The spider’s webs trailed in wild crisscross patterns across the small dark basement. Barry bumbled through them as they broke. He spit and hacked his way through the sticky and surprisingly resilient webs toward his father’s old work bench. The old overhead bulb was barely bright enough to light his way. The afternoon sunlight streaming in from the ground level windows was nearly all Barry had to guide his maneuvers around the clutter his father had collected and stored. Barry hated spiders and their webs. They made him feel unclean somehow. The musty, dirty basement didn’t help that feeling.
He never liked the basement. When he was a child he would never go down there, yet his father loved it. Barry’s father was down their all the time, tinkering and fixing various broken trinkets he found in alleys and at garage sales. Barry’s mother hated it too, but she never said anything. She just left one day and didn’t come back. Barry moved an oil stained cardboard box out of his way with his foot and tried not to imagine the millions of spiders scurrying from underneath. He didn’t dare look down at it.
Barry had to find a key to a safety deposit box. He had been told by the executor of the estate that there had been some mention by his father of the key being on or in the work bench. The executor, the lawyer, had been the only one present when Barry’s father died last week. Barry was in San Francisco with his own wife and daughter, trying to forget the house on Melrose in Indiana. Barry couldn’t imagine what his father, the drunken handyman of Calaveras County, could have possibly had in a safety deposit box at the bank. He had nothing but the house, the mountains of junk in the dank basement and furniture from the 1960’s on the main floor. Some of the furniture still had the plastic covers on them, from the sixties.
The work bench was mildly organized. The tools were put away on their pegboard hooks, matching their carefully traced outlines. Barry remembered that his father was meticulous about his tools. They had to always be in good working order and easy to find. The workbench counter top was a mess however. There were obsolete TV parts, a washing machine motor, and part of an oscillating fan, coils of wires, nuts, bolts, screws, nails, a Band-aid box, C-clamps, and three different tape measures. There were piles of warranties, instruction manuals, and receipts from the old hardware shop that had been out of business since the 1980’s and tubes of super glue.
Barry sighed at the mess and brushed his hair off his forehead. The basement was stuffy and warm, which seemed odd since basements were usually cooler than the rest of the house. He pulled the small worn green bar stool out from under the edge of the work bench, dusted it off, and sat down in front of the mess. He was sure his father had some organization in mind but to Barry it was just clutter. It was a mountain of unfinished attempts and half completed goals. It was the perfect description for his father.
His father wasn’t a mean man or a bad man. He never got into any fights with anyone in town. He never started any real trouble. But he was a drunk. He was one of those happy drunks who sang songs about Ireland even though he’d never been, talked about politics with anyone who would listen but never made any real political affiliations known. He never made unwanted passes at women or tried to force himself into any conversations. Yet, he was a drunk. He never raised a hand to Barry yet he never pulled him in for a hug either. To Barry, his father was the man who wasn’t there, but was there. A shadow of a man; or at least the shadow of what might have been at one time something like a man.
The funeral was very small; Barry and a few other townsfolk. The bartender at The Easy J came but Barry thought that was only to possibly collect on any inheritance that might help pay the bar tab Barry’s father had left. His mother did not come. Barry didn’t even know if she was alive or dead herself. She was too big for Barry’s father. She was a woman of large character, too big for the small town life, but too small town for life in the big city. The rumor was she’d run off with the town pediatrician but Barry didn’t really believe that. He figured she was tired of trying to clean up the happy drunk who had nothing but a pile of trash in the basement.
Barry started shuffling through the pile of old crusty paperwork on the work bench. It was mostly receipts that Barry’s father should have written off on his taxes as business expenses but never got around to doing. There was nothing on them but dust and oil stains. A few of the receipts had his father’s oily fingerprints pressed into them. They were smeared in some places and clear in others. It looked like the fingerprinting department at the police station had gone insane. Barry ran his own thumb over the dried oil stained fingerprint of his father. He thought he should feel something. He thought he should feel sad that he and his father never had the relationship like the ones on TV or movies. But he didn’t feel sad. He didn’t feel anything.
They hadn’t spoken much more than the casual Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday’s since Barry stormed off to college as soon as he could. He was ashamed to be the town drunk’s son. He wanted to get as far away as possible. Barry’s own daughter hadn’t even ever met her grandfather. Yet, it wasn’t hate that kept Barry away. It was the fact that his father never made any effort. He never tried to clean up, or show Barry that he was capable of something more than just drinking and tinkering and occasionally fixing the boiler at the High School. His father, just never tried anything.
Barry didn’t know if that was hate or not and that’s what bothered him most. He didn’t even have a close enough relationship with his father to consider their rift anything more than casual indifference to each other, or at the very least, an incapacity to express any love. Barry just knew that he hated coming down to the damn basement. That was for sure.
He felt the warmth of the dark basement. Its dingy overwhelming heaviness seemed to be creeping in over his shoulders. Barry leaned forward on the old workbench and closed his eyes. He felt an anger in him he had pushed down a long time ago bubble to the surface. He clenched his teeth and balled his hands into fists. He stood up and with all his might swiped all the parts and tubes and papers off the workbench in a furious tornado. He pounded on the old bar stool and tossed it to the far side of the basement knocking over old boxes and crates. He kicked old boxes and pushed over piles of magazines and newspapers until he stumbled on a coil of industrial cable and fell into a pile of old clothes in big black plastic garbage bags.
He lay there panting and sweating. The basement was filled with old dust swirling in clouds in front of the window. They danced in a confused swirl trying to understand why they had been so unceremoniously startled from their untouched slumber. Barry put his hands to his face, as if the clouds of dust might somehow turn into the ghost of his father. He put his forearm over his eyes and felt the sting of ancient tears on his cheek. He waited. He caught his breath and lifted himself up from the pile of old bundled clothing. He suddenly got the Heebie Jeebies and thought he was probably covered in spiders. He started bushing himself off, grabbing at every tickle or itch like a black widow was about to chomp down on his skin.
Barry looked at the mess he’d made. The mess his father had made. He decided that he’d had enough for today. If there was a security deposit box key somewhere, it was probably long lost. He’d have to try again tomorrow. He wanted to take a shower more than he could ever remember. He trudged up the old stairs and flicked the switch to the old overhead bulb and the basement fell into darkness.