By Anna Stolley Persky
Do you remember Golda? Maybe you knew her as Mrs. Becker. Remember when, after school, we used to hide in the graveyard, just off the path, you and me, entangled, my legs against your just-turned-scruffy face, scratching me, that picnic blanket we used to bring, red-and-white-checked? But first, we would pass Golda—she was my neighbor’s neighbor’s neighbor—so I probably should have said hello for good manners, but I just threw myself past her and against you. Just the sound of us rustling. (You remember THAT, don’t you?) Golda would sit on that red wooden bench, and not say anything, draped in layers of gray clothes, with a straw hat in the summer, and, when it got cold, a pink wool hat with a white pom-pom on top of her craggles and wrinkles. My mom used to say, isn’t it a shame that Golda’s all alone, even though she has grown kids, but you never see them, do you? My mom would say, so bring Golda the sugar cookies I just baked, but then the years passed, and my parents got divorced, and my mom stopped baking. I hated going to Golda’s house, anyway because she smelled like moldy bread when you got too close to her. My mom used to say that Golda hoarded everything in her house, piles of clothes, newspapers from the 1960s when her life was filled with life, and isn’t that sad because then the kids and Golda got into some sort of endless resentment standoff, and the cockroaches came, but the kids didn’t. Golda kept everything from when her kids were kids—every drawing they’d ever done, all their report cards—along with buying other people’s crap at yard sales, toys for grandchildren she never saw, all shoved into her house to maybe fill it up, so she wouldn’t feel so much quiet. You know how deserted rooms echo, and I threw out that red-and-white blanket but ate two creamy red velvet cakes after you left me that summer after we graduated. And do you remember that one day when we went out to the graveyard, the bench was empty, and the ground was hard, almost frozen, and the next day she still wasn’t there because she had died? My mom told me—this was before my mom died too, obviously—that Golda wasn’t found for days, and then her kids were called, and they came to bury her. They must have figured they would have to stay for weeks to clean out her house from all the crap she’d piled into her hungry void over the years. (We know something about that, don’t we, filling ourselves with T-ball games and anniversaries with other people, not each other, except how come we keep meeting like this, in these middle-of-the-night conversations?) But she fooled them because somewhere in between the rumors and the sitting, she had unloaded everything; who knows how, and all that was left was a bare house, floorboards, not even a bed. She died on the kitchen linoleum. Her kids, hardly kids, they had gray hair, went through the house, room-after-room left empty of their history, except up in the attic: one red suitcase. And when they opened the suitcase, there was nothing inside.