Congratulations, Graphospasm for an excellent entry. Thanks to everyone who entered and everyone who voted. This thread will remain sticky until the next winner is announced (not counting the planned runnoff contest). The new theme will be "descant" courtesy of Graphospasm. "Inheritance" [~1545 words] He had jigsaw puzzles, at least a dozen, stacked on the body of an upright piano. Atop the keys lay a vast collection of chopsticks—and not the kind you play at your first childhood piano lesson. Bryant wasn’t sure why his father had been collecting flatware from the (he checked the label to be sure of the hyphen placement) Hunan Wok-Palace, but he was well-stocked in the event of a lo mein emergency. Richard entered the living room with a bulging trash bag in each fist. “Does that thing even play?” Bryant shrugged. “You know Dad never learned.” “Yeah,” said Richard. “That’s right. He bought it for Mom.” Bryant took the bags from Richard with a quick smile, not meeting his brother’s eyes. Richard turned back into the bowels of the house as Bryant passed the piano and moved into the kitchen. The screen door to the back yard opened under the guiding nudge of his hip. Dad hadn’t mowed for months. Ragweed had taken over most of the acre-and-change field. If Bryant squinted he could see points of brilliant white amid the tangled green, flowering heads of wild onion peaking through roughage like lights. The driveway ran beside the house, a gravel snake winding long through the front field toward the gate guarding the old highway. Blue trashcans, dusty with disuse, sat under the edge of the tin carport. The twin barrels were full of bags; around them lay more stacked bags and boxes of old papers, receipts, empty cans and bottles, mismatched shoes, tin forks with bent tines, grungy teddy bears with gushing stuffing, wooden apples and pears, and a tangle of old piano wires. Bryant wondered when they’d be finished going through their father’s things. They had been there for two days already, although the first day had been spent more with beers than with cleaning supplies. Bryant’s shoes dug into his heels. They were new; why he hadn’t elected for an older and more comfortable pair of tennis shoes was anyone’s guess, especially when he knew what he was getting into. He hadn’t visited Dad since his sophomore year of college, but he had seen the hoarding even at that infant stage and been appalled. Coming home to clean out the house shouldn’t have caught him so off guard. The house was small, but it was comfortable. A parlor, a living room, and a kitchen ran connected via a series of open doorways, spacious and breezy. The two bedrooms and shared bath branched off the kitchen through another archway, passage halfway concealed by hulking refrigerator and mounds of stacked refuse. Their father had collected everything after their mother’s death. Their childhood room looked like a battlefield. Bryant went inside and found his brother leafing through some of the sheet music on the piano. The little lip of wood above the keys held a single book of scores. The book almost looked deliberately placed, but Bryant had no idea of knowing if that was the case. “I didn’t know Dad liked hymns,” Richard said, flipping the book shut. “It’s all church music.” Bryant paused in the doorway, unsure of what to say. Eventually he settled on: “That was probably Mom’s.” Richard paused. He ran his hand over his face, features pulling downward. His eyes looked into a place that wasn’t close. Said Bryant: “She started going to church after the diagnosis.” “Oh,” said Richard. “That makes sense.” The rest of the day passed in relative silence. Bryant and Richard slowly cleaned out the house, separating garbage and the things their father collected from the true mementos of their childhoods. Photo albums, their mother’s jewelry box, and their father’s clothing they packed up in careful boxes marked clearly with “KEEP” in red ink. On the third day they grew too tired to look through everything individually. Anything that didn’t immediately stand out as “KEEP” they discarded, making trip after trip to the dump with bags and boxes in tow. Twice they found skeletons of snakes hidden cupboards, and once when Bryant opened a box he was greeted by a swarm of roaches and a comb of their white eggs. When the house finally seemed clean (when they could see the floors and walls, grimy and covered in the chitinous shells of dead insects as they were) they gathered up the things they valued and laid them on the parlor floor. The parlor suffered the least of all the rooms. The bedrooms had been stacked to the ceiling but the couch in the parlor was almost clean. Their father had been sleeping there. They sat cross-legged on the ground. Of all the things their father had kept, it was the receipts and legal papers he’d kept in order. Box after box they’d found in the pantry, full to bursting with files and creeping silverfish. His will had to be in there somewhere. “I know he left the house to us,” Bryant said, tired of the silence of three day’s work. “I know he did.” Richard set aside the folder he’d been holding. “Left it to you, maybe.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Bryant asked. Richard scratched at his neck. A rope of silver showed itself; Bryant heard the jingling of dogtags in the silence. “I wasn’t exactly there when she died.” Bryant set aside his own folder, full of receipts from the Hunan Wok-Palace. “She didn’t resent you not coming home,” Bryant said. “It was Afghanistan. She—” “Dad sure as hell resented me,” said Richard. “Who didn’t he resent?” “You.” Bryant said nothing, but he remembered much. He remembered sitting with his mother at the old upright piano, playing scales as she issued approval and correction in equal measure—and he remembered his father telling him to go back to him room to study. The house had been clean, then. It hadn’t filled up with receipts and snake eggs until his junior year of high school, when Richard turned eighteen and left for the Marines and their mother sickened in one fell swoop. “He may not have resented me,” Bryant said, “but I sure as hell resented him.” Richard paused over his documents. His short-cropped hair glistened grey under dim lights. He might have been just past thirty but he looked older. “I wanted to be a pianist, you know,” said Bryant. “I didn’t,” said Richard. “I thought you always wanted to be a doctor.” But Bryant shook his head. “No.” “What changed?” “Everything.” Bryant set aside one box in favor of another. “You left, Mom died, and suddenly Dad hated me playing music. So I put it away and I focused on school.” He shrugged. “Mom and I were always close. When she died I guess I just wanted to please the parent I had left. But then nothing I ever did was good enough… that old thing. You know what I mean.” “When was the last time you visited?” The question caught Bryant off guard. Richard was looking at him with eyes the color of steel. “Because the last time I visited,” said Richard, “was the day I told Dad I was leaving.” Bryant knew that already. Dad had wanted Richard to be a doctor, too, but Richard had rebelled—the military called. Mom had passed before Richard ever got time off, but he’d made pains to see Bryant around the holidays. They hadn’t discussed seeing their father. Bryant said: “I never came home, either.” They went back to looking through boxes. Their father’s will failed to present itself. Eventually Bryant’s stomach growled. He reached into a piled of discarded papers and pulled one free. “Fancy Chinese?” he asked, waving the menu of the Hunan Wok-Palace. Richard agreed and ordered their food over the phone, shouting over the tinny country connection. Bryant went out to his car and pulled out an ice chest. He’d filled it full of good ale the night before, brown bottles glistening in a nest of freeze. The brothers cracked open their drinks and sat, waiting on their food as they rifled still through papers. “Look at this,” said Richard. He shoved a box at Bryant, who looked inside and scowled. In it lay a collection of sheet music, torn at the edges but more or less intact. Bryant pushed the box away and shook his head. “He must have kept it because of Mom,” he said. “He didn’t want me playing.” “That why you never spoke to him after you left home?” Bryant swallowed. Richard’s steely eyes were back. “I didn’t come home,” said Richard, “because he always wanted me to be something I’m not.” It took Bryant a moment to reply. When he did he said: “Same here.” He looked back down at the music, lifting a sheet off the top with nimble fingers. They had been pianist’s fingers, once, all lean and covered in callous—but now they held the calluses of a scalpel, weeks spent in the surgery theater at his father’s grieved behest. The scare was called “Moonlight Sonata.” He had played it once, many years before, when the notes made sense and his mother said the sound was beautiful—but now, after his father had steered him elsewhere, the notes looked like nothing more than clutter on a page.