Fake First Editions and Miniature Billiards
I knew he would be there, sitting in his tattered leather chair, among his newly-bound leather books he claims are all rare fist editions, slumped over his miniature pool table trying to bank the tiny 2-ball into the far right corner. Maybe I didn’t know he would be doing exactly that, but of him being in that position at his desk I was certain. There were faded patches on this desk where his elbows had worn off the top layer of varnish on the cherry-stained wood. I didn’t enter, just hovered in the doorway watching as his meaty fingers fumbled with the chopstick-sized cue. His brow furrowed and lips pursed in his pursuit of becoming the world’s first miniature pool shark. Clack, clack, clickity-clack. I hated all those toys. I hated that desk. I hated that room.
I had almost walked into that room thousands of times, and thousands more in my mind. Not as someone normally would enter a room in the house in which they grew up—naturally, easily, without an errant thought. No, not like it was second nature, the back of my hand, so part of my innate atmosphere that it was me, and I was it, and there was never a moment of suspended animation where I felt I didn’t belong, that this wasn’t home.
All my friends seemed to exist like this in their houses. Even at a young age they would regally walk in and out of whatever room they chose as if they owned it, loved it, took it for granted and wouldn’t celebrate these small victories as I would stare at them in awe.
“Shouldn’t you knock?” I would ask one foot still in the hallway eyes mapping the room and its dimensions.
“What are you talking about?” Generic example of my childhood acquaintance would ask.
Noticing the judging curiosity and confusion in those random sets of eyes, I soon learned I was the oddity, it was in fact my set of rigidly ingrained rules that had no place there. Never wanting to appear overly strange or afraid, I hoped to pass for overly polite, which when you are seven is in itself peculiar and creepy.
I didn’t have these trepidations in every room of the house. I would go to and fro discussing Michelangelo through the kitchen, living room, dining room, my bedroom, the kitchen, the walk-in pantry, front yard, backyard, bathroom, basement, attic (not that I would have ever wanted to as it was all dust and moth balls and reminded my nose of when his mother, my grandmother, used to hug me– but nevertheless I had free reign) and recreation room. The recreation room and living room were quite similar– one just had a larger television and chessboard– but I guess it makes it easier to give them different names, so if I ever had to tell someone to meet me in the living room, there would be no confusion. It’s the one with the chessboard. I am not sure if I am good at chess as I only ever played myself, so on one hand I always won, and on the other I always lost. What really worried my psyche was when I would cheat, it was as if I was cheating at solitaire—any camp counselor would tell me that cheaters never win. Or at least the ones on television would, clad in their neon motivational t-shirts and khaki shorts, always waiting with an archer’s bow or canoe oar filled to their visor-lined forehead with moral guidance, support and a non-disconcerting form of hug.
It was a very large house, and I never wanted for space to roam, but I knew the boundaries: four walls that for all intents and purposes might as well have been an electric fence. It wasn’t a direct declaration of off-limits, no sign reading “keep out,” yet there was an unspoken rule, a vibe or gesture or wink my subconscious picked up on before I could walk, that I was unwelcome unless given explicit instructions by him to enter. My entry was to be purposeful. My entry was to be rare.
I remember once I was playing with my collection of bouncy balls inside. Oh, I had so many good ones. There were sparkly ones, neon ones, one with a monkey face, one with a star, I even had some that looked like small basketballs, baseballs, soccer balls and tennis balls, but my all-time favorite was the clear one that had a tiny humming bird in it. What should have been a set of rapidly flapping wings and racing heartbeat was instead encased in an unnatural stillness. It was the biggest of the entire collection, and when I bounced it really hard and high, all I could see was the humming bird floating in a tiny bubble, a force field of sorts, and if I squinted my eyes it was like the humming bird was flying, up and away, just for a second, before it once again came hurtling back to the waiting pavement, completely safe, ready for the next bounce. Each hop in its rotation instilled in me the notion that each fall would hurt less. Bounce up and down, and up and down until the flight would dwindle, and it would roll into the grass and look up at the sky where it just had soared. Wherever it landed I would go and lie next to it and stare at the same blue at which it was staring. I used to wish sometimes that I were that humming bird, only if the ball were bounced high enough, the bubble would burst and I would keep flying by finally being able to flutter my wings.
I stopped wishing for that though because some nights after I would wish and pray for that very thing to happen so hard, I would fall asleep and dream about falling towards the sidewalk with no force field about me. People say that if you land in the dream where you are falling, you die. But this in untrue, because every time I had that dream, I would crash into the cement, and I wouldn’t bounce. I would shatter into millions of tiny bouncy balls, all scattering in every direction. I would not wake up with a scream or a start; I would simply open my eyes and stay awake until morning, eyes unblinking, analyzing and cursing the illogic fancy of dreams.
One day it was raining outside and I decided to play with my bouncy ball collection in the hallway. He was in his room, and I somehow felt he might be unenthused by my choice of activity. I had never been told I was not to play with my bouncy balls in the house, but it just seemed like something he would be against. It was no matter, as I decided to have fun with them subtly, a game I played that only I could see and participate in. I played this game often. I would line up all the balls according to size and color; examine all to see if there were any new nicks or splits. Then one-by-one I would bank them off the opposite hallway wall and into my open bedroom door– simple in task, simple in execution. Each hit with a thud and then bounded into its goal destination. They were millions of tiny victories. I was in control of these completely unpredictable objects. Every child, I believe, has some form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as they have no real control over their environment. I controlled these bouncy balls, which in their mere definition are haphazard by design. I always saved the humming bird for last—the closer, the climax, the grand finale.
The bounce of the humming bird went awry and I watched in slow motion as it pin-balled its way into his room. Thumping in time with my heart, it rolled out of sight and I stood motionless where I had futilely followed it until his doorway. He sat there, with little tools, tens of tiny wrenches and screwdrivers, lined up on his desk. His foot was on top of the humming bird, where he had stopped its revolution with one passive stomp of his Italian leather loafers with thick orthopedic soles. In his massive callused palm he fisted a fine Phillips-head and was slowly unhinging my toy chest. It was light blue with puffy white clouds, and on its top it had a bright orange smiling sun with sunglasses on. I had painted it myself, and often giggled at the ironic notion the sun felt the need to wear sunglasses, blocking itself from itself, going against its own nature. The lid came off with a subtle twist of his wrist, and then one by one the panel walls fell, exposing the bright crimson I had made the inside. I turned and walked from the room. He had never looked up, but I knew he knew I was there, standing in the doorway watching, hovering without hope. I never saw the humming bird again, and I never again dreamed of flying.
I know how this sounds, it sounds like he was a monster. That he was, in fact, what went bump in the night. But no, I don’t ever remember him using excessive force or lurking in my room after dark. I never had to show anyone on the doll where the bad man touched me. He never called me names, or set strict curfews. He never said I couldn’t eat sweets or interrogated my gentlemen callers, if there ever had been any. He never made me go on boring family trips to the Grand Canyon, like the kid Jamie in my middle school science class told me his father made his family do. I never liked that kid Jamie, I can’t remember why. He never yelled at me using my middle name, which I’ve heard tale is a sign of a truly upset parent. He never actually raised his voice at me at all, come to think of it. He was just proprietary. His room was his. I was not to bother him. It was a pretty simple rule to follow. I was not to exist.
That became my practice: the art of not existing. I existed to no one… not even myself. Until one day as I was walking home from school, where I had not particularly participated in any subject, I noticed his tan Sedan was not parked in the one-car garage. It was always there, as if it wasn’t mobile but just another fixture of our house, it was a shutter, it was a bush, it was our wheelchair accessible front porch. I walked in the front door and knew immediately I was alone. The situation was thrilling in its exceptionality, terrifying in its implication. It turns out I was not so different from the flock of young people who were constantly distancing themselves from me; I would have my adolescent rebellion. I walked down the long hallway to his room, not bothering to avoid the spots that creaked and echoed and extended my hand to his doorknob. To my surprise it wasn’t locked and turned easily in my palm, no dead bolts, no electric shock, just any other door. I inched it open until it was enough ajar I could fit my head through to peak in. The desk seemed smaller somehow without him behind it. Cold sweat beaded on my upper lip as I took one tentative step inside, then another and another until I was at his desk. Boldly, I pick up a frame that I had seen the back of numerous times, yet never knew its contents. The picture made me jolt, it was a face I don’t know personally, yet could give every detail. This was the picture I used to have with me at all times, I would carry it in my pocket, put it in my lunch box as I made my sandwich, it had its own special slot in my Trapper Keeper. I thought I had lost it. I had been devastated beyond words or tears. The last time I had seen the photo it had been in that slot as I had him sign my report card in third grade. It was of her and she was laughing, crouched down with her arms extended as if she was waiting for someone to run into them, as I had done so many times in my head. Her caramel blond hair was tousled by the wind and she was wearing an oversized floppy straw hat. She had on paint-splattered overalls that were ripped at both knees, and in one hand she held a gardening spade and in the other and basket filled with seedlings. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, even more beautiful than the humming bird. Her eyes were lit from within as if we were sharing a joke, and he had taken that from me. He never talked about her so he shouldn’t get to look at her, and in my one solitary act of defiance I took the picture out of the frame and put it back in my pocket. He never said a word about it, but on the rare occasion the car wasn’t in the garage, I would check his door and the door would be locked.
As I stood there watching him play on his miniature billiards, engrossed in concentration, looking at his teeny toy with such understated passion, I wondered if he had a favorite piece. Maybe the 8-ball, he would imagine he could turn it over and it could predict parts of his future. I remained there for a pregnant pause, pondering what he would do if I just took it– snatched it from him callously, carelessly with no inflection of emotion as to why. It’s hard to play without the 8-ball; I bet it was his favorite.
Still, I posed stagnant in the doorframe– I didn’t take it, or any of his favorite toys. The frame still sat there but I never knew if he replaced the photo with anything. I bent slightly at the knees so I could reach the straps of the striped suitcase I had packed just moments before, and lifted it to my shoulder. It wasn’t a heavy load, as I wasn’t taking much. He never looked up, but I knew he knew I was there; I even assume he knew I was leaving. Without saying or thinking anything else, I turned and walked down the hallway, past my bedroom, through the living room and the kitchen, and out the front door, making sure all the doors clicked closed as I passed through them. Click, click, clackity-click.