Even at forty years old, Leo indulged his younger brother. He stood at the kitchen counter and loaded a Hi8 tape into the Handycam that he and Charlie had found when they were packing up the basement. Leo pressed the cassette compartment back into the camera, and the metal frame set the black tape into place. Charlie clutched a candlestick and stared into the lens with the expectant attention of a newscaster. “Do you have to do that?” asked Leo.
Charlie grinned. “Is it on?”
Leo scrutinized the miniature of the room cast in realtime on the small, flipped-out screen. It looked unfamiliar, like it belonged in the pages of a catalogue. He pressed the red button with his thumb, and REC appeared in red digital letters. “Alright, you can start whenever.”
“Hello! For the purposes of posterity, I am Charlie, Leo is filming, and this is the kitchen. Mom will not be happy that it’s a mess, but that’s probably more accurate in any case.”
The kitchen was in disarray, although it was not familiar daily clutter. Nearly everything had been pulled from the cabinets. Cans were stacked on the counter to the left of the stove and perishable items were placed on the right. On the table were plastic bins, which held pots and pans with newspaper stuffed into the gaps. A box labelled “Very Fragile” in permanent marker held stacks of plates. The refrigerator was bare except for a bottle of milk, a mostly empty carton of eggs, and a container of lo mein from the night before.
“The style is French Country—very rustique. Note the hanging pots and pans.” Charlie gestured towards the ceiling. Although his hairline had receded slightly, his face was still boyish, and on the small screen he could pass for as young as twenty-five. “What else to say. The oven runs hot. Take five or ten minutes off of all cooking times. Maybe give a quick three-sixty, Leo.”
Leo panned obligingly around the room, sweeping along the cabinets, stove and sink. The appliances had all been packed up.
“I’ll be glad someone will be cooking for mom now. Little old lady with a gas stove was starting to make me nervous. And next up we’ll make our way into the dining room.”
Leo backed out of the kitchen and turned to the swinging door, the camera coming right up to the slatted wood until the peach room burst suddenly into the frame. The dining room was a formal space, used more around holidays than any other time of the year. For the most part it lay dormant, though it took up nearly a quarter of the downstairs. It was almost completely empty, with the lacquered table and chairs sitting in the center of the room on the decarpeted floor, and the wall where the sideboard had been slightly darker.
“This is probably the least exciting room of the house. The most exciting part of it is the door to the basement, and only because the basement is a horrible place.” Leo zoomed into the stairway door as Charlie spoke. “Why don’t you give this one a three-sixty, too?”
“I did when we came in.”
As they passed the bathroom, Leo flashed the camera inside, quickly focusing on the sink knobs, which had the hot and cold reversed.
The living room was a mottle of things. The corner by the dusty-brown upright piano was crowded with cardboard boxes in various states of closure, with two packing tape dispensers and shreds of pink and clear bubble wrap littered on top. The big floral sofa was noticeably absent, replaced by a cream showpiece that the real estate agent had selected so potential buyers could better impose their own imagined rooms onto the space. The low shelves had been cleared of the frayed gardening paperbacks and their father’s old French textbooks to make way for a Complete Works of Shakespeare and a jar of polished stones.
The camera swung up to Charlie’s face, which still had the makeshift candlestick microphone at his lips.
“Here,” Charlie arced his free hand outwards, as though to a large audience, “we have the living room. Home of our mother’s failed attempts to make me a piano player. Successful for you, at least. But ...” He held a finger up to the camera. His audience waited. “I still remember this gem.” He set the candlestick on the piano as Leo stepped back to fit the scene into the frame. Charlie sat at the bench and swept imaginary coattails out from under himself. With dramatic wrists, he began an ungainly rendition of “The Entertainer,” furrowing his brows like a maestro. His hands leapt up between the octaves and dropped heavily onto the keys, eliding the ragtime rhythm as though stumbling and drunk.
Charlie swayed back and forth, favoring the left hand, then the right, and as he slowed the piece almost to a stop he turned to the camera and grinned. Leo, half watching over the camera and half watching through the screen, was struck. For a moment, the Charlie on the screen was a boy; maybe twelve, maybe fifteen. It drove their mother crazy the way during recitals, Charlie would turn to the camera and grin, getting up from the bench even as his hands finished the piece, like he wanted to play for the audience and be in it all at once. Though his face had aged and rounded, the geometry of his smile had remained indelible, twenty years later.
“You’re up, Rubinstein.” Charlie approached and reached for the camera. His chest filled the frame.
Leo shook his head and withdrew the camera. “I’m alright.”
“Come on, Leo. We’re making memories.” Charlie thought for a second. “Well, we made memories. Now we’re keeping them.” Leo snickered. “I don’t remember anything well enough, anyway.”
“That’s bullshit. You were always a thousand times better at this than me. Now give.” Charlie pulled the camcorder from where it was strapped around Leo’s hand and hefted it to his own eye. He gave Leo a small slap on the back as he approached the piano.
Leo eased himself onto the bench as though it would break and brushed his fingers lightly across the keys as if they, too, were fragile. When the first chord sounded into the room, the faint mistunings lingered in the air beside the notes. After probingly pressing the first few bars, his fingers grew reaccustomed to the keys and he began to play in earnest. He leaned into the instrument, restraining notes that seemed always on the verge of collapsing into one another. It was a complex piece, technically challenging, although Leo had always insisted that it was easier than it sounded. He stumbled twice but recovered quickly. His face and posture were labored, but the notes themselves were light and effortless.
As Leo finished the piece, the tones grew higher and faded away as if floating off the edge of the keyboard altogether. The final hammer hit the string so lightly that it was difficult to tell whether the final moment was silence or another soft resonance. He placed his hands on his thighs and looked at the piano like he could see inside it, to the action and tuning pins behind the frontboard.
“Jesus. When Mar and I have kids I hope they’re more like you than me,” said Charlie. His applause was muffled by the hand strap, and the camera filmed an erratic swing across the floor. “Take a bow.” But Leo waved his hand and retrieved the camera from his brother.
They made their way upstairs. To the left, the hall led to the master bedroom. To the right, the bedroom they had shared for their twelve overlapping years. Charlie turned left and opened the door, although both brothers remained in the doorway.
“This is our parents’ room. I probably slept here more than my own bed for the first six years of my life.”
“Eight,” corrected Leo.
“Let’s just say seven, shall we? Anyway, one time I found a condom on the nightstand.” Charlie made a wry face. “Maybe we’ll erase that part of the tape. I don’t think we need to record that particular memory in the
annals. We should get a shot of this and a shot of our room, and maybe a shot of the shed, too.”
Their own room was mostly unrecognizable. The two beds had been cleared for the night, but the room was otherwise cluttered with junk: board games, two trunks of clothes, ironing supplies, beach chairs and other accumulated artifacts of the elderly. The right bed was Leo’s, the left was Charlie’s. Both claimed to have lost their virginity in the room, though Charlie was rounding up. The shared desk, which had once held a boxy computer, was covered in sewing supplies, and a Singer sewing machine sat where the monitor had once been. The only constant was the steel blue color of the walls and the view out of the windows. The one by Charlie’s bed looked over the driveway, and the one by Leo’s looked into the garden in the backyard. Leo filmed out of his window and followed Charlie back down the stairs.
He stepped after his brother through the screen door onto the patio and surveyed the yard through the viewfinder. The tape whirred gently as it took in the garden. Petunias leaned clumsily against the shadowbox fence and the side of the shed, which Charlie was prying open. He spoke to the camera over his shoulder.
“This is our dad’s shed. No one really uses it anymore.” After a few seconds, the screen adjusted to theshadow inside. There was just room for the two men.
“Everything was packed up a long time ago,” Charlie continued, “but you can tell where things used to be.” He indicated the pegboard above the workbench, where thick black marker made swollen tool outlines. Under some pegs, the varnish of the board had been sanded away to erase the outline of a discarded implement, and a new shape had been drawn on the pale matte surface. Leo’s throat tightened with dust and he turned from the camera to cough.
“Our mom tells a story that she knew he was going to die after he waterproofed the house, because he left his tools in the wheelbarrow outside overnight.”
Leo spoke over his hand, “Not that he should have been doing that in the first place. He wasn’t even supposed to go jogging.”
Charlie smiled and shrugged, the combination of gestures familiar to the story. He went on. “This also happens to be the site of my first kiss.”
“I thought your first kiss was with Anna at Jack Feld’s house.”
“That was my first kiss on the mouth. Lisa Campbell gave me a peck on the cheek here when she was waiting for her mom to pick her up after the safari party. The minx.” Charlie held his face coy until it fell once again into a grin. He looked around the small space. “Unless our cameraman has anything to add, I think that might conclude the tour.”
Leo said he would take a shot of the facade and stepped back into the light.
He turned the camera on the house itself, tracing the white clapboard and pausing on the windows. Pulling the zoom lever to the right, he looked at the screen, seeing what was visible from the outside. The whitebacked curtains of his parents’ bedroom hung at the edges of their glass. He panned over to his own room, where the corner of the closet appeared in the bottom left pane. Each waver of the hand was amplified, and the windows rocked in and out of the frame. He couldn’t tell whether the clothes in the closet were really discernible or if he were inventing collared shirts in the pixels. He panned to the kitchen window, bright and orange, through to the window on the opposite wall that faced outwards to the street. Charlie went into the house, his body appearing in the kitchen window onscreen and disappearing again. The living room light clicked on, faint against the bright day, and the muffled, awkward tones of the piano sounded into the yard.
The camcorder showed little. Just beyond the siding were the rooms Leo and Charlie had toured, larger than the painted wood belied from the outside. He tried to place the contents of the rooms, imagining what the screen would show in the absence of the exterior walls. In the cutaway, there would be his parents’ bed, its back to the camera. His and Charlie’s beds sat across a thin dividing wall, the furniture placed as in a massive dollhouse. Removing the walls altogether, the three beds alone would sit straight in a row, the leftmost one doubled in size, ludicrously suspended above the grass. If he included the sofa bed that they pulled out for guests, that would appear on the ground below, perpendicular to the three.
Next he tried just the doors, placing them as he panned from left to right and then up. The doors between the living and dining room, the bathroom and the hall, and the one from the kitchen to the driveway were perpendicular to Leo. The others faced flatly towards him. The upstairs doors had all the same brass knobs, although the ones to the bathrooms would be brighter with use.
The three toilets of the house, one on the first floor, two on the second, sat on their pipes like stems. The sinks and showerheads did, too. He began to populate the space with the furniture as it was inside: the desks and dressers, the clothes hampers, rugs lying remarkably flat in the air, framed pictures and shelves fixed to invisible walls. He tried just the knicknacks, sitting against the blue sky like black stars, but it was too unfeasible to place them all and he went back to the bigger furniture. He continued until everything was there except the walls and the floors, though it was difficult to hold the full image in his mind. As he built one room, another would slip into abstraction.
He added the frame like a ribcage, the bones of the house. His father, who read blueprints the way some men read the newspaper, would have known the exact placement of the studs. The house had looked identical to the others on the block before his parents had moved in, but no one would guess that anymore.
When Leo looked up from the camera, the clapboard seemed unnaturally opaque and hard. He turned the camera towards his face and waved at the lens, though he was not sure his fingers made it into the frame. He pressed the red button and the REC disappeared, though the screen still played the view through the lens.