Presidential Baggage

Posted on: February 18, 2013

“And to my eldest son, John,” read the attorney, “I leave the keys to the family business. May it bring you the same success and happiness it brought me over the years.”

Either my dad was being facetious or his death was as surprising to him as it was the rest of our family. Regardless, I am now the proud owner of the same failing bookstores that probably led to his heart attack. Correction, “bookstore.” He was down to one.

“I also leave you the keys to my 1961 Porsche 365. I told you I’d let you drive it one of these days.”

Wrong again, you old bastard. The bank took your beloved ego booster four years ago.

“Sorry,” the attorney apologized, breaking character. “This will is a little out of date.”

“Yeah. I kind of gathered that.”

“Well, there may not be a car, but I do have the keys to your new office.”


The attorney grabbed my dad’s keys from his desk. He jingled them between his thumb and pointer finger like I was a house cat.

“For the record, I urged him to sell the stores ten years ago,” claimed the attorney.

“You’re not the only one.”

I examined my dad’s keys as I walked to my shit-box of a car. He always told me that the lottery would be a better investment than an English degree. God I hate proving him right.

“Son, it’s not the people who write books that make the money,” he would say when he caught me scribbling short stories in my journal. “It’s the people who sell them.”

Oh, is it, dad? I think the IRS would beg to differ.

There were four keys on his key ring. The first one went to the depressing one-bedroom apartment he moved into after the divorce. The next opened the sole survivor of the Words for the Wise bookstore franchise. After that came the key to the dingy office in the back where they found his body. The last one was a mystery to me, a mystery that intrigued me enough to blow off lunch with my mom and beeline to the abandoned bookstore.

I left my dying Toyota Tercel sprawled across the three parking spots in front of the entrance and headed toward the door. Next to the hours sign on the door was a freshly applied eviction notice. I had until tomorrow to raid the shelves before the repo men did the same.

I put the door key in the lock and entered the prison of my adolescence for the first time since I left for college. That was also the last time my dad and I ever spoke.

“YOU’RE DEAD TO ME,” he shouted from the sidewalk as I got into the passenger side of my mom’s over-packed SUV and headed off to my future alma mater. Oh the irony.

I don’t remember exactly what was said before those heart-wrenching last words, but I know it revolved around his ongoing disapproval of my literary pursuits and my lack of interest in taking over his antiquated business.

I blame for the deterioration of our relationship. Their endless catalog of titles and unbeatable prices trumped my paternal loyalty. I’ll never forget the look of betrayal on his face when my first purchase arrived on our doorstep.

That was back in the days when “our” included my dad, mom and little brother. That was back when he must’ve written his will. That was when everything started going downhill.

Now, my stomach is churning from the familiar smell of aging paper and binding glue. I bypassed the Harry Potter display, that remained unchanged since the release of the seventh book, and headed to the back of the store.

The scent of my dad’s office was drastically different from the rest of the building. It reeked like a freshly Febrezed bowel movement. The odor seemed to be emanating from the clean patch of carpet beneath his desk where his intestines expelled their last meal.

I braved further nasal damage and approached said desk, kicking his wheelie chair across the room to avoid accidentally sitting in his death seat. I started pulling on all the drawers to see which one, if any, required the tiny key.

His lap drawer opened effortlessly and contained a boring mix of pens, paper clips and promotional bookmarks. The three equally sized drawers on the left didn’t have locks, so I didn’t even bother checking them. All my excitement hinged on the double-decker cabinet to my right.

I warily put my left knee down on the clean spot and tugged on the first handle. It didn’t move. I inserted the tiny key into the cylinder on the top right of the cabinet and twisted. It turned.

I tried opening the top drawer again. Success. Unfortunately, it held exactly what it was intended to, files. An auditor would’ve loved this, but I couldn’t give a shit. I pushed the drawer closed and tried the bottom bunk.

I thought it was empty until I noticed the contours of a briefcase hiding in the shadows. I pulled it out and laid it on top of the giant desk calendar he won’t be needing anymore.

Hanging from the handle was the luggage tag I bought him before his first business trip to the Big Apple. “TRIP OF THE PRESIDENT,” it read. I bought it to remind him that he shouldn’t be intimidated by the other head honchos at BookExpo America. I guess he should’ve.

I unbuckled the clasps on the briefcase and slowly opened the lid. What treasure did this slender chest contain? Business cards? Brochures? EVEN MORE BOOKMARKS?

Well shit. Sitting in the mouth of the leather clam was a stack of journals I hadn’t seen since I moved in with my mom. They were the same journals he ridiculed me for writing in throughout grade school. And now they’re safely locked inside his desk? Where’s a Ouija board when you need it?

Photograph by: Whitney Ott

Written by: Mark Killian

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