It’s all tagged. Baggies of nails from Dad’s workshop. Two end tables that belonged to my Italian grandparents. Even the dust mop. The prices are lower than I would have expected. The half jug of Tide. The dishwasher detergent. Mom’s nightgowns hang from the shower rod. The rack of clothes in the storage room is also crammed full. I tug a blue shirt from a hanger, the twang jittering my hand. The extra-large Ban-Lon has no lingering scent. My father has been gone 24 years. Just the odor of mothballs and cedar chips stuffed into stockings. The stockings are for sale, too. I fold up the shirt and drape it over my arm. The woman handling the sale will never know.
“You should have the sale now,” my sister had said. “It’ll bring in potential house buyers.”
Our mother’s home, our home, had been on the market three months with barely a nibble. We’d moved Mom into assisted living after she’d awoken from a nap and found a man in her bedroom stealing her medications. She knew him. Turns out he’d been pretending to be her heating guy for the past several months. Would slip into her sunroom without knocking, the side door to the kitchen: “Just came to check the furnace.” And she believed him. Why wouldn’t she? At ninety-three, she was born in an era when you could trust traveling salesmen and itinerant workers. She’d even told us kids about him: “That nice furnace man was here again today. He’s always so nice.” No telling what he’d pocketed when he went unaccompanied to the basement furnace room. Mom could barely negotiate the stairs.
And then the day Mom awoke from her nap and found him in her bedroom hovering by her dresser. “What are you doing in here!” She tried to heave her arthritic legs over the bedside.
“I knocked! You told me to come in!” It’s the first time she’d heard his voice sharp, saw anger on his face.
“No, I didn’t!”
He was gone within seconds, thank God. Things could have unfolded much differently.
My footsteps echo through the now-empty house. No more card tables or price tags. No area rugs or floral sofa and loveseat to absorb the sound. No good china or vacation mementos or favored chair and ottoman where Dad read the paper. Just wooden floors and empty built-ins. My heels clack the risers as I climb to the second floor. I peek in room after vacant room. The window I’d leaned out to smoke my first cigarette is open a crack. I shut it, blocking the slight breeze. In time, the air inside will be displaced by another family’s artifacts.
The storage room is empty except for the worn rug that belonged to my father’s parents. It’s over a hundred years old, and I like to think the new owners will keep it. Even the clothing racks sold. I’m glad I rescued my father’s shirt. I also saved the cream suit Mom wore to walk me down the aisle. It’ll be the last thing she wears. “Buy a pretty scarf to tie around my neck,” she’d instructed. I will. Probably peach. She looks good in peach.
In the basement, the dehumidifier hums. It’s one of the few items I’d tagged “Not for Sale.” We need to keep the basement dry until the house sells. I slip into the garage. No tools on the pegboards, no garbage can filled with wood scraps—even the half-empty paint cans sold. Who would buy them? Pigment that probably no longer matches whatever walls they once coated. Pigment that is hiding under three or four other colors we slathered on over the years, or the family we bought the house from, or the family before them.
On my way back upstairs I pause eye-level with the bottom of the door that leads to the kitchen. Our one and only dog chewed up the door frame the first night we got her. Dad wanted her to sleep in the basement. Outfitted a box with a blanket, ticking clock, and hot water bottle. The dog would have none of that. She wanted to be with her new pack of two adults and five children. The whimpering was pathetic. By midnight she was in my parents’ bed, worming under the covers. Dad never replaced those gnawed planks, which was out of character for his OCD tendencies. Maybe he was proud of her initiative. Years later, he buried her in the backyard beneath an azalea that is no longer there.
I lock the front door and drive to my own house, buzz open the garage door. Our pegboard is lined with tools. On the workbench, our bins of nails and screws that will be bagged up some day. Our half-empty paint cans that no longer match our walls either.
In my backyard, the first tomato of summer is ripening. The double lilies are bragging the color of a peach scarf. The dog ramp to the back porch is coated in muddy paw prints, evidence of last night’s rain. The flap to the pet door is smeared, too. Another stubborn dog we accommodate.
I slip my key in the lock and search the house for my own little pack. I find them in the basement. My husband is at his desk paying bills; the baseball game blares from his computer. My dog lies on her side behind him. She doesn’t lift her head, but her tail thumps the carpet when she sees me, and I am grateful.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Iain Farrell