Len Joy

The Lovebox

A cleaning lady had found Kazuko’s mother face down at her desk, right hand clutching the legal brief she had just marked up. The doctor said she died instantly. A blood clot from her heart broke loose and blocked the artery to her brain. Her mother had a good heart, but Kazuko wasn’t sure it could kill her brain. That seemed unlikely.

The partners waited a respectful four weeks before they asked Kazuko’s father if he would remove her mother’s personal effects from her office. It was, after all, a coveted corner suite with a cherry parquet floor and a view of Times Square. When Kazuko arrived from LaGuardia her father was sitting on the office floor. Three knee-high stacks of legal folders surrounded him.

“Ah, you made it,” he said as he scrambled to his feet. “Come in, Doctor.” With arms opened wide, he walked across the room to greet her. He looked better than he had a month ago. His blue eyes were clear, and he was back to his English professor corduroys and his comfortably frayed button-down shirt.

As she hugged her father, she detected a faint aroma of cherry tobacco, even though he had given up the pipe long ago. When she was a little girl she would play in her father’s study while he worked on his poems and sucked on that pipe, filling the room with a cloying, sweet incense. Kazuko would arrange a tea party and wait for her mother to come home from work. Her mother loved tea parties. Her father would always let her wait up no matter how late it was, but most nights she fell asleep and when she awoke her mother would be gone again.

“Why don’t you work on the desk, while I go through these files?” her father said as he settled back on the floor.

Kazuko perched on the edge of her mother’s desk chair. The seat cushion had no spring left, and the shiny leather upholstery was cracked and worn. She remembered her mother, long flowing black hair already streaked with gray, hunkered down in that chair so intent on her documents she did not notice the colorful mural little Kazuko had crayoned on the parquet floor.

The desk was mostly empty, but in one compartment, squeezed behind an ancient electronic calculator, Kazuko found a lacquered jewelry box with an ivory samurai on the lid. It had three drawers. She opened the top drawer and smiled.

“Look, Dad. She saved my drawings.”

Her father glanced up from his pile. “Ah yes, from your early crayola period.” He squinted at the picture of a stick-figure girl with curly black hair and an upraised fist. “That little girl looks angry.”

“Passionate, not angry,” Kazuko said. She opened the middle drawer and pulled out a rubber-banded packet of letters. Kazuko recognized her father’s handwriting. “You must have written these when you were in grad school,” she said. She handed them to her father.

He glanced at the packet and then quickly dropped them into his canvas satchel and grabbed another folder – his face inscrutable as he thumbed through the papers.

“Aren’t you going to read them?”

He shook his head. “I know what they say.”

“Daddy!”

“Maybe later. Not now.”

Kazuko opened the bottom drawer. “Ballet slippers?”

Her father dropped the papers and walked over to the desk. “Her toe shoes. Of course.” He closed his eyes and rubbed their smooth worn surface against his cheek. “When she danced everything was right with the world.” His eyes were shiny as he handed the shoes back to Kazuko.

“Why did she give it up?” she asked.

He knelt down to pick up another folder. “She didn’t give it up. She just put it away.” He flipped through the file and then jammed it into the wastebasket. “That’s what she did with the things she loved.”

Len Joy lives in Evanston, Illinois. Recent work has appeared in Annalemma, Johnny America, Boston Literary Magazine, Eunoia Review, Pindeldyboz, LITnIMAGE, Hobart, 3AM Magazine, Righthand Pointing, Dogzplot, Slow Trains, The Foundling Review and The Daily Palette (Iowa Review). He has recently completed a novel, “American Jukebox,” about a minor league baseball player whose life unravels after he fails to make it to the major leagues. His blog, Do Not Go Gentle… chronicles his pursuit of USA Triathlon Age-Group Championships.