Jade East


There is nothing romantic about cleaning a bathroom. Rusted razor blades hide in the medicine cabinet. Strands of hair stick to porcelain surfaces. The wrappers on band aids in a hinged-top metal box are so old they fall apart with only slight pressure of thumb and index finger. I’m on my knees, cardboard box to my left, trashcan to my right, sorting my father’s medicinal, toiletry, and cleaning supplies. It’s hot in here and the humidity of a June day in Chesapeake is almost unbearable. My limp hair won’t stay put in its rubber band and falls into my face as I reach way back into the cabinet for the last bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a half empty can of shaving cream. I’m trying to salvage what’s left. My dad doesn’t need this stuff anymore. He died on Mother’s Day.

I always hated cleaning the bathroom, my least favorite chore, and I always got stuck with it. I lean back against the tub, close my eyes, and wipe the back of my hand across my sweaty forehead. My Dad’s radio in the dining room croons an old, sad country song. None of us likes hillbilly music, but no one has the courage to change his station. I hear my step-sister in the kitchen, rattling glassware, arranging it for the auction house to pick up. In another room, one of the girls exclaims over an old photograph. “I haven’t seen this in years.”

We’re all here, minus our parents, my father, their mother, both dead within a year of each other. It’s their house and we feel like interlopers and thieves, deciding which items to take home with us, which to sell, which to donate, which to throw away. Every piece we touch goes into a box, even the objects that have held a place of honor for years. Rooms empty one memento at a time.

“I’d like this little pewter clown,” my step-sister calls from the other room.

“Put it in your box,” I call. My step-mother collected clowns, had hundreds of them. My father collected frogs. I’d most likely find a small one to place in my box to remember him.

The cabinet under the sink is bare. I rise and look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Evidently, I am an adult now. I think it happened May 13th.

Shaking my head, and looking away, I open the wooden cabinet on the wall above the toilet. My father’s salves, liniments, after shave lotions and razors display themselves in neat colorful order from tallest to shortest. Some are still new in the package and others are waiting for him to return to finish their contents. I open each container, judge its usefulness, its age. I toss his Carmex lip balm and the ever-present tin of Cuticura ointment, underarm deodorant, and a 1960’s safety razor.

The last item is a clear bottle with green liquid. I’ve never seen it before. The label is black with a green and gold border. Asian characters above the words JADE EAST are written in a bamboo shaped font. I unscrew the black cap and inhale. I close my eyes and swear my father is standing right there in front of me. It is his scent. I thought I had lost that forever, but here it is in this square glass bottle.

I run into the other room and call my step-sisters to me. We pass the bottle around and I watch my own reaction repeat itself with each girl. We take turns dabbing a drop behind our ears, enjoying my dad’s spicy scent. Leslie hands the bottle to me. “You should keep this,” she says.

I hold the bottle to my chest. I’d offer it to them, but can’t bring myself to. I want this treasure. I want to be able to open the top and find my dad when I need his presence. I never knew my father wore cologne, never thought about it. I did know his scent though. No other man in my life carried it.

I walk back into the bathroom and place the bottle of Jade East carefully into my cardboard box of keepsakes.

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13 Responses to “Jade East”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    Love this story as I do all of them! Treasure your memories!

  2. OldMack Says:

    “Short Timer” a brief period of immense pleasure, evoked by a story teller of immense talent and meticulous craft. I could almost smell this one and feel your emotions.

  3. societyred Says:

    I know this place. I’ve filled those boxes, seen those old photos. Your words fill my eyes with memories and tears. You are such a gifted writer. Thank you for sharing your life.

    • train-whistle Says:

      Thank you sr. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to know someone else has been there and understands. I appreciate your kind words and as always, your feedback.

  4. Jim Cantwell Says:

    Hey Margaret,
    When my mom passed away all I wanted of hers was a Bradford exchange plate that I had bought for her years ago, thats all I need to look at and I feel as if she is right there with me.

    • train-whistle Says:

      when my grandma died Jim, all I wanted was the pink plastic butter dish. It reminded me of her hot buttered biscuits. I still have that butter dish. thanks for reading and for your thoughts. .

  5. OldMack Says:

    Somehow the link to your site vanished. Thanks for reviving it on FB.
    So I came back to this poignant piece. “Rooms empty one memento at a time.” Yes. In 2003 I had to fly to SFO with Chris and clean up my dad’s apartment. It was a cold day in May, so I put on his windbreaker, filled cart after cart with his books and hauled them up the hill to the Goodwill Thrift. Between the first and second trip up the steep Hyde Street hill, I bought a decent pair of climbing shoes and put my deck shoes back in the suitcase. After the cleaning was done, Chris flew back to Florida, leaving me there to deal with the paperwork death entails, banks, union locals, insurance companies,Veterans Administration, and the funeral home. I then went to Jim’s favorite neighborhood bar and met and drank toasts with his friends and there were many of them. It was raining when I went out to get in the cab for the trip to the airport. I was still wearing Jim’s coat. It comes in handy here on winter days when it’s chilly and reminds me of a very good man.

    • train-whistle Says:

      I have found myself wearing my dad’s robe around the house. The other day I needed a clean bath towel (my boys use up one after the other and drop them on the floor in front of their dressers, argh), so I reached into the plastic bag holding all the leftover linens from my dad’s house. I held the towel to my face and was immediately taken to his house again. Amazing how the smell of a linen closet can do that to you. 🙂 Thanks Mack. I love your comments and your stories as always. Thanks for keeping up with me.

  6. OldMack Says:

    Serendipity strikes again! A cold front moved in Saturday night, so in the wee hours this morning old Zooey barked to be let out. I flipped back the quilt, which felt so good, and stood in my shorts rummaging through the closet for Jim’s jacket. “It’s in the storage locker in the utility room,” Chris said, having read my mind again.

  7. allthingsboys Says:

    Wow! Very powerful! The power of a scent is really strong for memory links. So glad you found this. Do you know I still haven’t deleted my dads phone number from my phone? I don’t know when I will, but not yet…

    • train-whistle Says:

      I have the last voicemail message my dad left for me. I keep saving it (every 21 days). I can only listen to the first six words before I have to hang up, but I know it’s there and I can still listen to his voice. I’m right there with you.

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