My father, a bald man of about seventy-five and terrible eyesight, went missing during the traditional holiday party. It wasn’t much of a party, like usual, so I didn’t blame him for disappearing. There were only a couple of cousins, some aunts, some uncles off my mother’s side who I only saw once a year, and my younger brother Henry, who brought along this woman he was currently seeing. These definitely weren’t people you’d want to call if you were thinking about having a fun night. Only haircuts and deaths differentiated the party from any other year. This monotony said more about my life than I wanted to think about. But if I was forced to think about that, it was that my life never ascended above the muddle of countless identical months and that the only purpose of every year I lived was to fatten me up and serve me to this party. Then go 364 more days and repeat.
Admittedly, it was a shame it took so long before we knew my father had gone missing, since he was the brave one who always put in the effort to get us all together. We were all huddled in the living room, right near the tree, drinking lousy beer, when one of my cousins finally noticed my old man wasn’t in the room with us. Nobody else had known this until my cousin, not even me who was arguably his favorite son.
Since my brother was cuddled up with his date, I insisted that I be the one to go around to look for him. It was my childhood home, so I knew all the rooms better than anyone else and wouldn’t feel awkward walking around on my own like I would have if it was someone else’s home. Even though the walls were painted a different color and the old, stained carpets were ripped out, walking around made me feel like I was eleven again. It wasn’t a terrible feeling. I went and looked in every room but didn’t find him. In my brother’s old bedroom, I stopped to play with some Lincoln Logs that my father couldn’t get rid of. My father was not one for change. Getting older was the worst thing that could happen to him. I doubted he’d go outside since there was over a foot of snow on the ground, but I looked out all the windows just to be sure. I didn’t see any elderly, bald men milling about.
After that, I reverted to looking around the house again. He was getting older, so I feared maybe he had tripped or fallen asleep in some unfortunate place. I began to look under the beds. Nothing but old photo albums. I went back to the living room where the party was taking place to see if he was asleep on the couch and we all just somehow had happened to miss him. But he wasn’t in there either. I started to get worried. I was reduced to looking in closets. Downstairs closets, then the upstairs ones, pushing shirts and football jerseys to the side, shouting Dad maybe a hundred times, to nobody. I could see how the house might have thought I had gone crazy. It was, with great relief, that I finally found him inside his bedroom closet. He was sitting there on the closet floor, crying, his hands on top of his head. The closet was completely empty except for him. It looked like he was sitting down in a tiny jail cell rather than in a place one usually stores jackets and old magazines.
“Dad,” I said, “are you alright?” I was incredibly concerned. I wondered if this was what old age might have in store for him.
He didn’t say anything, but continued to cry like this was the appropriate response to my question.
“Come with me, Dad, let’s get back to the party. Everyone was wondering where you’d went off to,” I said to him.
Still, he continued crying. Every wall in this house must’ve thought my family had lost it. “It” being a pinkie worth of normalcy. If there is something that knows family secrets better than a family house, I would like to be told what that is.
I was about to close the door on him and leave him be in his little, dark box when he spoke up.
“No. Stay with me,” he said.
“Okay.” I stood there with my hand still on the doorknob and stared down at him.
“No,” he said. “Come sit. And close the door.” He began to wipe the tears from his eyes and at the path they had made traveling down his face.
Hesitantly, I nodded. I looked out into the hall as if someone might be there to talk me out of this, but there was no one. I walked into the closet, avoiding his legs, and pulled the door shut on us. The sound of the latch settling into the spot of the wall that sealed us away from the light made a very definitive sound.
I sat down with my back against the wall opposite him. Our knees touched. It wasn’t the world’s biggest closest by any means. It was only him, me, the dark, and an old patch of carpet someone never took up. It wasn’t completely silent because downstairs you could hear people talking and awfully cheerful music.
“Now what?” I said once I had settled in as comfortably as I could manage.
“Why does there have to be a “now what?” Just sit like this with me. It’s nice ain’t it?”
“Sure, it’s not so bad.” It wasn’t a closet then, it was a tiny library without electricity or any books, I thought.
We sat there, without speaking, for maybe five minutes. Truthfully, I had trouble telling how much time had passed. I couldn’t focus on anything, since my father continued to cry. His tears made the closet feel like a sauna. I wondered if I should have consoled him. I even thought it possible all his tears might turn the closet into a kiddie pool. But I just let him cry himself out, he had to stop sometime soon being my thick headed rationalization.
Finally he spoke. His first words were, “This is the closet where you were conceived.” He pointed it out nonchalantly as if everyone might have a special closet where they had been conceived.
“What?” I said. It seemed my whole having-to-comprehend-such-an-unexpected-sentence had to catch up with my ears. I would regret having to hear it a second time.
“You were made right here in this closet.” He knocked on the wall, as if to prove the walls were as real as the truth he spoke.
“Oh. I had no idea.”
“Give me your hand.” He took my hand from off my knee and placed it down on the spot of carpet near where his shoe was and said, “Do you feel this piece of carpet?”
“I do.” I really hoped it wasn’t the exact spot where I had been conceived, but the chances weren’t in my favor.
“Your mother would sit right in this exact spot. For as long as we lived here, she’d keep this closest empty just like it is now. She always loved this closet, since before you kids were born. Every other closet would have rivers of junk in them, but not this one. She wouldn’t allow that. Always going on about how this closest was more than just some closet.”
“I didn’t know she cared so passionately for a closet.” I tried to look around but I couldn’t make out a thing. “I think it’s really only just a closet, Dad.”
“No, it isn’t. Your mother would be shaking her head at you right now. She used to go on with these ideas. Said it was a time machine for one. She would pull me in here some nights before bed and tell me these long stories of when she was a girl. She’d make me close my eyes and picture all the words she was saying. She also told me it was her sanctuary. I used to find her in here all the time when you and your brother were kids. She was bad with the anxiety and she’d come in here when she was nervous or if you two were being too much to deal with. She’d use it as a retreat when she wanted to nap, or when she wanted some quiet, or to just read a book. Sometimes she would even call this closet her tree house and would ask me for a password before I’d come in to sit with her. And sure, there were times we happened to make love in here.”
“She had some imagination,” I said.
I pictured my father nodding. He said, “Do you remember she was the one who made me start throwing this party every year? She thought that we ought to keep a tradition, thought that it made sense to do something that connected the past and the future, as she explained it. Do you remember when you were ten or eleven and you bought her that awful dress for her birthday? Looked like it belonged on a hooker, but she wore it every year to this party. You remember that don’t you?”
I could feel him staring at me through the dark. “Of course I remember. I bought that dress for her at a thrift shop near school. Cost me four dollars.”
“Good. You have to remember the small things like that; you can’t let them fade away along with the person they’re attached to. That’s why I keep at this awful party every year. I want to keep the tradition alive, but I don’t know if I can after this year. I always hated this party. I think everybody does. I know you and your cousins never got along too well. But your mother was always so adamant about getting everyone together.”
“Well, some years it’s a little slow, but I think people usually have a good time. Henry wouldn’t have brought that woman with him if that wasn’t the case,” I lied.
“Maybe.” He sighed and I could hear him place the back of his head against the wall.
“Do you often find yourself in this closet?” I said, “Or do you come in here just when you’re sad?”
“No, I’m always in here. Doesn’t matter what mood I’m in. Makes me feel close to your mother. Last summer, when I was sitting just like I am now, she came to me. Once in July and then sometime in late September.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean she came to see me here in this closet while I was sitting just like we are now.”
“She visited you? Her ghost came to you?”
“Ghost? I don’t know about any sort of thing like that. I only know that I saw her twice a couple months apart. She was standing up both times and I was sitting against this same wall, and the whole closet lit up the same color of the dress she happened to be wearing.”
“Did she say anything?”
“No. She smiled. Must’ve been happy that I was keeping this closet alive for her. I look at it like that. That we keep traditions alive for the people who’ve died. So if, somehow, they come back like she did, or even just watch us from wherever they are, they’d see things haven’t changed much. That we’re keeping their way of living warm for them. So that’s something I do for her, like the party.”
“This closest is also a portal then, don’t you think? Other than the things mom said it was, it’s a portal for you and her. So you two can get together.” I ran my fingers through my hair then put that same hand on my father’s wrist. Maybe this was what old age did have in store for him. His health was starting to go. The death of my mother had deteriorated him. It must be awful to miss someone that much. He’d have to get help soon, I’d have to tell Henry about this, and we’d have to talk about things we never thought we’d have to talk about.
“A portal for me and your mother to get together? I love that,” he said and chuckled. “Sounds like something she would’ve made up on her own. I hope she’ll visit me again soon. I don’t know why she hasn’t yet.”
“What if we make it a tradition that every year me and you come up here to this closet? Can we do that? Is that something you think would be nice?”
“Can’t do it son.”
“I don’t want you getting used to this closest.”
“Why is that?”
“Cause this closest is where I’m gonna die.”
“Is this where mom—”
“Why do you think you’ll die in here?”
“Because this closet isn’t just a closet. It meant something to you, to your mother, and to me. I’ve told you all the different things that it really is. And I know this is where I die. It’s my casket too. It’s where I’ll be buried.”
I nodded. “Did this closest ever mean anything to Henry? If it means something to everyone in our family, it must’ve meant something to him too.”
My father was silent for a bit. Then he said, “Oh yeah, I used to hear him in here. Used to bring a magazine with him and well… I guess the bathroom wasn’t good enough for him.”
We both laughed.
When we stopped, I said, “Dad?”
“I’m gonna leave now. Do you think you’ll be all right in here?”
“I have been for a very long time now.”
I nodded. I got up, using my hand to push off the patch of carpet that had never been taken up.
“Watch for all the dirt when you open the door,” my father said. “I’m keeping my eyes closed.”
I put my hand on the doorknob and said, “I will.” I opened the door. The light from his bedroom came at me harshly, like it was accusing me of a crime.
“Do you think you can make it back through all the dirt?” my father said.
I looked down at him and saw that his hands were over his eyes. “Sure, it isn’t too deep yet. Doesn’t even smell half bad. Fresh.” I closed the door and—for my father’s sake—crawled some ways through the dirt and arrived back at my childhood home.
When I got back downstairs to the party, I thought how nice it would be if my father wasn’t deteriorating but that the closet really was a portal and that my dead mother had just come by to show him a smile, nothing more to it than that. But that’s not how the world works. As I thought this, one of my cousins came up to me and asked if I had been able to locate my father.
I sipped some of my beer and said no. I figured I could tell him that he was off at church, or that he was spending the night in the past, or that he had somehow ended up in a jail cell.
That last one sounded the most appropriate because that’s the way the world actually does work.
Christopher Cassavella is currently pursuing a B.A. in English at Brooklyn College. Some of his short stories have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Buffalo Almanack, Tincture Journal, and Jersey Devil Press. He lives in Brooklyn.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH THE SPOT HE HIDES IN:
Christopher Cassavella’s piece starts off rather mundane, yet its title seems to tell us that it’s going to turn into something else. And indeed it does. This sad tale decorated with tidbits of warm humor takes us to a place we never expected to be taken as a son gains new insights about his father and himself. Perhaps the reader as well gains some insights into human nature.