Cholly (continued) by Chris Ott
This is an edit and continuation of my first story. I promise to have it finished and wrapped-up in a tidy little package by next week.
My parents were very private people. Their bedroom door was always closed. They had separate studies. They had instilled in me from the beginning that we all had separate spaces that were sacrosanct. They never came into my bedroom without permission, and it would never occur to me to go into their rooms without permission. Now I had permission.
I called Melanie and asked if she would come over and help me. I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew I didn’t want to do this alone.
She arrived early in the morning, so I cooked breakfast and coffee for the two of us. After the plates were cleared we sat in the kitchen drinking our coffees.
“You’ve really never been in their bedroom or their studies?” Melanie said.
“No,” I said, “Never.”
“Weren’t you tempted to snoop? To see if they were hiding something from you.”
“I thought about it,” I said, “but it was something I couldn’t do.”
“Were you afraid they might catch you?” she said.
“No. It wasn’t that,” I said. “It’s kinda hard to explain, but I couldn’t be who I accused them of being.”
She thought for a moment. “I haven’t the faintest clue what you just said.”
I thought for a moment.
“Do you ever lie to your mom?” I said.
“Of course I do,” she said. “All kids lie to their parents.”
“I never did,” I said.
“C’mon,” she said. “You can’t not lie to your parents. You can’t tell them everything. Christ, if my mom knew some of the things I’ve done she’d have a heart attack.”
“Not me,” I said. “I was always one hundred percent honest with them.”
She looked at me with a bewildered look. “Did you get in trouble?”
“Sure.” I said. “I could have lied my way out of things, but then I would be as bad as them. I knew they were lying to me, and if I lied to them I would be just as bad as they were. Do you get it?”
She sat quietly for a while. “I think so,” she said. “When did you start doing that?”
“Start doing what,” I said.
“Start being honest.”
“Always,” I said. “I can never remember telling my parents anything that wasn’t true.”
She sat there silently for a minute. Then turned to me smiling and said, “You know, that’s pretty amazing. Even as a little kid you knew something was wrong and you took a moral stand to differentiate yourself from your parents. You were like a baby Kant. You took irrationality and made it rational to you.”
I looked at her beautiful, smiling eyes and said, “Now we’re even.”
“How so?” she said.
“Now I haven’t the faintest clue what you’re talking about.”
She laughed briefly, reached over and took my hand and said, “We’re just staving off the inevitable. Ready to go exploring?”
I nodded, finished my coffee and stood up.
“Where do you want to start?” she said.
We started in their bedroom. It was a large master suite with off-white walls and beige carpet. They had separate closets, separate dressers, separate night tables and two double beds placed about three feet apart. Everything was neat and tidy.
“Do you notice anything strange?” Melanie said as she walked carefully into the room.
“No,” I said.
“There are no pictures or photographs anywhere,” she said. “It looks like a room display in a furniture store.”
She was right. The walls were bare. There were no photos on the tops of the dressers or night tables. It looked like a motel room that had been stripped of any decoration.
Their closets were neat as were their dressers and night tables. Everything in their closets was clean and pressed. Their dressers were full of neatly folded clothes, socks, underwear and belts. The tops of the dressers were bare.
We walked into heir bathroom. It had dual sinks it was plain as their bedroom. My father’s side had a toothbrush, toothpaste, Right Guard roll-on deodorant, a bottle of Advil and a shoeshine kit in the drawer. My mother’s side had nothing.
“Where’s my mother’s stuff?” I asked, looking through the drawers.
“I don’t know,” Melanie said. “Maybe she …”
“Shit,” I said. “She was in Connecticut. She took it with her.”
Melanie stared at the empty drawers on my mother’s side of the bathroom. “Cholly. This is really creepy. My mother travels all the time. She takes a ton of stuff with her, but there’s always stuff left behind.”
“Yeah, but look at my dad’s side.” I said. “There’s hardly anything here. And he was still here.”
“Cholly,” she said, “there’s something really strange going on. We have to keep looking.”
“We will,” I said, “but let’s get this stuff packed up. Maybe what I’m looking for is here, and I don’t want to come back.”
Corky had dropped off a lot of boxes he’d bought at Home Depot, as well as packaging tape to put them together. I went to the garage and grabbed a stack. For the next hour we unloaded drawers and closets and packed their belongings neatly into boxes, marking each one with the contents.
“Make sure you check all of the pockets,” Melanie said. “Maybe we’ll find hidden treasure.”
When we were done we had a half dozen boxes packed with my parents clothes stacked neatly in the middle of the room. And we had found nothing. Not a coin. Not a scrap of paper. Nothing.
We entered my mother’s study next. It was small, plain and lifeless. There was an Ikea desk with an old Dell computer, an HP printer and a number of vases filled with paper flowers. The floor was bare. There was a tall-backed upholstered chair with a plain white side table. Three walls were filled with framed posters and copies of famous paintings. All the images were familiar, but nothing seemed to go together. It looked like a poster shop at the mall. The third wall was a bookcase with hundreds of books – all hardbound popular fiction. It felt as if we’d walked into a well-lit thrift shop.
“Ugh,” Melanie said. “This is creepy. Where do we start?”
“Lets check the drawers first, “I said.
We opened the drawers in the desk and found little. There was a stapler with a small package of staples, a couple of pens and a ream of white paper.
“Did your mother ever use this desk?” Melanie said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It doesn’t look like it.”
“Let’s check the computer,” Melanie said as she turned it on.
We waited in silence, staring at the screen as the computer booted-up. There was no password protection, so she grabbed the mouse and started scrolling through the files and applications. There was nothing. No documents, no spreadsheets, nothing.
“It doesn’t look like your mom ever used this,” Melanie said.
I started to turn away, but Melanie stopped me.
“Didn’t you say that your mom used to print out stuff for your little league team?
“Yeah,” I said. “She’d print out schedules and stuff for lunches.”
“Well, where are they?” she said.
“Maybe she threw them away,” I said.
She sat briefly, looking at the screen. “This doesn’t seem right,” she said. “Let me try something.”
For the next few minutes she sat silently typing away, hunched over the keyboard, moving the mouse from time to time. She finally sat back and said, “Somebody erased files off this hard drive back in February.”
“What?” I said. “How do you know?”
She looked at me and said, “Do you really want to know? Would you understand it if I told you? Trust me. Somebody cleaned up your mom’s computer on February twelfth.”
“Why?” I said.
“I’m more concerned about who,” she said rising from the desk. “Who had access to her computer after she died?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Corky and I are the only people who have been in this house, other than you.”
And then it hit me.
We stood there for a few minutes to let the reality sink in. Corky had erased files from my mom’s computer. But why? We talked about it for a bit but couldn’t come up with any reason. She spent a half hour trying everything she knew how to see if she could reclaim the files, but couldn’t.
“We can take the computer to a tech and they might be able to reclaim them, but I don’t know how,” she finally said.
“Well let’s deal with that later and get this room cleaned out,” I said as I grabbed some of the boxes from the hall.
I stated loading her books into the boxes when Melanie stopped me.
“Let’s go through them first,” she said. “I remembered reading about a woman who found an original stock certificate from Nike in her mother’s books after she died. It turned out it was worth thousands of dollars.”
“I seriously doubt we’re gonna find any stock certificates,” I said.
“No,” Melanie said, “But we may find something that tells us what is going on here.”
I pulled the books out of the box and started flipping thorough them quickly to make sure I wasn’t donating more than just books to the Goodwill. Nothing.
After an hour or flipping and loading we had found a candy bar wrapper and a dollar bill that my mom had used as a bookmark.
Following Melanie’s lead we pulled the pictures off the walls and checked behind them to see if she had hidden anything. Nothing. Most of them still had the price stickers on the back, and all of them seemed to have been purchased at the same store. We stacked hem beside the boxes of books and started to leave her room. I turned at the doorway and looked back. The room looked no emptier now as we were leaving than it did when we entered.
My father’s study was a study in contrasts. While my mother’s was sparse and bleak, my father’s was dense and textured. Ceiling-high bookshelves in dark wood lined all of the walls. He had a roll-top desk in one corner, stuffed with papers and piled with books. There was a large cardboard box on the floor beside it. There was no computer or television. There was a Tiffany lamp on the desk and a brass floor lamp with a brocade shade. He had a rich, green oriental carpet on the floor with a burgundy velvet overstuffed couch and matching chair. A small, round end table sat between the couch and chair. On it was a crystal decanter with amber liquid and two brandy snifters. There was a pipe rack and a round, leather canister half-full of tobacco.
“Wow,” Melanie said standing beside me, “I feel like I’m walking into Sherlock Holmes study.”
I also felt like I was walking into the life of a man who I had never known. I had never seen my father take a drink. I had never seen him smoke a pipe. I had never seen him do anything except smile and be.
Melanie walked over to the first wall of books. She started scanning the titles.
“These look like the same books in your mom’s room,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re all the same. They used to read the same books at the same time.”
“Really?” Melanie said and looked at me with a strange look on her face.
“They would pace themselves so they both finished at the same time,” I said. “Dad was a faster reader, and I would see him stop reading close to the end. When mom was about done he would pick up his book and finish with her.”
“That’s kind of cute,” Melanie said. “Did they enjoy talking about the book?”
“No,” I said. “They never talked about what they’d just read. They’d finish one book and immediately pick up another.”
Melanie looked at me. “I take it back,” she said. “That’s not cute. That’s weird.”
“Well, you’ve met my parents,” I said. “Nothing new there.”
The other three walls looked to be a collection of series of leather-bound books. The spines were black or brown. There would be a half dozen that were the same, then another group that were similar but diferent from the previous ones. Occasionally there would be a random stray mixed throughout the groupings.
“Your dad must’ve been a book collector,” Melanie said as she walked to the second bookcase.
“I guess,” I said. I went over to join her as she reached for a book off of the shelf. Before she grabbed it she stopped.
“Cholly,” she said.
The tone of her voice stopped me. She backed up and started looking at the other walls, looking at the spines of the hundreds of books. She appeared as if she was looking for something. She stopped and turned to me.
“Cholly,” she said. “These aren’t books.”
“What?” I said. “Of course they’re books.”
“No Cholly,” she said, “these are daily planners.”
“Melanie,” I said, rubbing my face with my hands. “I’m already freaked out enough. What are you talking about?”
She grabbed a book off the shelf, opened it and showed it to me. It was about the size of a novel, but instead of words the pages had the day, the date and a series of lines with a time of the day printed at the beginning of the line. I had never seen one before.
“What’s it for?” I said.
“One of my teachers had one,” she said. “She said it was what people used before computers. It has three hundred and sixty five pages with an hour by hour listing of the day broken down into 15 minute sections. She would put her schedule in there and then keep notes on what happened in class.”
I took the book in my hand and started flipping through it.
“Why is it blank?” I said. Before she could respond I came upon a page with neat handwriting on it. The date was July 6, 2001. It said:
6:00 – Get up. Shower
6:15 – Make breakfast
6:30 – Eat breakfast
6:45 – Leave for work
7:00 – Work
7:15 – Work
7:30 – Work
The “Work” notation continued on until a lunch break at noon and resumed from one o’clock until five, when he wrote, “Go home.” It continued in fifteen-minute increments that included:
5:15 – Get home
5:30 – Change clothes, clean
5:45 – Play with the boy
6:00 – Play with the boy
6:15 – Make dinner
6:30 – Make dinner
6:45 – Make dinner
7:00 – Eat dinner
7:15 – Eat dinner
7:30 – Eat dinner
7:45 – Clean kitchen
8:00 – Study time
8:15 – Study time
8:30 – Study time
8:45 – Study time
9:00 – Shower
9:15 – Read with Marian
9:30 – Read with Marian
9:45 – Read with Marian
10:00 – Go to bed
Every 15-minute slot had my fathers handwriting listing what he did that day. I turned the page for July 7, and everything was exactly the same. Same handwriting, same events, same pen. I flipped through the rest of the book and saw that all of the days of the week were filled-in with the exact same schedule. Except for the weekends. The weekends were blank.
It then struck me that this wasn’t a recording of what he had done, it was a planner for what he was supposed to do. The workdays were filled-out exactly the same, day after day, through December 31. But the weekends and holidays were just a series of question marks filling line after line. It looked like it had all been done in one sitting. The pen was the same. The letters looked like a font.
“Why does he refer to me as “the boy?” I said.
“I don’t know,” said Melanie. “Why does he have so many planners?”
I felt a chill run through me as I looked at this eerie collection. We started randomly going through different planners. They were all the same, but some had blank pages at the front and started on a seemingly random date. I would pull one out, scan it and return it to its place. The more I looked the more confused I got.
“Why do they start when they do?” I said. “And why is every one of them filled out til the end?”
“I don’t know,” Melanie said. “But let’s start at the beginning and see if we can see a pattern.
She pulled the first one off the shelf. It stated on April sixth. The second planner was exactly the same as the first, but the first entry was three days later on April ninth. The remaining days in the planner were filled out exactly like the first planner – all the weekdays were the same and all the weekends and holidays were question marks. All filled out through December 31st. The ink color was different from the first planner, but it was the same ink throughout the book.
The entry in the third planner was April 10. The fourth was April 20. The fifth was May 3. All had blank pages before the date, and full pages through the end of December.
I put them all back in their respective places and started counting. There were more than six hundred of them. Some years had more than others. They were in perfect chronological order. Every subsequent planner started on a later date than the previous one. All had blank pages in the front and were completed through the end of the year.
I sat in the armchair and Melanie sat on the couch. I poured whatever was in the decanter into a couple of snifters and handed one to Melanie. I swirled mine gently while I tried to figure out what all those planners meant.
“My father was a very organized man,” I said. “There has to be a reason for this, and there has to be a pattern somewhere. But I can’t see one. Why would he change planners so often?”
We sat quietly thinking.
“Change!” Melanie said suddenly. “Something changed.”
“What?” I said.
“Listen,” she said. “This might make sense. Let’s say your dad has to plan the whole year out ahead of time.”
“Why would he do that?” I said.
“I don’t know!” she said a bit loudly, “But just say he does. He plans his whole year and then something changes. So he has to start all over again and plan the rest of his year from the day that something changes.”
I looked at her incredulously. “That’s insane,” I said.
“I didn’t say it was sane,” she said, “I just said that it might explain it. Look at all of these planners. Does this look like the work of a sane mind? I’m just trying to help.”
I put my snifter on the end table and buried my face in my hands. I tried to think but I couldn’t. Nothing made sense to me. Was my father insane? Was he even my father? What was going on?
Melanie got up from the couch and knelt beside me.
“I’m sorry you have to deal with this,” she said laying her head on my knees.
I pulled my face out of my hands and leaned over and kissed her head.
“You’re right,” I said. “What can I do?”
She stood up, gently took my hand and led me over to the couch to sit beside her.
“If I’m right about what’s going on here,” she said gently, “we have to find a day that something changed.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Do you remember any specific dates – days of the year that you did something that would change your father’s schedule? Change his plans?”
I thought about baseball, band, theater – all the things I was involved in. I kept bringing up different things I had done, but I didn’t have any specific dates. Then it hit me.
“Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve,” I said. “September tenth 2011.”
“What?” Melanie said.
“I was cast as Juror Number Eight in the play ‘Twelve Angry Men.’ We opened on September tenth 2011” I said jumping off the couch. “My director got me a T-shirt that said ‘8 9 10 11 12’ on opening night.
We went to the shelves and started looking for my dad’s 2011 planners. There were dozens of them. After flipping through a number of them we found one that started anew on September eleventh. And one that started on September twelfth. And again on the thirteenth.
“How long did the play run?” Melanie said.
“Three weeks,” I said. “It ran Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
We checked the next planners. Every day my play ran my father would start again with a new planner. Then there was nothing until ten days after the play closed on the twenty-seventh. The next new date was October seventh.
“Do you remember anything that happened on October seventh?” Melanie said.
I took the planner from her hand and walked over and sat on the couch. I sat there quietly. I touched my hand to the page. I looked up at Melanie and said, “October seventh is Corky’s birthday.” I started to cry.
Melanie came and sat beside me on the couch. She held me tightly while I cried. She didn’t say anything. After I cried myself out, I turned to her.
“Thank you,” I said. “Thanks for being here. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m glad I’m not alone.”
She caressed my cheek with her hand and said, “What do you want to do now?”
I took her hand and kissed it gently. “I don’t know what to do with the planners. I don’t even want to touch them for now.” I looked at the books. “Let’s get his other books boxed up at least.”
We stood up off the couch. I went to the hall and grabbed a stack of the boxes and started taping them. I brought them over to the bookcase and Melanie started stacking books in the boxes.
“Aren’t you going to check them for hidden treasures?” I said taping another box.
“Ah yes, I forgot,” she said. “We had such great luck with your mother’s collection. Why should we stop now?”
She pulled out the stack she’d already put in the box and started flipping through them.
“Nope, nope, nope,” she said as she tossed each one of them back into the box.
“I was kidding,” I said.
“Oh look,” she said standing and flipping through another book before tossing it into the box. “Here’s a stock certificate from Microsoft.”
“Alright. I give. I give, “ I said. “Just throw them in the box.”
“No. If you want me to check, I’ll check,” she said as she grabbed a book by its spine and shook it. “See what riches we can find.”
As she said it, two tightly folded pieces of paper that had been hidden in the pages fell to the floor.
“You found it!” I said. “The golden tickets.”
I went back to taping boxes as she picked up the papers and looked at them.
“Oh Cholly,” she said.
“Yes,” I said turning to her. “Cholly and the chocolate factory.”
The look on her face froze me. She walked over to me with the papers in her hand. Tears were forming in her eyes. She was shaking her head.
“Oh Jesus, Cholly,” she said, “we were right.”
I dialed Corky’s phone. He picked it up on the third ring.
“Hey, Cholly,” he said. “How’s the big move going? Finally decided you need my help after all? It’s a bitch packing by yourself.”
“I’m not by myself.” I said. “Melanie’s here.”
“Oh, good,” he said. “She’s organized, a hell of lot better looking than I am and probably twice as strong. Then are you taking me up on the offer of dinner? She can come along, too. The more the merrier.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t have much of an appetite. But I was wondering if you could come over right now. I could use a little help.”
“Sure kid,” he said. “Want me to bring the handtruck? I shoulda dropped it off with the boxes. I forgot about all their books.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Are you okay, Cholly?” he said. “Your voice sounds kinda strange.”
“Please just come over, Corky,” I said.
“Sure, kid,” he said. “I’ll leave in two.”
I put my phone back in my pocket. “He’s on his way,” I said getting up from the chair.
“Did he ask why you wanted him here?” Melanie said from the couch.
“Not really,” I said. “But he knows something’s wrong.” I began to pace.
“Why didn’t you want to tell him what we found?” she said.
“I don’t want to give him time to figure out another lie,” I said.
“That sounds pretty cold and calculating of you,” she said. “Are you alright?”
“No, I’m not alright,” I said. “I’m angry. I’ve been lied to my whole life. And I still don’t know why. I even asked Corky, and he lied right to my face. It doesn’t make sense. Why would they deceive me about this?”
I paced silently trying to make sense of all of this. Melanie sat on the couch watching me. After a few moments, she stood up, gave me a hug and said, “I’m going to make some coffee. I can’t stand to watch you pace.”
After a few minutes I heard the front door open. I heard Melanie greet Corky. They talked briefly. Moments later Corky entered my dads study with a hand truck in tow.
“Hey Cholly,” he said. He put the hand truck next to the pile of boxes and crossed to give me the usual hug. “Looks like you guys are getting a lot of work done.”
Before he could hug me he stopped dead in his tracks.
“What’s going on Cholly?” he said.
I handed him the two papers that had fallen from the book.
“I don’t know,” I said, seething in anger, “why don’t you tell me?”
He quickly looked at the papers. One was a birth certificate for a baby boy. The other was adoption papers for a baby boy. I didn’t recognize the names on either the papers, but they were both dated July sixth. My birthday.
All the color drained from his face. His body started to collapse. He seemed to age twenty years in the span of a couple of seconds.
“Oh shit,” he said. “Shit, shit, shit.” He slumped into the chair. “Where did you find these?”
“Melanie found them. In one of dad’s books,” I said.
“Goddamit!” Corky said. “I told him to get rid of them. Goddamn him!”
Before I could say anything, Corky popped up from the chair.
“Look, Cholly,” he said, “