Toys in the Attic

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In 1990 I bought Toys in the Attic from a second-hand record store. Heard it all the way through for the first time sitting on my lounge carpet and embarked on a heavy listening phase with the album in my basement suite. I’d heard Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way lots before. Uncle Salty was the creepiest song. You See Me Crying was my favourite. No More No More, the runner up.

Extended listens took place avoiding dish washing, binge cleaning after ignoring the mess, drunk after the pub (You See Me Crying was particularly good for this), or lazy mornings laying in bed, or when I didn’t want to watch the Gulf War on TV, which was all of the time. What kind of a world were we in now anyway? I still had the record player that used to be at my parent’s with the brown woolly speakers. It had a plastic lid that I had to lean up against the stand’s frame while I played the records. I always struggled to fit the lid over the top of the turntable when I was finished, fitting the plastic into the ridges. My parents had this turntable since the 60’s, until I took it with me. There used to be Simon and Garfunkel and The Association albums in the little metal holders, and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass.

One day when I was halfway through the first side of the album the phone rang. My phone was a normal 80’s style portable house phone, the kind that was easy to pitch across the room in frustration over student debt. I picked up the receiver by the bed and it was my mother. Glad I was able to answer it. Two days before a boyfriend who had stayed over had picked up the phone in error. It was early in the morning and I guess he forgot where he was. My Mum must have thought she had the wrong number.

This time she started talking after I said hello and she mentioned my aunt’s name.

I had an aunt, my mother’s eldest sister. She had always been nice to me while I was growing up. When I visited her at my grandma’s if she was there, sitting in an arm chair or on the couch, she always smiled when she saw me and asked how I was. I was her niece, after all. She was overweight and suffered brain damage when she was born and later developed schizophrenia. But her hair was dark brown for real, right into her sixties, just like my grandfather’s had been. Over her life she had been institutionalized, had given up a baby for adoption, and had suffered through ‘the wrong men’ as a relative had said, and paid the price.

I had seen one of these ‘wrong men’ once. I remember my Aunt seemed to like him. It was about four years before I bought Toys in the Attic. Going back to that time I still lived at my parents and I had just finished high school. He was a man who looked old to me. He was balding and had a large gut. An eye injury affected most of one side of his face He looked like he had a glass eye and the skin around his eye was swollen. He also smoked a lot. He had a unusual first name, that didn’t seem like a first name at all, it was like a name that you would hear in a funny song, and so in this story I will call him Jim. Occasionally my aunt and her boyfriend Jim would visit at our house for lunch. We would all sit at the table and pass the food around to each other and pour water into the glasses that needed it. I was polite to him, but I was immature, and always wondered why his face was different. Old me would now just know he had been through the wars of life.

Back then we had a radio in the kitchen at my parents. One day, some time after I had last seen my aunt and Jim, my mum and I were in the kitchen. My mum was cooking, listening to the news. I was there, digging around in a drawer of pens and paper, looking for things I needed. I had heard the radio announcer talk about a police incident at a mall in Surrey, that someone had thrown themselves over the balustrade to the floor below and had died. I commented to my Mum at the time how strange that was. It was a couple minutes later that Grandma phoned. She said that there had been some bad news and that Jim had died. I asked what happened. She said he had gone over a railing at the mall, and that it had been suicide, and could I tell my mother.

I hung up the phone, and my mum looked over.
“That person at the mall on the news,” I said. “That was Jim. Grandma says he’s dead.”

Later it was said that Jim must have had problems he couldn’t have handled, and maybe my aunt contributed to his woes as she wasn’t the easiest person to have to deal with. I felt bad again, that she was somehow being blamed for things that had gone wrong.

That day I had remembered for some time, because one minute it was something strange on the radio, and the next it was my aunt.

When my mum phoned, she said that Lynn had died. I’m not even sure what had happened. The first person I thought about was my grandmother. I thought all this had nothing to do with the wrong men and I wish people would stop saying it. It was just people doing the best that they could. So I was listening to Toys in the Attic, in my heavy listening phase, which lasted for quite a few weeks longer.

 

This is a work of creative nonfiction; though it contains no composite characters and names have been changed in places. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story. Liberties include alterations to the timeline of events.

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