Mid-afternoon on a sizzling Sunday, Buck and I tackle the last big job of cleaning up the interior of the old house on the bay.
It is a closet created in attic space, not air conditioned, and full to the gills with a combination of plastic shopping bags, wrapping paper, Christmas decorations, discarded garment bags — and books — hundreds of books and National Geographic magazines from the late 1970s.
The woman who owned this house had a clothing store. Leftover merchandise from when she closed the store had been hanging in this closet, too, and what was possibly wearable went to the Easter Seal store months ago.
I stuff the plastic shopping bags, the empty gift boxes, and other obvious trash into black plastic bags. The former owner apologetically left all these myriad bits of life and moved on, a fragile turtle trying to make herself comfortable in a new shell. We told her to just leave what she didn't want, that we would handle it. She had nursed and lost a cancer-stricken husband in this home and now, at 80, had remarried and taken to the hills. The pain of closing the sale and moving the few items she took away wore on her. I remember that day. I remember watching her eyes almost bleed with the memory of the love and suffering here.
I remember her gratitude to us, that she could finally walk away, the house sold to a clean-up crew of two who would honor the discarded souvenirs of a life, and find homes for items that might be re-used.
One section of the closet held evidence of her efforts to help her late husband be more comfortable: an electric lumbar massager, strange-looking cushioned, battery-operated slippers to massage and warm feet, and different types of heating pads. These were set aside to go to the Easter Seal store.
When a reader stumbles upon a cache of books, you know what happens. We pull them out, one by one, and examine them. We wonder at the titles of some, mourn the irretrievably bug-eaten, and thrill when an undamaged edition of Dante's Divine Comedy is unearthed.
I am grateful my hair is long enough now that I can pull it back into a pony-tail. Makes the heat a little more bearable as I walk up and down the steep flight of stairs carrying stacks of books and National Geographics. Some of the magazines had gotten wet sometime and were stiff, the pages stuck together. They went into the black bag.
The Easter Seal folks accept books to sell for cheap in their thrift store. There was a daughter in this house for a while, a teenager and college student until she moved away. I know she loves language because of the books in the closet, and hope the plays and novels written in Spanish will be welcomed by someone in the thrift store.
Buck comes along behind me with the shop vac. He crawls all around in the double-bay closet, vaccuming up bug dust, dessicated silver fish and gecko skeletons.
We load trash bags and boxes of books and other donations into the van. I leave the National Geographics and several books that are "keepers" on a kitchen counter to clean up later.
It is getting late. Buck and I grab a bottle of water and walk down to the dock. The tide is out. The bay water here is brownish at low tide due to the influence of the big river nearby. It changes to clear, inky blue again at high tide. We watch a ski boat and skier in the distance, a bright red jet ski, and smell charcoal from several docks over. I see a woman shake out and spread a red-checked tablecloth onto a picnic table. She anchors the ends with pots of red geraniums.
Buck and I turn to look back toward the old house. We hear distant thunder. The air has taken on the greenish-yellow cast that presages a summer storm.
"Let's go before the bugs come out," Buck says.
We walk along the dock, stopping to admire three pelicans flying in formation overhead. I hear the laughter of children down the way.
"Twenty years ago, this place would have been perfect for us," I say.
"Time is the enemy, and we have other fish to fry."
I smell the sweet, gardenia-like scent of the mass of summer-blooming ginger lillies as we walk from dock to sidewalk to house.
The drive home, back to the woods, takes about a half hour. I pull out an Agatha Christie paperback rescued from the closet. It is Death In The Air. I open the cover and find a young person's clear inscription. The book was a gift.
"Daddy – I think of you sitting on the deck next to the red rose, absorbed in a book. I hope you enjoy this one. Happy Father's Day."