My grandfather’s room had a smell mixed between distant, stale cigarette smoke and bleach. The cigarette smoke would waft in from the dining room. It was the only corridor that was not subjected to the daily exhalation of my Grandmother’s two packs of Winston Salems. It was her house, she could do what she wanted. I just kept the door closed and tried not to breath.
The bleach was from the constant cleaning of the bathroom. It was my grandfather’s bathroom, really. With terrazzo floors, a vintage shower and sink and an exit door with a jalousie window, leading to the pool. It was by far, the best room in the house. And that’s why my grandfather chose it when my grandmother cut their slumber rights. She said he drank too much. But really, he consumed a fraction of her intake.
This was his room. Unchanged since his death, minus my minimal, non-invasive additions: a bookshelf, a record player, and a pile of laundry. Those who’ve lost loved ones often feel a sense of emptiness in a space once occupied by the living. That the space itself, as well as all the objects inside, have lost the energy endowed by their owner. I, on the other hand, felt just the opposite. I shuffled little, partially out of respect for him, partially out of fear. I felt as if he would be displeased with a re-arrangement of his things. As if, some day, he would return.
In the center of his room, sitting underneath the only window that drew light from outdoors, was his chest of drawers. It’s teak construction, a dark brown, almost black, filling the room with a comforting musk. A smell mixing the salt at sea with layers of dead things rotting in the sun. The chest was totem like, each knob resembled an eyeball, each opened drawer a mouth. This piece of wood was synonymous with my grandparents. With getting old in Florida. With crouching, late night, underneath the dining room table while my family played Trivial Pursuit. Each piece of the trivia pie, opening onto my Granfather’s infinite knowledge. Opening him up to his social faux pas, his political leanings, his laundry list of annoyances, and his not-so-subtle racism. Of the days when, post Korean War, he worked in the Philippines managing an Electric company. His staff, a group of natives. He referred to them as “The Pygmies.”
On top of his dresser were some oddities, that, as a child, were taboo to be around. His timepiece, once connected to his belt by a long golden chain. A two dollar bill on a brass money clip. A pile of ancient change beside it, laying in an old decorative copper ashtray. And in the dead center, a wooden hand. Made of light brown oak, its sinuous veins running down the slim fingers, with middle digit up, thumb flared to the side. The remaining three were pulled tight into a fist. I knew it was the symbol of an emotion. One that my Grandfather, the most out of any of us, had suppressed for so many years.
The hand remained on the chest of drawers. A center piece. Untouched.
A reminder that I would never truly know who my grandfather was saying “fuck you” to?