By Elisabeth Giffin Speckman
Now that Linda was dead, it was time for some spring cleaning.
The house on Peach Street had been a hoarder’s haven for longer than John could remember. It was her way. She’d liked to collect—she always had. As a child, for instance, John remembered his sister keeping a jar of spare buttons in her bedside drawer. He’d needed one once, when his jacket button popped off.
“That’s not what they’re for,” she had said, snatching her jar from him. He’d felt frozen, ashamed, standing over the buttons that weren’t for buttoning, caught like a cub with its paw above the honey pot. The next morning, the buttons and their jar were gone. In their place, John had found a small plastic baggie, filled to the rim with mint tins. The tins themselves—all empty.
“Why do you need these?”
“Why do you care?” She had kept her face motionless, trying her best to ward off the pink that would creep into her cheeks at any minute, her toes digging mercilessly into the berber beneath them. Linda didn’t like to be questioned.
John stopped asking questions, and Linda kept keeping secrets. They grew. John went to college. Linda and her collections stayed behind. Their parents both died, and John returned home. He and Linda kept living.
But now…now the house was his. Only his. Linda had never married, had no children. Neither had he. Somehow, neither of them had thought to do so. John had lived a life with his sister and she with her brother, in their childhood home on Peach Street, without ever having questioned it. Questions, in their own way, had become forbidden. And when questions go unasked for too long, their answers begin to fade. They cease to exist and leave behind only empty rooms and echos.
No questions, no answers. Just John. And all of Linda’s things.
In the basement, he found a dozen owls. Stuffed. Toys, not taxidermy. Bags of bags. A stack of car air fresheners, never opened, and road maps freshly creased. An old shopping cart piled high with cat food. They’d never had a cat, and they’d never had a car.
John, who had had a particular way of living, which meant he never really needed anything, saw now for certain how Linda had had a peculiar way of needing everything as a way of living.
Her life was all around him—
—but it was spring and time to dust.
Nicely done, Elizabeth. You gave this reader a sense of two lives and plenty of room to ponder about what’s not laid out in this story. Not holding my hand too tightly as you led me down the arc of the narrative – giving me some room to wander on my own a bit – is a quality I prefer in fiction. Well done.
What a sad couple. I enjoyed this story.
My own siblings were as un-knowable as Linda. And I to them, I imagine. I expected a little more in the end, beyond dusting, but that would have been my story, not yours.
Un- knowable, yet accepted, speaks for many situations, I believe. Nicely done, Ms. Speckman.