Dirty Work

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"Design for a dining room" by Heinrich Vogeler
Wikimedia Commons

Eleanor’s childhood was still standing at the corner of Maple and Eighth. It had always been, seemed like it always would be. When she pulled up in her Hertz rental car, the first thing she noticed — the thing that hit her like a brick wall — was the dullness of it all. It was still a nice house on a nice lot, but the paint was chipping away and wet leaves stuck themselves to the walkway. The disrepair, Eleanor supposed, had started when her mother had died, which, come to think of it, was the last time she’d been here.

But now she was back. Her father was gone too and the task of sorting through ninety years of accumulated stuff had fallen to her.

Eleanor got out of the car.

Her childhood memories were all in vivid technicolor—memories of laughing, birthday cakes, Halloween candy, Christmas presents, and summer nights. The dullness continued inside, in the musty rooms and the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.

Eleanor started in the dining room, yanking out items from the side table drawers, dinner invitations and Christmas cards.

In the top right drawer, the one with the brass handle that always got stuck, were Eleanor’s father’s medals, staring up at her like long-lost faces. When she was little she’d pin them on her sweater and march around. When she was older, she’d ask her father how he’d gotten them. Her mother always silenced both of them with a glare. The look on her father’s face everytime it was brought up told Eleanor that it was about the war. It was the sole point of contention in her childhood. One day, when her mother was out, Eleanor tried again.

“Daddy,” she said, “how’d you get those medals?”

He looked at her in resignation and she knew she’d gotten him this time; that he would tell her. Eleanor’s father sighed. “During the war…” he said. “Someone had to do the dirty work.”

Eleanor looked at the medals, remembered the pain in her father’s face when he told her and, with enough force to ensure the drawer wouldn’t catch, pushed it back in.

Elliote Muir is a freshman at Boulder High School and a member of Boulder Writing Studio.