He came back from the war with a little bit of money and the helmet of a man he had killed with a knife in a burnt-out house and opened a small shop crafting fine reproductions of antique furniture. He was a competent craftsman but a better overseer and his business grew quickly once he replaced himself with several young woodworkers. He had always been fond of horses and wore his riding boots when striding the aisles of his factory, for it quickly became a small factory, and when he found a wife he bought her a big spotted gray mare with an oversized rump as a wedding gift, though she didn’t care for horses, their smell or expense or the sounds they made. She preferred cats and collected as many as six or seven at a time, rare breeds with long pale hair and malformed faces and bad temperaments, and she traveled to nearby cities and towns in the big black sedan he bought for her to display them, sometimes returning with purple or yellow or green satin ribbons that she hung on the walls of the guest house where the cats lived, for he would not allow them in the main house where he and his wife resided.
He had appointed their house himself before they met and counted it among the factors contributing to her agreement to his proposal. It was done in a fine colonial revival style and furnished entirely with the products of his factory. Painstakingly had he sourced the wallpaper that most closely imitated the hand-painted wall coverings of the pilgrims’ homes, had driven half the day to reach the Amish woman who would weave his curtains. On the walls he hung small decorative brooms of stiff grasses tied by hand, copper kitchen accoutrements not used for cooking, and several tasteful landscape paintings. In the evenings he and his wife would sit by the hearth in a pair of smooth oak rocking chairs and watch the light darken through his collection of antique bottles filling the westward windows.
In addition to the show cats and the gray mare, many other animals came and went, dogs and parakeets and stray cats and different horses, some dying while in residence there, others living out their days elsewhere, and they had several children as well. After the children were gone his wife became ill and when she could no longer have intercourse with him she found a kind woman who was willing to do it for her. After his wife died he continued to have intercourse with the kind woman until she also died, and then he spent most of his time alone until his son appeared on his doorstep one day carrying a dirty cloth sack with his belongings in it, his face thin and tired and old, and asked to be let in for supper.
The man had learned to cook as a soldier and could do several dishes serviceably. He broke some eggs in a pan and tended them while his son sat at the table looking at his hands. It was strange to have an old man for a son. He did not like to look at his son’s face.
He put his son in what had once been the boy’s bedroom but now was crowded with the contents of the man’s office from the factory, his big desk and files and drawings and numerous dainty models of chairs and chifferobes. The taste for his product had gone sour in the public’s mouth long ago. What they wanted now was the look of wood but not the price. They wanted to pitch everything to the curb for new every few years. He had constructed a large steel-sided building at the south corner of his property and filled it with the inventory that remained, stacking the pieces atop one another until they reached the ceiling, and to take the air in the afternoons he would walk there, crossing his lawn and the long pasture where the horses had grazed, and undo the heavy padlock and peer inside.
The building was windowless, unelectrified, the silence inside with a watchful character. After a moment the pile, dense and hulking, would emerge from the surrounding dark. It had taken many days to put up. Men—his men—scrambling up and down, shouting and sweating, the uppermost pieces threatening to tip the whole. There a leg, there an arm. Empty seats, empty chests. A generic and bloodless tangle. The smell of it all would drift up to him, cool and dry and bottled. Without the smell there were many things he forgot.
Kathryn Scanlan‘s work has appeared in NOON, The Iowa Review, Caketrain, and Pastelegram, and she received a scholarship to attend the 2013 Tin House Summer Workshop. She lives in Los Angeles and is the nonfiction editor of MAKE Magazine.