Over the course of the pandemic, Carl had lost both his mother and his father. He’d donated most of their clothes and any other items he could to charity, and had thrown out things that he could not give away. Still, there were a good number of boxes in the attic.
Why he’d not been able to part with his mother’s collection of animal figurines, or her dollhouse furniture, he wasn’t quite sure. He’d not wanted to display them, but he also couldn’t see donating them. No, he wanted them up here in boxes. For what? He wasn’t sure.
His father’s collection of fishing gear, an extensive collection of reels, and an even larger number of lures had also found their way up here.
Carl surveyed the scene. Maybe two dozen boxes. How hard could this be?
He’d always been like this. Whether it was his phone, his watch, his wallet, or his keys, when he lost them, he would always start with the most obvious places. Failing to find them there, he’d begin to branch out, opening drawers he was pretty sure he hadn’t opened in a long time, looking in rooms of the house he no longer visited.
It was some kind of odd compulsion. Not once had these searches preordained to doom panned out. Eventually, he’d found his keys in the front door lock, or his wallet in the laundry basket or the washing machine. Understandable locations all. Always. Still, creature of habit that he was, Carl always carried out the searches that would inevitably amount to nothing.
This, however, was a slightly different situation. Carl wasn’t looking for an everyday use type of item. The last time he’d needed his passport had been for the summer Olympics in Tokyo, four years earlier. Even though there had been no audience, he, as a member of the press, had been allowed access to the events. He’d covered water sports, primarily diving and synchronized swimming. It had been odd, sitting there with no audience noise except coaches and other competitors, as well as enthusiastic fellow journalists who’d occasionally shout out, not being able to control their fervor.
Now, with the Paris games a few weeks away, he felt safe flying again, and he’d been assigned by the network to cover aquatic events once more. So where was his passport?
He wondered why he hadn’t taken the time to label the boxes. But would that actually have helped? Regardless, he’d still have gone into each one. Common sense, of course, told him this was a ridiculous hunt, but his old compulsion told him he’d better get cracking.
Starting at one end, he cut through the tape of the first box. Opening the flaps, he could see he was looking at dollhouse furniture. Did he really have to go through the entire contents? Of course he did.
By the time he’d opened and rummaged through each box, it was after midnight. Nothing.
Carl sat sweaty and bleary-eyed at the top of the attic stairs. As he stared off into space, his gaze gradually wandered to a collection of items in another corner of the attic. His heart rate picked up. Of course. If only he’d stood back to get the bigger picture up here before launching into a search of those boxes containing his parents’ possessions.
There were several suitcases piled in the corner, but only one was his, and it was the one he’d used on that trip to Japan in 2020. He’d bought a new suitcase just the other day on a whim, so he’d not really thought about his old one at all.
Laughing out loud and clapping his hands together in gleeful anticipation of finding his passport, he unzipped and laid open the bag. What Carl saw first, made him cringe a bit with guilt. In was a clear plastic bag containing a medal. It was a bronze medal for some archery event.
Carl’s momentary tinge of guilt was replaced by a wistful smile. When the closing ceremony was over, and all the athletes had congregated for their last meal together in the enormous cafeteria halls, Carl had packed his bag and departed the press compound. On his way to the taxi area, he’d found the medal lying there on a dark walkway. Without thinking about it at all, he’d picked up the medal and popped it into his suitcase.
Winging his way over the Pacific, he’d wondered about that athlete’s reaction to the missing medal. Would there be that same kind of doubt he himself always had? Would the athlete search the likely places first, then the less and less so?
Once he’d come home, not knowing what to do with the medal exactly, Carl had decided to leave it in the suitcase. Once he’d figured a better place to keep it, he would move it. But he’d forgotten about it.
He searched all the pockets of the suitcase. Nothing. Just the medal in the plastic bag. Carl wondered what his parents would think about this. Should he have returned the medal?
When he was eleven, Carl and his parents had stayed in a cabin up at Kōke’e on Kaua’i. The cabin was part of a group of cabins, and there was a common bathroom area. After taking a shower one morning, Carl had gone to the sink area to brush his teeth, and there had been a watch on the counter. Without hesitation, Carl had picked up the watch and walked out of the bathroom.
Carl had been very careful not to let his parents see the watch. When he would arrive at school in the morning, he’d put it on to show off to all his friends, but when he was picked up after school, he would take off the watch and hide it in his pocket.
One day he forgot to take it off. His father had looked over from the driver’s seat and noticed the watch. “Where’d you get that?” his dad had demanded.
Carl told him how he’d found it. His father had been angry. “You should have said something right then,” he’d said. “We could have turned it in to the office in case someone was looking for it.”
Carl didn’t say anything. That, specifically, was why he hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t wanted to turn over the watch to the office up at the campground. He wondered what had ever happened to that watch. It was as if once his parents knew about it, he’d lost track of it.
Carl tried to read the specific archery event and the athlete’s name through the plastic bag, but couldn’t. Oh well, his parents weren’t here to think anything about this at all. Leaving the medal for some other time, he zipped up the suitcase.
So now where was his passport? Sitting there at the top of the attic stairs, Carl thought about the bronze medal. If he’d been looking for it rather than his passport, he wondered if he’d have remembered that he left it in his suitcase? He thought his mom and dad would have laughed about that.
Well, better start all over again. Carl headed downstairs to his office. The first time around, he’d begun his search at his desk, what was his father’s old desk. He sat down in the chair and opened the top drawer, sighing as he began the search again.