Spit Shine

 That flimsy metal cabinet with its faded yellow paint, stood up there in the bathroom.  His bathroom.  It held all kinds of things, hidden away from view, things I’d never seen before.  The door stuck and when you’d pull hard, it nearly toppled over.  The linoleum was cool under my bare feet the morning I went in after my father had left for work.  The mirror still steamed over, Old Spice hung in the air.  My mother had said I could take a bath in his tub today, the big one, with the legs.  You could fill it up so deep that you could get in clear up to your neck.  She left a fluffy white towel over the edge for me, the little electric heater glowing in the corner.  Don’t touch the heater while you’re wet she’d always say.  I’m glad I never found out why.

While water gushed into the big, heavy tub, I stood on the edge and opened the cabinet.  It rocked a little, and inside, I could hear things – bottles and cans clinking together.  From up there I could see onto the very top shelf.  I’d never seen way up there before.  His special bottle of aftershave was there, the one that smelled like spruce trees. He wore it only at Christmastime.  And there, wrapped in a white handkerchief was my dolly’s arm.  The day it had been torn off, he’d wiped my tears away with a white hanky and said he’d rush her straight to the doll hospital and that they’d stitch her up in no time.  Way back in the corner was a little wrinkled photograph.  At first, I thought it was my mother, but when I leaned in close, I saw it was another lady.  She was very pretty, I though, in her riding habit.  And, yes, that was my Daddy standing beside her, holding the reins.  He was smiling.  I never saw him look that happy in photos with my mother – ever.  I remember stories of Australia during the war, and vaguely recall her name as Nancy.  There were horses in the story, too, – Barney and Bill.  In fact, his little Australian show saddle sits quietly in a corner of my living room today, its smooth brown leather and brass conches holding onto secrets of long ago. 

There were letters, too.  All the letters to Santa I’d mailed right up there behind bottles of brown Kiwi shoe polish.  The only address, printed neatly in purple Crayon:  Santa Claus, North Pole.  I’d always gotten every last thing on all my lists.

Oh, the way he’d polish our shoes in that bathroom – always with the door shut.  And leave them sitting in the hall, smartly paired together, gleaming with so much more luster than we could ever achieve.  He’d always put a shiny new dime in the slot of our penny-loafers.  We thought he must have a secret, some special polish; he’d never let on.  Now, as I dash a few drops of water from the faucet onto my own son’s boots and buff it into the leather with the same soft, wood-handled brush he’d used, I can hear the water trickling oh, so faintly, into the basin behind that closed door.

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