It was late November when she died and frost covered
the ground. It had taken the undertaker longer to break
the earth in order to accommodate her casket. The entire
world was frozen solid. The mourners would have brushed
against each other to block the cold had there been more to hold
on to than only three. The minister had been hired and read from a paper.
Her great niece had hardly known what to tell the papers
in the way of an obituary. Who would read it anyway? She covered
the basics—place of birth, career (Could you hold?)
She worked at a bank, right? Had it not been Thanksgiving break
none of them would even have made the trip. She brushed
aside the thought of work and wished for the life of the retired.
And then what to do with all this stuff? How long had that old tire
been in the yard? And how many poorly thrown newspapers
were still under the porch or in the overgrown brush?
She could pick away the paint which barely covered
the old shutters. The porch made sounds as if to break.
How long ago had life inside this door been put on hold?
In two days they needed to be home and back to work so holding
out for an auctioneer at this time of year was tiresome.
Let's just price the stuff low and break
even. They had no time for an ad in the paper
so they just put a sign in the yard covering
the day and time, opened up the house and brushed
the matter aside. Everything was for sale. Even the old hairbrush,
the fragile cup on the kitchen counter which still held
the shriveled teabag, the toothpaste in the bathroom, the coverlet
on the back of the chair. The '84 Buick with the bald tires
was priced to sell quickly. They were stocked with paper
bags so neighbors could carry away the broken
toaster, the worn Bible and the chipped dishes on the soiled breakfast
nook table. And people came. More than three. And eagerly brushed
past each other to scoop up trinkets, and little children ripped the wallpaper
just for fun. And a savvy one took a crystal goblet and held
to the light as if to ask if value lay beneath the dust. The distant, tired
cousins walked among the guests to negotiate a price that would cover
the cost of giving up a holiday break. Some customers held
out till the hour brushed six and they were told, so tired,
to fill the paper bags with anything a quarter would cover.