“What is it?” Kyle ran his fingertips over the rusty metal surface of the small rectangular box his brother had just gently placed on his kitchen table.
Mike stared at him. “Don’t you remember?”
“I guess you probably weren’t old enough.”
Kyle’s hand moved towards the dirt-encrusted latch on the front of the box, but Mike brushed it aside.
“Come on. I don’t have time to fuck around today.”
Mike smirked at him in that condescending way that had infuriated Kyle since they were kids. “The fuck you got going on today? This is important.”
Kyle rolled his eyes. “Alright. Just tell me what this is I’m looking at, here.”
Mike reached out and slid the box across the table towards himself, spun it around.
“Hey, could you maybe not scratch up my table? Deb’s gonna kick both of our asses.”
Mike’s face turned serious.
Kyle shrugged. “Okay. I was five. I can barely remember my Gmail password, much less the contents of some rusty old box from twenty years ago.”
“Thirty years ago, you retard.”
“Whatever,” said Kyle. “It’s early. I haven’t even had my coffee yet and you’ve come up here bugging me with this bullshit. Get to the point already.”
“That coffee gonna make you better at math?”
Kyle was starting to get irritated, but by this point in his life he’d learned not to let his big brother see that he was still able to get under his skin. “It might.”
“So you don’t remember the time capsule? The one dad buried in the backyard?”
And just like that, it all came flooding back. Kyle again reached out to grab the box and Mike pulled it closer to his chest, just out of reach.
“Do you remember what you put in it?” Asked Mike.
Kyle thought hard, dragging the foggiest recesses of his earliest childhood memories for an answer and coming up with an empty net.
Mike raised an eyebrow. “Wanna find out?”
Kyle frowned. Of course I do, you asshat. Why do you always do this kind of shit? Stretch everything out for dramatic effect until I’m so pissed off I don’t care anymore…
“Yeah, I guess.”
Mike paused, his hand hovering momentarily over the box before his fingertips made contact with the latch.
Kyle watched his brother’s eyes subtly widen as he opened the box, the lid obscuring his own view of what was inside of it.
Mike fished around in the box and retrieved a small jar that, even with the label peeled off and only a sticky white adhesive residue remaining, was immediately identifiable as having once contained baby food. He shook it and it rattled.
Kyle snatched it from him and unscrewed the lid. “Teeth!”
“Our baby teeth,” said Mike. “Mom used to save them.”
Kyle grimaced and screwed the lid back on. “What the hell for?”
“It’s just one of those things moms do. I think dad thought it was creepy. Probably why he convinced her to put them in this box. Tired of seeing them in the medicine cabinet next to his Barbasol and Brut every day .”
Kyle laughed. He didn’t remember much about their father and always appreciated these kinds of subtle glimpses into his personality. Neither his mother nor Kyle ever spoke much about him. “What else is in there?”
Their sister Sarah’s item was a sixth grade report card. Mike momentarily glanced at it with visible disinterest before he handed it to Kyle.
“Nothing less than an A in anything,” said Kyle. No surprises there. She was always the smart one.”
“Yeah,” said Mike, rolling his eyes. “Dad used to joke that there must’ve been some mixup at the hospital and they got someone else’s baby, some brilliant scientist or something.”
He smiled, his eyes adrift. “Our real sister was being raised by them. ‘Poor bastards’, that’s what he used to say. Then she’d ask him who he was talking about and he’d tell her it was those smart, rich people who must’ve got stuck with his real daughter. The stupid one who probably fucked up a lot. You know, like us.”
“Hey,” said Kyle, “I was a good kid too. You were the one who got in trouble for stealing tapes from Sam Goody.”
“It was one tape. Dokken. Good tape.”
“They should’ve locked you up for that alone,” said Kyle. “All that poodle-haired butt rock you used to listen to.”
“Hey, George Lynch is one of the most underrated guitarists of all time,” said Mike. “He was better than Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai put together. He still kicks ass! You just can’t appreciate good music because you were into all that grunge shit. Wearing those stupid flannel shirts and wallet chains and all that gay shit. None of those bands could even play. Kurt Cobain prolly killed himself ’cause he couldn’t play solos.”
“And you had a mullet three or four years into the new millennium,” Kyle countered. “Looks like I turned out to be the cooler one in the end. I even got the hotter wife!”
It was a low blow and he immediately regretted it. Years earlier, Mike’s ex-wife Erin had run off with a coworker she’d been fucking and he hadn’t had much luck trying to scrounge up another long-term relationship amongst the hairspray-abusing, chain smoking divorcees who frequented the dive bars he gave a large chunk of his paycheck to. Living with their mother wasn’t doing him any favors either, for that matter.
Kyle knew Mike was strongly attracted to Deb. He’d seen the way he stared at her ass when she walked away. Seen how he looked down her shirt every time she leaned down in front of him while trying to look like he wasn’t looking down her shirt.
He was jealous, and it showed. Jealous of their relationship, jealous of all the sex he probably imagined they were having… Jealous that his dorky little brother had someone special to come home to after a long day. It got under his skin and Kyle knew it. He didn’t often gloat or use that for leverage. Seemed too mean.
Even the way Mike sat there now, in stony, distant silence, failing to snap back with some witty retort…it spoke volumes.
“Your contribution,” said Mike, tossing the torso of a G.I. Joe action figure onto the table.
Kyle picked it up, felt a ripple of nostalgia wash over him.
“Whoa,” he said under his breath, examining it, turning it over in his hand, squeezing it. Vivid memories of springtime, of backyard play fueled by a vibrant and resourceful imagination, of getting smacked in the head with wet nerf balls by his obnoxious older brother and his friends became fresh in his mind as if he’d formed them just yesterday.
“Stormshadow. I remember the rubber band broke because you twisted his waist around until everything snapped apart. This was his funeral, burying him in this box. I had all my favorite G.I. Joes there with me. Snake-Eyes, Flint, Roadblock…even Cobra Commander and Destro. They all put aside their differences out of respect for Stormshadow.”
Mike stared at him. “Dude, you were such a faggot.”
Kyle hurled the torso at Mike, who effortless snatched it out of the air with his left hand. “Still are,” he said.
Kyle ignored the dig. What’d you put in there? What did dad put in there?”
Mike reached into the box. “Drum roll, please.”
“Holy shit,” said Mike. “Check this out. Garbage Pail kids!” He tossed the first of three cards across the table.
Kyle picked it up. “Vile Kyle,” he said, a grin spreading across his face at the image of a beer-swilling cabbage patch kid on a motorcycle, a glob of thick green snot dribbling out of his nose. “Lemme see the other ones.”
The next one was “Mad Mike;” it featured a sword-wielding garbage pail kid dressed just enough like Conan the Barbarian to avoid a lawsuit. Snot stretched like pizza cheese from the sword to the character’s nose.
The third one was “Sarah Slime.” It featured a little girl covered from head to toe in snot, because of course it did. Kyle wondered how on earth they’d ever managed to find these things so hysterical, even as kids..
“No wonder mom hated these.” He placed the cards neatly atop the baby food jar full of teeth. “Hey when’s the last time you talked to Sarah, anyway?”
Mike shrugged. “Two years, easy. That crazy bitch doesn’t want anything to do with me. Hell, I couldn’t even tell ya where she’s living at anymore. Or who with.” He stood up, groaning and massaging his hip and sauntered over to the fridge.
Kyle stared past him, mentally tracing the wallpaper pattern he’d long ago grown tired of staring at every morning over breakfast and trying to remember when he’d last seen his sister himself. He shook it off. Wasn’t important.
“Why do you have this, anyway? You get bored and dig it up for the hell of it?”
Mike’s head popped up from behind the open refrigerator door, his mouth entirely too full of something.
“No, schmart ash, we’re putting that pool in the backyard,” he said before pausing to chew and swallow. “Contractor found it, was sitting on the deck out back when I came home from work last night.”
“And you remembered right away what it was?”
“Yeah. Well, I mean, it took me a couple seconds, but yeah.”
“You didn’t open it right away?”
Mike looked hurt. It was an uncharacteristic look for him and didn’t suit him well, fake or not. “Of course not. I wanted us to open it together.” He closed the fridge door and returned to his seat at the table.
Kyle studied him for a moment. His big brother could be a tactless, insensitive prick, not to mention a mean-spirited practical joker and a bully, but every once in awhile he allowed a glimmer of genuine sincerity to shine through the cracks of the walls of insecurity he’d erected around himself.
“What else is in there?”
“I don’t know. It’s in a brown paper bag with a piece of twine tied around it.” His fingers crinkled the paper. “It’s soft. Squishy, almost. Feels like an old carrot.”
Kyle frowned. “Well don’t mess it up. Be careful with it.”
Mike pulled it out and placed it on the table. There it sat, motionless and unremarkable, beckoning one of them to open it.
It didn’t look old. The box had preserved it as well as it had the trading cards.
Kyle briefly experienced a fleeting, ragged-edged mental vision of his father placing the package into the box, as he, his brother, his sister and their mother watched. Sarah’s reddish-blonde hair was glistening in the sunlight, her eyes squinted partway shut. He couldn’t be sure if these were genuine memories or if his mind was just manufacturing these images after the fact. He quickly made a choice to believe the former.
“Well,” said Mike, “here goes.”
Kyle watched as Mike untied the twine and began to unwrap the crumpled brown paper. He knew it would likely contain nothing of any real importance. Still, any tidbit, no matter how small, was significant where his father was concerned. This was a puzzle piece, part of a larger picture. He leaned forward, his anticipation almost palpable.
Mike gasped and shot up out of his chair as if it were on fire, sending it skidding loudly across the kitchen floor before it fell over on its side.
“Don’t look at it,” Mike breathed. “We gotta get rid of it. Get it outta here. Holy shit. No way. No fucking way.”
Kyle rose to his feet and snatched the bag off the table. He immediately regretting doing so.
“I fucking told you not to look at it!” Screamed Mike as the bag and the horrible thing in it fell to the floor with a dull thud.
Kyle stared at it in horror, his fingertips shaking as he backed away. This thing they’d just found…he knew instantly that their lives would never be the same after this. This changed everything.
He’d heard the rumors his entire life, of course. Noticed the whispers and furtive glances from adults, endured the schoolyard taunts his mother had dismissed as lies when he’d come home in tears. But they weren’t lies. It was all true. All of it.
“Should we…what should we do? Should we call the police?” Even as he spoke he realized how idiotic a suggestion it was.
Mike shook his head. “No. No, we can’t do that. Fuck no. We have to make sure no one else ever sees this.” He paused, a flash of warning in his eyes. “Not even mom.”
Kyle nodded. “Last person I would tell,” he muttered.
“Once we get rid of this, I don’t want to talk about it ever again. Got it? Ever.”
“Well I’m not picking that up again,” said Kyle. “I can’t. You’re the one who brought the fucking thing over here.”
“Get me some salad tongs or something,” said Mike. “I’ll do it.”
Kyle rummaged through two drawers before he found the tongs. He handed them off to Mike, biting his lower lip as he watched his older brother crouch down and grasp the horrible fucking thing with a food serving utensil he knew he could never again be used for its intended purpose.
“Fuck,” said Kyle. “I have to go get new salad tongs. Deb’s gonna be pissed.”