Written by Barbara Straus
For the first time in years I don’t hear the TV blaring as I approach the door of her apartment. I use the key she gave me when she started spending less time outside and more time in her high back Ethan Allen chair watching TV, reading large print mysteries, and doing crossword puzzles. Marcy’s worn SAS walking shoes, once taking her miles to the bus stop then to Hollywood park for an afternoon at the races, rest side by side next to her chair.
The stillness hangs heavy in the air like a black cloud weighted with rain. Stepping inside, I wonder if this section of floor — right here by the door– is where she’d fallen. Or was it over there, just below the coffee table, where a dark streak of something unthinkable stains the tan carpet? Had she cried out when she realized she couldn’t get up? Were her yells for help directed towards the dozens of photographs of me and my family scattered around her tiny studio apartment? Did her voice carry above and beyond the drone of the Lifetime movies? Oh the phone, just out of reach, up on the kitchen counter. Did she count how many days turned into nights and back into days until the fire department finally broke down her door?
Every chair and square inch of the couch contains a handmade needlepoint pillow designed from photos of my childhood pets. I pile them in a huge moving box, sure that one day I’ll un-stuff them and sew them together into a quilt. Over the 30 years she worked at my parents’ house, whenever homegrown chaos ensued, Marcy was in the next room dusting furniture. Or cleaning windows. Bringing order. Bearing witness.
On this day I approach the filing cabinet in the middle of her closet with trepidation, having no clue what I’ll find. Unlocking the top drawer I see impeccably organized files — bank statements, receipts, social security card, birth certificate, bills. Evidence of her life. Of her death. Insignificant pieces of paper. My ears throb from the quiet.
I yank sweat suits and nightgowns from their pink plastic hangers and quickly toss them into the box with underwear, bras, heating pads, sheets and blankets. The faster I work, the less I notice. Salvation. Army. Then I come across her red Pea coat. Marcy used to take the bus across town for an afternoon of games and deli sandwiches with me and the children. From blocks away, I could see the tiny dot of her bright red pea coat grow as she’d steadily make the uphill trek to my house. When she arrived, the first thing she’d do was hang up that coat, sweep the children into her arms, then sit on the sofa and brush my daughter’s long brown hair into spun gold, just as she used to mine.
After Marcy became homebound I’d regularly bring her pictures of family and school events. She had no one else. While enjoying cheeseburger happy meals and diet cokes we’d take our time removing the old ones from her extra large corkboard, and tacking up the new. My guilt over leaving was ameliorated by knowing that her next few hours would be filled with transferring the loose photos into albums. Towers of red, pink and blue albums, (that’s where she’d put them) line the perimeter of her closet.
The tiny studio apartment glows golden with afternoon sun, an unfamiliar sight since family dinner would always call me home by this hour. I missed dinner today in order to pack Marcy’s life into labeled moving boxes bound for a homeless shelter and black trash bags forced down the chute. Her cherished furniture enthusiastically offered in high resolution photos on Craig’s list. Excellent Condition. Like New!
I open a window. Sounds of the street 4 floors below pour in like ocean waves, diluting the ivory soap scent of Marcy and the parts of me she held for safekeeping.
Oh, Barbara, this was so wonderfully written. Very poignant and vivid.
Wow, this was so vivid I felt I was there in Marcy’s studio apt. But more importantly, I felt the deep and penetrating sadness through your words. Wonderful work!
Vivid and compelling. Deep as the red of the pea coat. Love the details.