a short story by Jerry Zinn
“Hold on, hold on. I have the code in this Ziploc bag. Just chill the hell out, Phillip.”
“Well? What is it?”
“All right, well that didn’t work.”
“Oh, and then hit star.”
“Say the whole thing again. I forgot all of it.”
“Jimmy… that’s different than what you said before, but whatever.”
“No it’s the same!”
“Fine. That worked. We’re in,” Phillip declared, prying open the metal door.
The airline hanger of storage units was dark. Only the sliver of light from the open door provided insight. Around the corner was a timer. Jimmy twisted it to an hour, and, with a loud click, floods powered on in a neat row. A neon buzz followed the brothers as they walked down the long corridor with its icy concrete floor.
“Should we get one of those push carts? The flat bed things?”
“Honestly I don’t think we’re gonna take much with us,” Jimmy replied.
“What’s the number? This place looks like a hotel. Some kind of weird, futuristic hotel. I feel like if you rolled some of these up you’d see aliens or twelve-eyed monsters.”
“We’ll get right on that. It’s… uh… what number does this look like? Dad’s handwriting is complete garbage.”
“Weren’t you here before with him loading stuff?” Phillip asked.
“That was like five years ago! You expect me to remember which of these identical doors is ours?”
“That’s a seven. So, unit 374. Should be down this alley. Even’s are on the… no I guess not. There’s literally no rhyme or reason to this.”
“Well it is in number order. So there’s that,” observed Jimmy helpfully.
374 was easy for the brothers to find it, once they located 373 and 375. The door was orange, thin, and corrugated. Once the plastic-capped key was turned three quarters counter clockwise, the whole locking mechanism popped out. With a tug, Phillip sent the barrier rolling up into the doorframe, and the two were faced with an arsenal of boxes and shelves that overwhelmed them with a distinctive odor.
Jimmy sniffed. “Basement.”
“What is it though? I could never pin it down.”
Phillip considered. “I want to say wet dust and like three… day… old chocolate chip cookies?”
“That is excruciatingly specific, but also accurate.”
Faced with floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall offerings, Jimmy and Phillip stood with arms folded and eyes blank. Phillip was four or five inches taller than his older brother, a recent development that altered the power dynamics. Jimmy’s subconscious response was to act more like a domineering older brother.
“I bet most of this junk is yours,” Jimmy declared.
“Based on what? You’re older.”
“Yeah but you have a ton of crap. Your stuff’s always thrown everywhere.”
“Uh, huh. Forgot you were Martha fricking Stewart, placing your socks on the floor ‘just-so.’”
“Mhm,” Jimmy scoffed.
“Where do we start?”
“Hit the lights. Then maybe we just go left to right? Dad said we need to have the stuff we want out by next week. Maybe today we just do recon?”
Under the brightness of the cans, lesser boxes previously disguised appeared, and dark containers were no longer empty spaces.
“Throw it all away as far as I’m concerned,” said Jimmy, cracking his neck apathetically.
“But there is some good stuff in here. We can’t just get rid of it all. Our childhoods are in this unit. Probably don’t remember ninety-percent of what’s in here.”
“Exactly. So throw it away before we learn what we’ve got. It’s the easiest, quickest way to do this. Can’t miss what you don’t know you don’t have.”
Phillip was already deep into the weeds, his legs guarded below the hip behind banker’s boxes. “That’s a depressing attitude, Jimmy. Like look at this! Remember when you won this at the Karate championship? This trophy is sick!” Phillip hoisted the gold statue up as though he’d just been given the prize.
“Middle school trophies don’t get you laid once you get to college. Maybe in high school they still work.”
“Don’t be such a downer. So you don’t want the trophy? Fine. But there’s gotta be things in here of yours that you want to keep. Might even be some stuff worth selling, you know? Some finds we can post on eBay and throw a rager with the profits.”
“Sounds like a pipe dream. Most of this is worthless.”
“Why don’t you look there, and I’ll move to the back, then we can get everything without stepping on each other,” Phillip suggested, brushing aside the negativity. He noticed their relationship changed once he outgrew Jimmy, so Phillip was still at a point where slack was the preferred pathway. After all, Phillip could see how a height shift could affect Jimmy’s ego. His older brother had always been, taller, stronger, smarter, and every other ‘er’ attribute.
Old comic books, Happy Meal toys, and cassette tapes were plentiful. Magazines saved for revisiting at a time that never came were bent and moldy. Collector soda cans were carefully stacked, worth no more that day than in years past. The overwhelming majority of their belongings could be sorted into two piles: trash and recycling. In a third, minor bin would be placed items capable of more than five-cent redemption.
“Check this out,” Jimmy said, reaching behind a “Chairs of High Point” puzzle. “These are those candles we had to make for Mrs. Ginko’s class.”
“Mrs. Ginko? You mean Mrs. Gore?”
“Whatever, it’s been a while for me since fourth grade. She was a nut job. Great artist though, but just insane in the head. Mine was supposed to be a dog, but it ended up looking like… well, take look.”
Jimmy tossed the candleholder to Phillip who, after great effort, managed to move a large trash bag to a place where it could be investigated. Phillip inspected his brother’s creation.
“A dog? Yeah, I’m not getting Lassie vibes from this. Kind of looks like a… half-horse half-monkey.”
“I was gonna say it looks like a sloth. Here’s yours. What was it supposed to be?”
“I think it’s a beehive?”
Jimmy grinned. “Looks like a radiator.”
“Sculpture was never my calling.”
“That why you’re in pottery now?”
“No. I’m in pottery because Marsha is in pottery.”
“When are you two gonna quit that act and just sleep together already? Honestly you guys act like you’ve been married for decades. You argue pointlessly and give each other shit. The tension there must just be incredible.”
Phillip shook his head and started to open a hole in the bag. “Marsha’s just a friend.”
“Yeah. OK, sure.”
“Whoa,” Phillip remarked. “What the hell is in this?”
Phillip reached in and pulled out a red Beanie Baby. It was a bear, bow tied around its neck, tag clipped onto its ear. He went in with his other hand and retrieved another plush doll: a unicorn with shimmering horn. “Holy shit…”
“What? A bunch of Beanie Babies? I thought Mom took those to Goodwill years ago.”
“Well good thing she didn’t!”
“Why you back on a baby toy kick?”
“Jimmy do you have any idea what these are worth? And all of them have the original tags!” Phillip riffled through the bag to confirm that each one of the hundred or so dolls was in mint condition.
“If I had to guess I’d say they’re worth less than the trash bag.”
“No! These go for thousands of dollars online. They’re collectible as hell. People go ga-ga for these. Some of them even go for like, I don’t know, ten grand!”
“Bullshit!” Jimmy reacted, shoving the candelabras back into their nook. “These fricken things?” He examined a Scotty dog, collar of plaid and eyes two black beads.
“Yes, no BS. If we put these up we can make bank!”
“Well, hold on a second. What do you mean we?”
“We: you and me,” Phillip explained.
“It’s you and I, but that’s besides the point. These are mine.”
“They were both of ours.”
“No, Mom used to pick them up for me when she traveled, and then when you were born we just both used them. But it was a thing. She bought them for me.”
“So the hell what? We both played with them. Let’s put them up and we’ll split it 50-50.”
“50-50?” Jimmy gave Phillip a skeptical eye.
“Well you wanted to just throw all this stuff in the trash. So, I’ve got to get at least a finder’s fee. Plus you thought they were worth nothing. Look it up! I’ll go 60-40.”
“There’s not even service in here. My phone just says ‘off grid.’ Either way though, forty-percent is a crazy finder’s fee. How about you can have one-percent. I kept these in great condition all those years, and I was the one that said we should keep the tags on them. You were probably trying to eat them.”
There was a look of deep resentment contorting Phillip’s brow and rippling his lips. He was ready to throw a punch, take the ukulele to a middle school canvas and scream. “I can’t believe you’re being such an asshole about this. We came here expecting to find a dump, and then I see a chance for us to make some money, and you cut me out?”
“Look, Phillip. That’s life man. Sure, you found the bag, but that doesn’t mean you did anything. You’re like Indiana Jones, picking up treasure that other people made and trying to make a fortune off it. You’re the one that’s being an asshole. I’m just following basic property law.”
Phillip reached into his pocket and pulled out a pocketknife. Slowly, being sure to attract Jimmy’s attention, he snipped the tag off the red bear’s ear.
“What the hell! Stop! You’re ruining the value!”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I just make this worthless to you too? So now we’re both making the same amount.” Phillip pulled out a zebra and removed its marker as well. Then, just to be sure, he jabbed the knife into its neck until some of the beans poured out. “So that’s what they look like inside? Interesting.”
“Stop it! Just stop!” Jimmy screeched lunging for the knife.
Quickly, Phillip got to work on others with his brother draped on his taller shoulders. Fending off wailing hands, Phillip continued the rapid devaluation. Jimmy reached for the knife, and when Phillip pulled it away, Jimmy yelled, “God dammit!” He was bent over with blood snaking around his forearm. “You slit my wrist!”
“You jumped at my knife!”
“That was deep as hell!”
“You’re bleeding all over the place! Jesus!”
“Not on the beanie babies, shit!”
“Let me tie this shirt around it. Phillip, this looks bad. Just get over here! Let me—”
“Shut the hell up! Clean off that bag before the rest of them get ruined!”
“Are you kidding me? You’re sliced open! Forget about the God damn beanies.”
“You just don’t want me to make any money!”
“No, I’m trying to make sure you don’t bleed out all over your self-portraits and my shoes!”
“You’re just jealous. You always have been. You’re never gonna turn into anything special. You can have zero percent of what I earn.”
“Jimmy, look at your face! It’s turning white! You’re bleeding everywhere, and you’re think about these Goddamn things? I wish I threw them away! Here!” Phillip took the knife stabbed the bag repeatedly. Phillip tried to stop him, but he was weak. Each time he reached blood squirted.
“Stop! Stop it Phillip! God damnit, you’re ruining everything!”
“If this is what it takes! I need to get you to a hospital! I can’t even call 911 because there isn’t any service!”
“Get away from those! I can still save so—” Jimmy’s voice trailed off. He slumped over a box white and limp as a tablecloth.
“Shit! Stay here, I’ll be right back!” Phillip yelled.
Later that day, Phillip woke up in a hospital bed with tubes attached to his arms and a heart rate monitor on his finger. “There he is,” his mother said, rubbing his shoulder.
“You lost a lot of blood. Phillip told us what happened,” his father explained. “Apparently it snipped an artery. Lucky your brother called 911.”
Slowly but surely the scene came back. “The beanie babies!” he said excitedly. Jimmy grabbed his phone and frantically began typing. His disposition dropped. Each successive Google search brought further disappointment. “They’re… they’re… worthless?”
“Yeah,” Phillip said sternly from his seat in the corner. “Not worth a damn thing. And you almost died over them. Well you almost died trying to cut me out is what really happened.”
“I—I’m…” Jimmy pushed his head back into the pillow, feeling the effects of having been low on blood count.
“One hundred percent of zero? It’s zero. So you can have it all,” remarked Phillip.
Jimmy held back tears. “Phillip. I’m sorry. And thank you.” From his tone, Phillip could tell his brother meant it.
“Yeah, anytime. What do you say we don’t let stupid shit get between us again?”
“You mean like baby toys?” Jimmy asked with a chuckle.
“Yeah, like fricken baby toys.”