I stand corrected. Just a week ago, I wrote about how my father had kept an empty tin can with pictures stuck on it as either an act of sentimental parental devotion or administrative oversight. It was, so I claimed, proof that my father had never given up hope that I might one day produce an even greater piece of art. Or, alternatively, that he really liked ‘Ponch’ from CHiPs. Either way, I was touched that he’d kept it all these years. But that was a week ago and, frankly, a lot can change in a week. It was shortly after the story was published that I received a phone call – from my father.
I began by wishing him a happy Father’s Day. He began by telling me that he no longer had the tin can pencil holder. His account from that point on became ever less reliable. He initially suggested that the tin can pencil holder could well be a figment of my imagination. This was difficult to hear. Not only was the tin can pencil holder a cherished childhood memory, it has formed the backbone of my curriculum vitae for the past thirty years and it now seems that every job I’ve held in that period was under false pretences.
Before there was a chance to get to the bottom of whether or not the object had ever existed or was the product over an over-stimulated imagination in what can only be described as a stationery-based fever-dream, my father changed tack. He then speculated that the item hadn’t held a place on his desk for at least twenty years. Granted, it’s fair to say that during this pandemic time has lost all meaning and the term itself may be removed from the dictionary as a result, but I recalled seeing it just last Christmas. It was then that our conversation took a truly dark and startling turn.
He suggested my brother had taken it. Typical! Granted, it’s hard to fathom a motive. Or, at least, a motive beyond wanting an empty tin can with a picture of Eric Estrada glued onto it. But it’s the sheer, breath-taking improbability of the thing that, in many ways, makes it the perfect crime. No one’s going to suspect you of stealing something that is so obviously without any tangible value whatsoever, to say nothing of the fact that it’s also devoid of artistic merit.
Naturally, I later put this accusation to my brother who denied it. Perhaps he denied it a little too strongly. But, despite my reservations I was ultimately prepared to accept that he had no need for a place to put his pencils as all his work was done on a laptop. Sure, it stung a little to hear that something you created is no longer considered useful, but he made a compelling point. An uneasy peace arose between us as I made a mental note to monitor ‘Gumtree’ for the next few weeks in the event he tried and offload his ill-gotten gain.
My father then said something that sent a chill racing through my veins. ‘Perhaps it’s in the shed’. Without fear of overstatement, everything that ever existed is in my father’s shed. Jimmy Hoffa is in the shed (behind the wooden water-skis, probably). Lost civilizations, too, wondering how to get past the large wooden dresser that’s been sitting their for decades. Whatever you’ve lost; be it a pair of shoes, a watch or your youth, chances are you’d find it in my father’s shed. Being sent to the shed is not so much about a change in location as it is a destiny.
Obviously, for something to be transported from the house to the shed requires an active decision on the part of my father. A decision he’d not seen the need to take over previous decades. It posed the question – what else had my father decided to send to the shed during lockdown? There’s a banner that hangs just outside his study. It says ‘We Love Our Dad’ and there’s a computer-generated image of myself and my siblings. Because this was done in the mid-eighties, it looks as though our faces have been deliberately blurred out, like we’re whistleblowers appearing on television.
I have distinct memories of one of my brothers looking as though he had no eyebrows at all and that these were added later with a grey lead pencil. Given that time has not been kind to it, has it too been sent to the shed? I don’t want to panic, but I fear for the safety of my football trophies. They’re so amazingly small that they’d be completely swallowed up by the shed, never to be seen again. That said, if he’s relocated the photos of us as kids where we were all dressed the same as though we were members of a cult, that wouldn’t be so bad.
Only my father would use a winter of discontent for spring-cleaning. When the day finally comes and I can get back to Tyabb, who knows what I’ll find. Or not find, as the case may be. All I know is that when I stick my head in to my father’s study, I won’t see Eric Estrada’s smiling face.
Then again, perhaps it’s all just a ruse and he knows exactly where the tin can pencil holder is. There’s only one way to find out. When I finally get around to shopping for my father, I will buy him dozens and dozens of pencils. Either the tin can pencil holder will magically appear or there will be complete pencil mayhem. It may seem petty, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. And I have plenty of pencils with which to draw it.