The day the package was supposed to arrive, Konya Lenox was sitting cross-legged on the living room rug, folding laundry for what may have been the first time in his life. Usually he just stuffed them into his suitcase, but today, he knew he needed as many distractions as he could get.
So far, music hadn’t helped. His focus was shot and, try as he might, he couldn’t even follow the new Hell’s Paradise episode without his eyes drifting to the window. And the military podcast he normally relied on was too close to home to listen to right then, not with his mother’s effects arriving sometime that day.
That’s what the Air Force called them. Effects.
Not belongings or property. Those were too emotional, attached. As with anything in the military, it needed distance and dehumanization.
So, he listened to his friend react to the new episode and… folded laundry.
“Wait what? He just died?!”
“You’re kidding.” Konya wasn’t sure if his voice could be more flat, but it sure didn’t deter the excited rage coming from his phone’s speaker.
“But he had plot armor. He was supposed to have plot armor!”
All Konya had asked from Reno was for him to fill up his house with some kind of noise, something to keep his mind from wandering to places he didn’t want to go, which his friend did without question.
He never had any interest in folding laundry before and, judging by the rumpled piles on the couch beside him, he certainly wasn’t doing a good job. But it was movement with his hands. It was mindless. Not to mention, one less thing for Meriden to grump at him about when she got home from her new design studio.
“Is this show too intense right now?” Reno asked.
“It’s a little late to ask that.”
“Huh? There’s still– Oh, there’s only four minutes left? That was quick.”
At least it was quick for someone. Konya pushed the petty thought down and reached for the next towel. “Don’t worry about it,” he said instead.
There were only a few more towels in the basket. Soon he was going to be out of anime and out of chores. What else was he supposed to do? For a whole day, no less? Because it was only—he tapped his phone—10:03 a.m. He groaned.
“Dude, are you sure you’re okay? You’ve been tense all morning.”
“I’m fine,” he said. Another towel down. Two more to go. “I just wish they gave me something more specific than sometime between 5 a.m. and midnight. They’re just as bad as Amazon.”
“I’m sorry, that’s probably the most insensitive thing you’ve said all day.”
Konya didn’t respond, grabbing the last towel out of the basket. The Hell’s Paradise ending theme played through the phone’s speaker for only a couple seconds before Reno paused it. The silence grew in the room long enough for him to finish, lift the folded stack into his arms, and make his way to the bathroom where he stuffed them into the green, antique locker beside the sink.
Their house was a small one. It was big enough to be cozy and private with two people, but fitting three would only make one feel claustrophobic. The walls were old and thin. He was always able to hear Mom and Meriden talking in bed at night. When they were both here, anyway. His mother was often gone for weeks at a time, and in those cases, all he’d hear was Meriden’s favorite comedy show.
“Did you walk away from me?”
Reno’s voice snapped him out of it. He closed the locker door, and made his way back, kneeling down onto the carpet with his back to the wood stove.
“I’m back now.”
“Okay, good. I was just saying—”
Konya froze, ears straining to pick up what it was. Was that a car door? Then there was another slam, and he could almost hear the sound of boots against grass. “Hold up,” he told Reno. He stood back up, phone clenched in a hand, and peeked through the blinds.
It wasn’t a chaplain this time, just a burly mail woman with a USPS hatchback. When he was told they were sending his mother’s belongings, he didn’t imagine it’d be so informal. He thought that would make him relax, but seeing the stamps along the box and the orange sticker labeling it as hazardous only made him more intimidated.
“Is it here?”
“Yeah. I’ll be right back.”
“Should I hang up?”
The woman knocked on the door.
“No, please don’t leave me alone while I go through this.” He tucked his phone into his back pocket, took a deep breath to relax his nerves, and opened the front door.
“Good morning.” Her voice had the sandpaper sound of a smoker’s, but her tone was light and polite. She held out a stylus and a small device. “Can you sign this for me?”
He nodded. His signature was smoother than it should have been, and he quickly exchanged the stylus with the package, said goodbye, and kicked the door closed behind him.
It wasn’t very heavy. That didn’t surprise him. His mother had always traveled light.
Konya set it on the coffee table and… stared at it.
“What do I do?”
“Open it?” came Reno’s immediate response.
He sat on the couch, placing Reno beside him on the cushion. He was ever aware of how small the house was in that moment. The walls felt close, like he could touch them if he lifted his arms or breathed in too deep.
His eyes drew to the orange label.
When they asked him if he had wanted her effects cleaned, he had said yes, even though he knew it’d make processing take a little longer. It made him wonder what was still so hazardous about the box that they put a sticker on it.
And he hesitated. And hesitated. He had been waiting so long for these, but almost, it felt wrong to open it. He looked up. Beside the wood stove was the urn with her ashes in it. Meriden had made it. It had a subtle design of hummingbirds and flowers atop a light gray surface.
For a moment, Konya wondered if he should wait for her.
Meriden was working, after all. She said she couldn’t function knowing her wife was somewhere in the room with her. So, she rented a downtown studio with a ten-minute walk from Lake Michigan. It was a place where she could work on her commissions in peace.
She should’ve been here today, he thought. If she really wanted to have this moment with him, she would’ve stayed home.
He dropped his gaze back to the box. Then, he grabbed the scissors from inside the coffee table drawer and carefully cut along the tape.
The first thing in the box was an invoice. It rattled off her belongings like a true delivery order.
The remains of her uniform, pressed and sealed in a plastic bag; some photos, trinkets, and medals wrapped in bubble wrap; the Petoskey stone necklace he got for her one time on Mother’s day; two hats, some articles of clothing; and, finally, a leather-bound journal with bits of paper sticking out from the binding.
He pulled them out, one at a time like a surgeon laying out his tools, and positioned them along the coffee table. They had a sterile scent to them, like they had been shipped from the basement of a hospital. Or something. He knew there was an official Air Force effects processing depot that they came from, but all he could think of was hospital smell.
He wondered if the personnel there needed that to ground them. What kind of brutal job would it be to photograph, clean, and sort the property of dead people, knowing that each and every item held memories they couldn’t even fathom?
Seeing everything laid in front of him, Konya realized why the military had to call them effects.