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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 37 page 12


various consumer items whirl around a spiral to infinity

The Hoarder Gene

by Liz Betz

It’s mid-morning when I park outside the house that, even when I lived here and didn’t know any better, was the shame of the neighborhood. I see the difference now. The other homes on the street are cared for. All their windows are repaired, their fences stand true and have paint, even their lawns can be groomed because they don’t have stuff lying on the grass waiting to be repaired, or piled, or thrown away.

Our home was a someday place. Mom made it so. Next year, she’d say, next year.

I ring the doorbell, then rap my knuckles on the door. My sister Suzy should be expecting me. The realtor is scheduled to come next week. Buyers are ready to snap up a split-level like this. Suzy and I have to be ready. If need be, we’ll hire someone to help, there are special agencies, even if it does cut into the estate. It has to get done.

The door is not locked, so I push it open until it meets resistance, a slew of magazines that slid from the top of their pile. Kept in case someone might want to read them again someday. Oh, the possibilities that Mom believed in, a fantasy of her resources saving the day. I know these explanations. I know the whys of things kept.

“Suzy! Are you here?”

I hear no response, so I weave between a pile of shoes and storage bins so full the lids cannot fit. There are grocery bags, mostly tinned goods within, but a smell of rotting dairy products fills the air. I am careful where I step.

It seems worse than I remember, but it’s been twenty-four years since Dad and I lived here and when we left there were fewer reasons for Mom to care. It’s true, also, that Mom was bedridden for the last bit. Suzy’s been here helping: she could have made a dent in this accumulation. Then I dismiss this idea. Mom was always a resistance warrior, with tears or tantrums at the suggestion she part with any of her treasures. No one stood a chance against all that.

But it’s going to be different for Suzy now. As the estate is settled, opportunities will open for my sister. She could take a course, or go from being a dog walker to owning a doggy day care and grooming business. Finally get her feet under her, get on with her life.

I follow a pathway through the kitchen, past heaps of things without any common denominator, also past a tower of unopened parcels stacked as a child might stack blocks.

Suzy is asleep on the sofa, a paperback novel open on her chest and her glasses on the floor as if they slipped from her outstretched hand. She always said, just like Mom used to say, that when sleep was about to claim her, she couldn’t do a thing but close her eyes. A row of partially folded towels and clothes drape the back of the sofa except for the small avalanche that has slid onto her legs.

A weight wraps itself around my shoulders and something inside me grows hard. I should just get the house sold, not try to solve any problems. Get the estate settled and then leave well enough alone. Suzy is forty-four. I’m forty-six. The time for rescues or fresh starts is long past. I’m not her keeper.