“This place will never be the same without her,” said Tawnee. She was carrying a box of black garbage bags.
Today were heading up to Mrs. DeMaro’s apartment. She died a week ago and the building manager said we could clear out her place. “Take what you want, donate what you don’t. Do this for me,” Lois said, “and I’ll cut you a break on the rent.”
“Remember how great the place would smell when she made those cookies?” Tawnee reminisced.
“It was a relief to smell something other than mildew and sweat,” I replied. I put my hand against the wall as we made our way up the stairs. How could this damn wall be so cool on such a sweltering day?
“You’re right,” Tawnee laughed. “We should bake some cookies to give ourselves relief.”
“You cook. My place is too hot.”
“Mine, too. Wish we could get some air conditioners. Hey Kate, think Lois would let us get window units instead of a rent break?”
“No. Then other tenants would want them. Too much drain on the wiring and electricity. Fire hazard. Yadda yadda. And besides, I would need the rent break to afford the window unit.” We were at Mrs. DeMaro’s door. “Hey, there are the boxes Lois said she would leave for us.” I pushed the key in and jiggled the lock. The door stuck in the frame. I put my shoulder against the wood and pushed it open. “All the wood in this place is expanding,” I said. “Sometimes I get stuck in my own bathroom.”
“Nice,” said Tawnee. She dragged some boxes in after her.
I had never been inside the apartment. Tawnee said she had helped the old lady reach a few things out of closets. It looked the same as all the units. The main rooms were all pretty small but each one had an interesting feature. For instance, DeMaro’s place had a fancy lintel over the archway into the kitchen. The bathroom was a long narrow space attached to the bedroom.
“It’s spooky in here. I don’t like going through someone else’s stuff. It’s like spying on her,” said Tawnee.
“She’s dead, we’re not spying.”
“Still, it feels weird. Like she’s still here watching us.”
“Cut it out,” I said.
“Well,” said Tawnee, “Let’s get started.”
She turned away and I was the only one who saw the spider crawl out of the teapot.
We hit the kitchen first. The plates, utensils, glasses, pots and pans all went into boxes. Placemats, slotted spoons, coasters, and potholders went in, too. Cheap acrylics on wood came off the walls and into boxes.
“These could be valuable,” laughed Tawnee.
“Who’s going through her underwear drawer?” I asked and peeked at Tawnee out of the corner of my eye.
She shrieked – bull’s-eye.
“You can do it, pervert!” She chucked a knickknack at me. I ducked (must be my law enforcement training). The knickknack hit the wall and broke.
Tawnee and I stopped laughing. We picked up the little ceramic cat. It once used to raise its paw in a pleading gesture. Now it looked like it was ready for a heart transplant. I held the broken pieces back together. Damn.
“CPR?” I asked.
“I think it signed a DNR,” said Tawnee. We couldn’t help it. We busted out laughing again and I tossed the cat into a garbage bag.
“We should be more respectful,” said Tawnee after almost an hour of work. “She was a nice old lady.”
“She was,” I said. “She always had a kind word. Not like some of the new renters. You know those people on the first floor? They get so pissy if a package of mine is lying anywhere near their front door. Like I can help where the mail carrier drops it.”
“I know. They never say hello even when I say it first. I mean, how hard is it to say hi?”
“It’s just a generational thing. People are much less polite in this generation.” I puffed out all my air as I hefted a full box from the living room into the hallway. I brushed my hands off on my shorts as I came back into the apartment. “I think the main room’s done. Let’s head into the bedroom.”
“I never knew you felt that way,” said Tawnee, tossing her hair seductively.
“If I were a lesbian I would so not date you,” I said as I walked by her.
“What? Why the hell not? I’m sexy!” She poked me in the shoulder.
“You’re high maintenance.” I took a deep breath and opened the top drawer.
“And you’re brave,” she said, nodding at the old ladies’ underwear I was steadily and quickly moving from drawer to bag. “I’ll open the window.”
“Consider it my penance for the year.”
We cleared the room out as quickly as we could. It was a little sad, because DeMaro didn’t have any photos of family members to save. She only had a few books. Everything seemed so generic, so un-individual. It was like this lady left nothing of herself.
“I hope to God when I die I have kids to do this,” said Tawnee.
“You read my mind,” I said. “Did she ever have any?”
“Like I would know.”
“You were closer to her than I was.”
“I wasn’t close with her though,” said Tawnee. “I was up here maybe five times tops in three years for a total of 15 minutes. I know as much as you do about her life.”
“That’s the other problem with today’s generation. We never know anything about each other. We never take the time to get to know one another. Nobody cares about anyone else. DeMaro was lucky Lois had to get into her place to check the wiring. She could’ve been dead for weeks.”
“Creepy,” said Tawnee.
“I’m serious, though. Who in the building would know if something happened to those jerks on the first floor? If it weren’t for you, no one here would give a shit about me.”
“Same,” she answered. “This sucks.”
“It’s this city,” I said.
“It’s every city.”
“Well, T, I think we’re done in here, too. She didn’t have much and she ain’t leaving us much. Goodwill should have fun with all of it. Want to help me move the mattresses into the front room?”
We grabbed opposite corners of the thin single bed and lifted it onto the floor. We slid it over the polished hardwood planks and leaned it against the wall near the front door.
“Box spring next,” said Tawnee.
Back in the bedroom, I saw the book on the box spring.
“Check it out,” I said. “Old lady diary. You think it’s full of erotic fantasies?” I scooped the book up and settled down on the floor. Tawnee sprawled on her back and stared at the ceiling.
“Isn’t heat supposed to rise? Why aren’t I cooler here?”
“We’re on the third floor.”
I flipped through the pages looking for a place to start. There really weren’t any dates to indicate how old the diary was.
“Well?” Tawnee nudged my leg with her toe. “Are you gonna read me some old lady sex or what?”
“Sure,” I said. “Let’s see…ok here’s one. Today I visited my physician. She had quite a lot of health advice for me. I am an old lady. If the Lord calls me home, I will go.”
“Jesus, Kate, that was depressing! Read something better!” Tawnee rolled onto her stomach.
“Oh my God, T, listen to this! This old lady was a real spy… That James is a real fucker! He thinks no one knows what he does but I do. I’ve seen and heard just about every sick thing in life until that little bastard moved into my building…”
Tawnee screamed and slapped her hand on the floor and laughed.
“That’s the kind of dirt I want to hear! Is there more?”
“Yeah, it goes on. Let’s see…every sick thing in life until that little bastard moved into my building. But the photographs he has mailed to him are disgusting! I never knew in all my life that men would do that to poor innocent little-”
“Little what?!” Tawnee screeched.
“I don’t know,” I said, laughing. “The page is torn!”
“Shit, that was just getting good. Wow, she read his mail? That’s a criminal offense. This lady was into some deep shit. Man, this book is a gold mine. We can find out more about our neighbors than we ever wanted to know! Read more!”
“Ok.” I flipped the pages and stopped on a random page and began to read out loud. “If she’s dealing and tricking then I think we all deserve a cut to make up for that crap. I think I’ll write her a little note. ‘I saw you last night, you and that married man. And I know where you get your rent money, honey. Don’t think you’ll get away with it for long Tawnee…’”
I stopped reading and looked up at Tawnee. She was staring at me, looking right into my eyes. I snapped the book closed.
“Trash pile,” I said.
I tore the pages out of the book and ripped them into tiny shreds. Tawnee sat on the floor and watched. I tied the bags shut and one by one we carried them to the garbage chute. I moved the boxes out into the hallway. We left the apartment, locked the door behind us and went down the stairs.