I was coming and so he made his escape.
I look down because there is the wincing pain.
He abandoned us.
My eyes go to the scrap of paper. It is a to-do list, I see. It is identical to the ones that littered his desk in the years I was a child. A sheet of paper used on one side and torn along a center crease to make a rectangle. On this scrap of paper, with a fine-tipped black-ink pen in his spiky hand, he has made his list.
And I see he has completed many of the items – he has indicated as much with a firm dark scribble. Beside the remaining ones he has drawn boxes: He will do these too.
I feel a rush of promise. I will see him again. He is alive; he is near; he has left a to-do list.
Upon waking there is the moment of reckoning. Dad is not alive; he is dead, it will always be so.
I get out of bed and put on my greying slippers and go to my desk. I switch on the computer. I arrange the scraps of paper, the to-do lists I’ve written in fine black ink.