Toolbox by J. Link

This garage is my world. Even in the dark, my nine-year-old mind knows where everything lives.

That large metal fire-engine-red box on wheels, covered in grime demands my attention. It smells of grease, oil, and hydraulic fluid; it reminds me of a time when affection was felt and shown inside the house without prompt or expectation. The bottom two drawers are the deepest. Inside are questions to my past and answers to my future.

When I tug on the handle, emotions tumble round and round, flashing unrecognizable pictures like a slot machine. My eyes lock on a small, tan, wooden box that separates in the middle. The two halves fit perfectly around several eight-sided metal drill-bit-length pieces. The tip of each bit has a raised number, letter, or symbol. Even though I’ve never had cause to use them, they call to me. I pick one up, admire its powerful weight. Its touch is solidly calming and cool. Then I spot an old metal-handled rubber mallet. The business end is well used. A slice of rubber is missing. Its shape is a slice of pecan pie.

What’s that? The thud of my stepdad’s footsteps on carpet. Then a bare-footed slap as he reaches the tile. He’s in the laundry room and only one step from the heavy door leading to me. My breathing stills, allowing my ears full clarity. It’s expensive to run the washer during peak hours so I know my stepdad is going to grab a Bud rather than toss in a load of whites.

The garage door handle creaks as it turns. Does he know where I am? My heart quickens. The laundry room light floods the garage, chasing off the comforting dark shapes.

There are only a few places I find best with the lights off. The forest, a haunted house, and this garage. I tell myself I keep the light off so I don’t see the spiderwebs. But it’s really because the garage feels safer than my bedroom. The garage doesn’t lie to me. The tools in here are older than me and know their purpose.

My stepdad’s voice booms. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for a flat-head.” Great. Another lie. I am usually so deep in my head that when someone talks to me, I switch to generic mode to seem normal.

Damn! It’s taking him a long time to answer. Does he suspect something? Yeah, that I’m too stupid to turn the light on.

“Try the middle top.” He leaves without flipping the light switch on. The heavy door closes with a thud that echoes through my jumbled thoughts, scattering them like fire ants when I poke their nest with a stick.

I’m left alone in the dark. Alone but not alone. He left me alone in the dark with a thought. He didn’t want to see more of the lies I carry around like clothing.

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