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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 37 page 14


Suzy blows her nose. “You should see what’s arrived lately. You and I can enjoy them in Mom’s memory. She’d love that.” Her face brightens at the thought. I remember Suzy’s yo-yo moods.

What’s arrived lately? Was Mom ordering stuff right up until she passed away? Or has Suzy continued to shop on Mom’s credit? Suddenly I fear there will be parcels and bills in the mail for a long time. I have to look after this. That’s the logic I cling to. My mission is to settle the estate. I’ve promised myself that being here won’t put me back on the path of hoarding. But all I feel is jealousy, I want to do as I please too. I want to sleep instead of face the day, to buy instead of budget, to own stuff. Then I’m angry at Mom. She never struggled, she just gave in.

Suzy leads me down the stairs to the next level, each step a flat surface with items on top, a narrow path down the center.

I’m drawn to pick things up and examine them. Only my fear and knowing this as a trigger keeps my white-knuckle sobriety in place. But I can’t help myself, I name the things. A folder with papers sticking out. An alarm clock. A duster. More magazines. A vase with skanky water and wilted flowers. A box with a dozen empty pill bottles. They’re all ready to send the unwary walker tripping down the steps to break her neck. The lighting is poor, I steady myself with a hand on the wall. It’s just garbage that nobody wants. Except Mom. And now Suzy, who doesn’t know any other way to live.

Dad offered to pay for her therapy too. But she didn’t go. I might be the only one that understands why. Loyal to a fault, Suzy had to deny that she needed help, because if she needed help then that meant that Mom needed help. Love couldn’t allow her to say that.

Mom’s gone. Will that make a difference? Can I help my sister now? I follow her into a room that used to be mine. My old bed is almost buried in empty shipping boxes. Those are the same curtains from my childhood, this era of my life still here. There are dead flies and beetles on the window frame. We’ll need an exterminator as well as a carpenter, the ledge is rotten and the wall soft from water leaks. Shelving units press against the wall with hundreds of trinkets like an in-house bazaar.

“It all has to go. You know that don’t you? The house has to be ready to sell.” I can’t imagine this house empty.

“But does it have to be sold?” Suzy asks, with the look of a child who has just learned the truth about Santa but is not yet ready to believe it.

“I guess not. If you have the money to buy out my half,” I say, knowing she does not. But I’m mad at her too, for suggesting anything other than a clean break. I’ll fight her if I have to, I am the first born, and I am the named executor.

She’s not going to say anything more, not when I’m using this tone, how easy to mimic our mother. She turns to the shelves. The necklace pendant that is an open-faced flower is the first thing she shows me. A miniature ceramic bowl is next. She surprises me by putting each into an appropriate-sized box that she finds quick enough. Suzy sees order within the mountain of cardboard on the bed — yet another flat surface that has been engulfed.

“Just tell me what you want to take,” she says. “You can have anything you want as a remembrance of Mom.”

Oh. This game. Mom played it too. Generosity in words but if you take something you find out the truth. I don’t answer. I can’t answer. I want it all. It’s bad and I know it’s not real, but I want it all. Maybe it’s just this place. Yes. That’s all it is, this place. No one can return to their home without feeling like a child.