a a r o n    b l o c k

Nothings

 

The neighbors were at it again. The Olufsen’s annual Accomplishments Exhibition started at 8:30am when the first movement of a twelve-tone symphony composed by fourteen-year-old Nolan Olufsen sounded from the PA system set-up at the bottom of the driveway and blanketed the neighborhood. The music woke me but not Lyndon, my son, who I found downstairs on the couch, eating a bowl of cereal in front of the TV and holding the invitation to the festivities he’d received a week ago. He was already dressed, in socks and shoes even, his mother’s yellow rain jacket folded next to him, which he’d brought from the closet because last night the weatherman said showers were likely in the afternoon.

I put a fried egg between two stale pieces of bread and fielded Lyndon’s questions about last year’s Exhibition, whether I remembered the potato-mashing machine Dr. Erik Olufsen built from wire and his hand-made, precisely measured gears, or the way Maddy Olufsen sang her husband’s songs while standing on the roof, wearing a costume she’d sewn herself from clothes worn by her grandparents when they emigrated to America. I lied and told him sure, I remembered all that and the year before, too. It was Rosanna, his mother, who took him every year, who was better at pretending interest in the neighbors’ projects. The invitation was delivered the day after she left. Lyndon made me read it to him three times at dinner, once more before he went to sleep; I knew I’d have to take him.

He was ready to go as soon as I’d finished my sandwich, but I made him wait by the door while I brushed my teeth and shaved, making sure to get the bristles under my bottom lip that I always miss. While I was at it, I cleaned my ears.

By the time we’d finally crossed the lawn to the exhibition, Nolan’s symphony was in its fourth movement: loud, percussive and quick, like a sadistic march. Nolan sat at a table with the score spread out before him, gesturing as he explained to Mrs. Morrison from two streets over how he selected the prime series and what the variations meant. He was blond and tall, like the rest of his family, and spoke clearly without condescension. I pretended to browse through the article about Schoenberg he’d written for context and watched Lyndon walk immediately to Maddy, who smiled and straightened the front of his rain jacket as she put one of the pale, creamy candies she’d made into his hand. He thanked her and turned to look for Dr. Olufsen’s table, his favorite because of all the hinges and gears that spun and clicked, and Dr. Olufsen’s willingness to let anyone turn the crank, or press the button, to put it all in motion.

I stopped to flirt with the oldest daughter, Ingrid, home from college this weekend just for the Exhibition, despite a fractured tibia that kept her from performing the dance she’d choreographed. She showed me pictures of last semester’s recital and tried to explain how her piece was different.

I found Lyndon again by the side of the house where Dr. Olufsen’s machines were spinning, accomplishing their simple, worthless tasks, part of a crowd gathered for the demonstration. Everyone laughed as Lyndon pushed a big red button over and over again, which somehow caused a small aluminum basin to fill with water until it tipped and the water turned the wire gear. Dr. Olufsen explained what was happening for everyone, but I couldn’t follow. In the end it just made a quarter spin on its side for as long as the button was pressed. The crowd applauded, and Dr. Olufsen thanked my son, called him “our little guest of honor,” and shook his hand.

Lyndon had a little league game at noon, so after 30 minutes at the Exhibition we had to go. Maddy and Ingrid both hugged him. Maddy insisted we take more candy, and said to let her know if we wanted a batch all to ourselves.

While Lyndon changed into his uniform I walked from the kitchen to the garage, where the storage boxes I’d bought two weeks ago for Rosanna’s clothes were still leaning against the water-heater; bicycles, a ladder, and a few rakes lined one wall, boxes of Christmas decorations another, resting on top of cans half-full of paint that hadn’t been touched for five years. I thought I might drop Lyndon at his game and come back to spend the next hour or two taking everything from the living room, kitchen, bathrooms, both of the bedrooms, and dragging it all out here to the garage, so that I could then look at it all and be proud, and show Lyndon, when he came home, exactly what we had. And if it was nothing, we’d be happy to have nothing, and be nothings, the little holes in the road your tires roll right over without a sound.

 

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AARON BLOCK teaches in the First Year Writing Department at Emerson College in Boston, where he received his MFA in Fiction.


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