KEEPER by Lauren BeckerStacy watches a television show about hoarders. As viewer. As judge. They hold on to everything. Stacy holds on to only everything that ever meant anything: photos and letters, most of her sister’s clothes, the plastic containers her Aunt Deborah filled with delicious foods for her: matzo ball soup, kreplach, lokshen and cheese, fatty corned beef sandwiches on rye bread with Russian dressing. She saves everything her mother has given her in a small, clear plastic container.

Everything is neatly packed. Hoarders do not pack neatly. Stacy’s things fill the second bedroom of the inexpensive apartment that Jonathan and she rented together in the small Midwestern town that holds the university in which they are finishing their PhDs. His in Mathematics. Hers in Biology.

Jonathan is the first man Stacy has lived with to whom she is not related. He was dazzled by her Jewish exoticism, her blue eyes and long, curly hair, uncut since her early teens. Early on, he determined, practically, that Stacy was the prettiest girl in the small town. He appreciated her natural deference and eccentric charm. Having calculated the mathematical unlikelihood of someone better coming along within the next five years, Jonathan wooed her and they moved in together quickly. In this third year of living in the small Midwestern town, a pretty girl with short hair and few belongings started the PhD program in Linguistics. Jonathan moved into her immaculate studio apartment.

When he left, he took his few books, clothes, and toiletries, but forgot his father’s watch. He asks Stacy if she has it.

Stacy tells him she cannot find it, though she knows where it is. Stacy knows where everything is. Where everyone is.

While Jonathan calculates using math and probabilities, Stacy’s studies in biology make her certain that he will return to her symmetrical face; to her wide hips, ideal for child-bearing; to her large breasts, made for feeding babies. He loves her curves. Loved. The girl with short hair has the body of a prepubescent boy. He will be back.

Meanwhile, she dates a tall, aggressive boy. A protector. He hunted and gathered her and she thinks sometimes that she should choose him and stop waiting. It makes more sense from a biological standpoint. He is broad and strong where Jonathan is short and slight. Stacy reassures herself that Jonathan’s intelligence makes him a more appealing mate. He will get a good job as a professor and he will write textbooks and be an ideal provider. The tall boy’s prospects are more limited. He will be dissatisfied with selling insurance from a cubicle or teaching physical education to sullen, overweight pre-teens. She will get rid of him soon.

When she leaves the apartment, Stacy carries the watch in her backpack, knowing its value to Jonathan, though its slow second hand and worn leather band make it worth little to anyone else. For Stacy, it is priceless as a means to an end. At home, she keeps the watch in the shoebox that held the uncomfortable black shoes he bought to wear to his father’s funeral. The box is only half full. Her plane ticket to and from another Midwestern state where the funeral took place. A few signed cards he gave her when they were first dating. Post-it notes reminding himself to buy pencils and more Post-it notes, and of coffee with “T,” meaning Tina, not Tim, as he claimed at the time. The box also contains one sock he threw out when he couldn’t find its match, a poem she wrote but never gave to him, a baggie with some beard shavings he left in the sink.

She plans to give him the watch when she and he run into each other alone. Without the girl and boy who don’t matter. He’ll say he knew she knew where it was. But not with annoyance. He will recognize the value of her system – and it is a system – and will say it with love and appreciation for the care she takes of important things. He will put his hands on her perfect child-bearing hips and kiss her symmetrical face, and he will come back. He will stay.

Photo used under CC.