I CAN LIFT ANY HEAVY BOX • by Dale Alexander

In my memory, my dad and I stand in the detached garage of that old farmhouse, the faded green one at the end of the long lane that runs past Woods Camp and the football field. The door is open, and the inside smells like last year’s leaves and forgotten car parts. Dad is puttering with tools while I explore. We moved in a week ago.

“I can lift any heavy box,” I declare, flush with six-year-old bravado. Then I prove it, hefting some issues of Good Housekeeping stacked inside ancient cardboard. I set them on the old workbench, then he squats to my level.

“Nice job. You’re getting so strong,” he says, then lifts me and carries me into the house for lunch.

That night, he calls to me from across the house, so I walk away from Dukes of Hazzard on channel 3. I find him in the big wingback chair, the one with the threadbare flower-print upholstery and stuffing popping out. He is staring at mom’s obituary clipping. His drink is almost gone.

“I need you to do something important for me,” he says slowly. “In the glovebox of the car, there’s a pack of cigarettes.” He lifts his eyes to me. “I need you to go throw them out. Get rid of them for good.”

I remember watching them both smoke, and how they quit just before Mom went into the hospital.

“Okay,” I say, nodding quickly. I run outside to our yellow Volkswagen Squareback. It’s unlocked and the glovebox opens to reveal a hard pack of Marlboros among registration slips and crumpled fast food napkins. The box slides out and falls to the floorboard.

I don’t want to touch it, but I need to be strong. I see my mom’s hands holding the same kind of box, smell the smoke on her clothes.

I lift it, shut my eyes, and throw it into the woods. I count to ten then open my eyes: gone for good.

I run back inside the house to my dad in the old wingback chair.

“I’m sorry,” he says to me. Then again, “I’m sorry.” He leans forward and lifts me into his chair with him, knocking his drink to the floor, and I throw my arms around him.

Dale Alexander is a freelance writer from Southeast Wisconsin.

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