All That Remains
The sound of waves and ebbing tides were out of earshot, but the coastal fog still licked the rooftops of each house on Pacific Street. He stood at the doorstep of the corner house and watched her from outside, the curtains of the nearby window thin and translucent. Her white nightgown fluttered as she walked. The door opened and he crossed his arms.
“Lee,” she said, her eyebrows raised. “What are you doing here?”
Lee shoved his way inside. “Don’t pretend, Nes.”
She stood at the door, gazing out at the street and his parked Jeep, before she shut it and turned around. “It’s depressingly early.” She tossed her uncombed hair over her shoulder. “And I go by Agnes now.”
“Agnes? That’s terrible.” Lee’s eyes roamed the living room.
“It’s my name.”
“Still.” He sighed and then collapsed onto the couch. “Where the hell is it, Nes?”
Agnes crossed her arms and raised her chin. “Just go away, Lee. I’m sure you have someone waiting for you at whatever one room apartment you’re holed up in lately.”
“That sure sounds like me.” Lee rose from his seat. “But she understands. I need to collect what’s mine. I want the box.”
Agnes turned away from him and began heading to her kitchen. She called over her shoulder, “Fine. Go look for it. I don’t even remember where it is.”
“Like hell you don’t, Nes. Agnes.”
She spun around. “Why would I? It’s been — what — five years? I don’t care about any of the things in that box.” “That’s because none of those things are yours,” said Lee. Agnes shrugged and began sorting out items in a cupboard while Lee inspected her house. He entered the guest room, his eyes flitting over the small nightstand and floral comforter. He searched the bathroom, wrenching back the shower curtain, and checked under a bed and on top of shelves. As he entered a walk in closet, he flipped the light switch on. The room flooded with bright colors — orange reds, golden yellows, crisp whites. Lee slowed down his pace, taking time to peruse each area of the closet. It took a minute to spot a standard cardboard box on the floor by three pairs of sandals. Lee picked it up and stowed it under his arm. The box had one word sprawled on it in red ink — “Delilah.”
As he started to leave the closet, he noticed a short black dress hanging at the edge of the room. Lee yanked it off its pink hanger before exiting the closet and stomping through the house into the kitchen.
Agnes glanced up from making pancakes. “Oh, you found the box. Good for you.”
“I found this, too.” He threw the black dress onto the kitchen counter.
Agnes looked at it, but said nothing.
“That’s hers. What, you collect all her things now?”
Agnes shrugged. “She must have left it here. I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m staying here.”
Agnes stopped stirring her pancake mix. “What do you mean you’re staying here?”
“I mean, I’m going to stay here today and find every damn thing she owns.”
Agnes laughed. “What’s the point? You’re not going to see her again.”
Lee walked away as she spoke. He pulled off his black sweatshirt and threw it onto the couch.
“Oh, Lee, this is ridiculous. Get down from there,” said Agnes. Lee stood at the top of a ladder, rifling through stacks of boxes in Agnes’s garage.
“I’ve already found two shirts, a bag, and a painting.”
“I’m keeping that painting,” said Agnes. She watched Lee drop two boxes onto the ground. “C’mon Lee.” She tugged at his pants. “Those boxes are going to be hard to put back into place.”
“Get off me.”
“Well, I’m making dinner. You can have some if you stop demolishing my garage.” She waited as Lee went through another box. He found nothing and sighed. He looked down at Agnes, then back at the box before throwing it to the floor and climbing down the ladder.
The soup tasted sour. Lee let his wheat bread drown in the broth.
“Just take what’s yours,” said Agnes, interrupting the silence that had occupied the room for the last ten minutes. “Leave her things. You’ve got no use for them.”
“Neither do you. I don’t know why you have all this stuff. Why you have my stuff.”
Agnes nibbled on a bit of crust. “She didn’t want that box. She didn’t want to see it. Or you.” Agnes tore off another piece. “She was going to go to the dump and I stopped her.”
“Why?” Lee stabbed a swimming carrot with his big spoon.
“I thought maybe she’d want the box later.” Agnes threw some bread crumbs into her empty bowl and directed her gaze at Lee. “Or that you would, some of the things in it being yours and all. Course, that was five years ago. I stopped thinking you’d come get it by now.”
“She told me you had it. Awhile ago. I just didn’t feel like heading over here.”
Lee rummaged through the closet for three hours. Plastic boxes were strewn about the floor, clothes hangers littered the carpet. Agnes watched from her bed, a few yards away.
“Is this hers?” he said, looking over his shoulder and waving a beaded black bracelet.
Agnes glanced over at it. “No. She had one like it, though. I think it’s at her parents’ house now.” She played with the belt loop of her brown shorts. “Hey, Lee? You never told her, right? About us?”
“Why would I?” he said as he emptied a small box of postcards and stiff erasers. “It was one kiss and you were terrible at it. Too much spit.”
Agnes lifted her chin. “I was young.”
“Yeah, we all were.” Lee picked up a sketchbook and flipped through its pages. “This is hers, too.”
Agnes lay down on her bed, her head resting against the pillow. “Lee, why didn’t you do it right?
“Do what right?”
“Any of it. I remember you waited until the day before prom to tell her she should go with you. Then you hung out with your friend the whole night. Or how about the summer after? You were still ‘together’ and you didn’t talk to her once. A whole summer, no word. And I told her to give it time, that it might just be phase. That maybe you were busy.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t lie like that.”
Agnes rolled over onto her side, her back directed at Lee’s. “I didn’t know I was lying.”
“You did, too, Agnes. Hell, she probably knew you were lying.” Lee stood up and dusted off the legs of his jeans. “I’m done with this room.”
Lee left the closet and strode past Agnes’s bed. He halted at the bedroom doorway, by a small desk made of fake wood and covered with binders, books, and loose papers. Lee picked up a bulky photo album with a photograph of two tanned girls pasted on the front. One girl wore sunglasses, the other had a birthday cone hat sitting askew on her head.
Agnes approached Lee and crossed her arms as he started flipping through the photo album. She stood on her tiptoes to peer over his shoulder. “Those pictures are from the time we walked to the Boardwalk together. For her sixteenth birthday. That one on the cover … I think it was before we went on any rides.”
“I know. I took it,” Lee murmured. He slid past pages of roller coasters, of two girls eating funnel cake, of Lee holding a cotton candy stick over his crotch, of the ocean, of sunlight, of one girl vomiting into a trash can.
“You really shouldn’t have forced her onto the Diablo Twister,” said Agnes. “Two Icees and an upside down roller coaster don’t equal a good time.”
“I didn’t force her to do anything. I didn’t drag her onto that stupid ride.”
Agnes shook her head. “You never had to drag her anywhere.”
Lee tightened his hands around the album until his knuckles turned white. His breath
became uneven and he started tearing pictures out of the pocket sleeves — a snapshot of Lee using a girl’s head as an armrest, a photo of Lee giving the other girl a piggy-back ride. He threw the photo album onto the floor and kicked it while shoving the heaps of paper and literature off the desk.
Agnes took a step back and crossed her arms. She flinched every time an item hit the carpet.
Lee threw down tiny wooden boxes, a doll figurine, a lamp, a rainbow teacup made of clay. The desk stood nearly bare — all that remained was a picture frame lying on its stomach. With heavy breath, he lifted the frame up and saw three people wearing graduation gowns. One girl stuck out her tongue, another smiled, and Lee stood in the middle with a sarcastic grin and a raised middle finger. Lee hurled the frame at the wall. The side of it cracked as it toppled behind the dresser. He moved to the side of the desk and pushed against it with all his weight. The desk would not budge.
He turned, releasing his clenched fingers to wrap them around Agnes’s arms.
“Stop laughing, don’t laugh at me.”
Agnes continued to cackle, her eyes bright and narrowed. “What are you going to do?”
Lee swallowed hard, the tips of his fingers digging into Agnes’s skin. His eyes were red and his body shook like a jackhammer breaking into concrete.
“What are you going to do, Lee? C’mon, what are you going to do?” Her laughter flooded each word.
On the cover of the photo album, now lying under the desk, a boy sat in the black disks of Agnes’s sunglasses, a camera blocking his face.
Lee closed his eyes, licked his lips, and let go of Agnes’s arms. “You and me,” he said between staggered breaths. “You and me, we have too many pictures together.” Agnes’s laughter melted away and Lee turned around, walking out of the bedroom.
Lee did not stop shoveling through Agnes’s things until Sunday arrived. Agnes found him asleep on her couch at 5 am, his arm hanging off the side, his fingertips brushing the carpet. She flicked his face with her index finger.
“Did you find everything you need?”
Lee rubbed his eyes and lowered his gaze to the carpet. “Why do you have so much of her crap?”
“We were close. Sometimes. She stayed over once or twice.”
Lee clasped his hands together. “She and I weren’t as close, I guess.”
Agnes cocked her head to the side. “I don’t know. She dated so many losers. You were a loser, too. But at least she liked you.”
Lee fidgeted with a rip in the couch cushion. “I screwed up a lot of your stuff yesterday.”
He shifted to the right. “Also I got blood on your couch.”
Agnes crouched down and examined the large dark red splotch on the cushion. “What happened?”
“I picked up that damn picture frame and it sliced me. Then I slept here.” Lee shrugged and lifted a palm caked in blood that had mostly dried. “Didn’t feel like looking for a band-aid. Or a tourniquet.”
Agnes stroked the stain on the cushion with two of her fingers. She reached for Lee’s hand and grasped it for a few moments before he pulled away. The skin of her hand had two small streaks of his blood.
Agnes looked down and wiped her hand on the stain. “This was her couch actually. She gave it to me after she decided to move into an apartment with … with someone.”
“That Mexican she met at the metro?”
Agnes pursed her lips. “No. Someone after that. And that Mexican — he had a name, you know.”
“Oh yeah? Then what was it?”
“I don’t know. She wouldn’t tell me.”
Lee looked at the slash in his hand and then rose from the couch. “I found something.” He walked to the kitchen and approached the box on the counter. Agnes entered the room as he pulled out a beheaded stuffed animal. “This was the teddy bear, right? The one I …”
“Stole from your brother’s room to give her on Valentine’s day? Yup, that’d be it.”
He tightened his grip on the animal. “She told you about that?”
“Well, at least his head was attached then. I guess I should have left him where he was.”
“I guess you should have,” said Agnes. “I laughed so hard when she decided to cut off his head. Must have been four years ago. I thought I’d keep it in the box.”
Lee stared down at the bear. “You don’t think I killed her, right?”
Agnes’s voice softened. “Lee … It wasn’t a, a suicide or any –” “I know, but … I didn’t kill her, right?” Agnes looked down at her hands. “No, Lee. You didn’t kill her. You didn’t and she didn’t and we didn’t. It was never like that.”
Lee sniffed and nodded his head. “Okay. Okay.” He walked to the couch and picked up his sweatshirt, wrapping it around the beheaded bear. “I guess I’ll go now.”
“What about the box? And all the things you found?” Agnes said, following him to the door.
Lee opened the door and stepped onto the welcome mat. Fog rested on each house.
“Keep them, Nes. Maybe I’ll come back.”