by Amanda Grafe
On April second, Grace Hawkins struggled to hold open a large, oak, door as the movers dragged up an old, floral, couch from her basement.
“Thanks for doing this on such short notice, Earl,” Grace said to the man holding the far end of the sofa.
“No problem,” said Earl. “People are always looking for vintage furniture. I can sell this for a pretty penny, probably by next week.”
“It’s all yours,” said Grace. “I just want it out of here.”
“Understood,” he said maneuvering his end through the doorway. “Let me know if you are getting rid of anything else and I will come pick it up for free.”
“Sure thing,” said Grace. “It won’t be until the end of the month though. I’ll give you a call then.”
“Sounds good,” he replied. Earl and his help carefully navigated the hallway towards the front of the house. The bell rang. Grace released the door, shaking out the cramps that had formed in her arms from straining her muscles against its weight.
“Boy, that’s hefty,” she said to herself. The bell rang again. “Coming!”
Grace peered around the corner through the screen that was separating her kitchen from the outside. In the distance, she saw Earl loading the last of the furniture into his truck. Directly in front of her stood a petite, middle aged, female named Helen. Grocery bags hung from each arm like laundry on a clothesline.
“Hello, Grace,” Helen called out when she spotted her. “Sorry to ring the bell so many times. These are getting heavy, but I didn’t want to just walk in.”
“Oh, it’s fine. You’re practically family,” said Grace waving her forward. Helen pushed through the screen and was immediately helped by Grace who took some of the bags.
“You got a lot today,” said Helen referring to the loads of provisions she had been forced to carry.
“Yeah,” said Grace. “You can just put them on the counter.”
Helen moved further into the kitchen and put down the bags. At the table, a frail, elderly, woman sat with her hands folded. She stared out the window.
“Hello Jane,” Helen said to the woman. Jane Hawkins gave Helen her attention once she was in her line of sight before she looked Grace with confusion.
“Who’s this?” she asked.
“That’s Helen, Grandma,” said Grace. “She’s been bringing your groceries for the past couple of years.”
“Who?” Jane repeated. Helen leaned in close.
“Jane? How are you this morning?” Helen asked.
“What?” Jane yelled back.
“I said, how are you doing today?” Helen repeated. Jane didn’t answer.
“I don’t know what she’s saying,” Jane said to no one in particular. Grace turned to Helen.
“I’m sorry. Her hearing has gotten worse and she’s misplaced her hearing aids again. Not that it makes a difference. She can’t really hear with them on either. I don’t even bother trying to have a conversation anymore.”
“No worries,” said Helen. “My mother also had a hard time hearing at her age. How old are you now Jane?”
“What?” Jane responded.
“You’re ninety-three,” Grace answered for her. An engine backfired. It was Earl’s truck pulling away.
“Doing a bit of spring cleaning?” Helen asked.
“No,” said Grace. “I am putting the house up for sale. Just trying to get as much out as I can first. We’ve already cleaned out the attic, the basement and one of the bedrooms.”
“You’re selling the house!” Helen exclaimed with a bit of disappointment in her voice. “Where will you go?”
“I go back to work in a couple of months. She only has me and my brother and I’ve already taken a year off to try and care for her. I just can’t do it anymore and I can’t ask my brother for help. We’re practically estranged.”
“What about Jane?” asked Helen concerned.
“She will be going into a full-time care facility on the twenty-eighth of this month.”
“That’s a few weeks from now, poor thing,” said Helen. She over exaggerated a frown so Jane could see. “How do you feel about that Jane?”
“Don’t worry,” said Grace. “I doubt it will make a difference. She doesn’t even know where she is now.”
“You!” said Jane as she pointed at Helen. “Could you hand me some bread?” Helen looked to Grace for approval.
“Go ahead,” said Grace. “At least she’s remembering to eat.” Helen gave a piece of bread to Jane who proceeded to break it up into little pieces and toss it out the window.
“Grandma!” scolded Grace as she ran towards her. “Stop throwing food out the window. You’ll attract mice!” Grace snatched the bread from her grandmother’s hand and threw it in the trash.
“But it’s for the birds. They are so pretty,” Jane argued.
“Yes, they are.” Grace dismissed. Helen shifted uncomfortably.
“So, I’ll see you again next week?” she asked.
“No,” said Grace. “Grandma doesn’t eat much so what I ordered should last the both of us until she goes into the nursing home.”
“Oh,” said Helen surprised. “So, this is the last time I will see you?”
“Oh boy,” Helen said teary eyed. She bent over and rubbed Jane’s shoulder. “Goodbye Jane.” Jane pulled away and continued to watch the birds outside.
“Thank you, Helen, for everything you’ve done,” said Grace. “Once she’s settled in, I’ll let you know. I am sure she would love to have a visitor.” Helen forced a smile.
“Sure thing,” Helen replied. She waved and whispered a saddened goodbye before exiting.
“Are you going to be okay up here while I finish sweeping up the basement?” Grace asked her grandmother loudly. Jane nodded, but Grace could not be sure it was in response to her question or purely coincidental. It didn’t matter. There was a deadline and things had to be done.
Grace used all her might to pull open the basement door again and somehow, this time, it was intent on staying open. Just to be sure, she fashioned a chair in front of it. She flipped on the switch to the basement and headed down the creaky, wooden, steps. Shards of wood and ceiling that had fallen with age, dirt, small screws and parts and pieces of paper littered the ground, but the space was otherwise empty. Three weeks to go and four more rooms and the house would be cleaned and ready for sale.
Grace took the broom that was leaning against the cold, stale, wall and began to sweep, starting with the corners. The light at the center of the room was not enough to illuminate her way and the lack of windows in the century’s old dungeon contributed to her blindness. Still, she did her best to consolidate the flotsam into one pile at the bottom of the stairs. The bulb flickered. Grace reached up and attempted to adjust it but pulled back immediately when the heat stung her fingers.
“Ow,” she exclaimed as she sucked on their tips. “Stupid house.” The edifice did not take kindly to her comments and as the bulb flickered again, this time it left her in darkness. Grace huffed with disappointment. To her left, back up the stairs, natural light poured in from the hallway above where the door had been left open. She made her way toward it slowly lifting one foot over the other with muted vision. She was about halfway to the top when the rectangle of light began to recede as the door slammed shut.
“Oh, come on!” exclaimed Grace as she stood in the pitch black. She bent part of the way over, putting her arms out in front of her so she could feel the next step. Beneath her hands, dirt and dust stuck to her sweaty skin as her anxiety of the inconvenience of losing one of her senses rushed upon her. She grimaced at the thought of what her palms would look like when she reached the top and how no amount of washing them would ever make them feel clean again. Almost there, she told herself. She extended her reach, this time hitting something in front of her. It was the way out.
“Finally,” she said out loud. She turned the handle and pushed into the door with all her weight. Nothing. Again. Nope. No matter how hard she pulled on it or which way she turned the knob, it wouldn’t open. She balled up her first and pounded against the door.
“Hello?” Grace yelled. “Grandma? Are you there? Let me out now!” Grace saw a shadow pass underneath the frame. On the other side, Jane hurried by, delightfully humming a song to herself. Grace put her ear to the door. It was an old sonnet her grandmother used to sing to her before bedtime and had somehow committed to what was left of her memory.
“Grandma!” Grace yelled as loud as she could. “I’m down here!” Grace paused to listen for some indication her grandmother had heard her, but there was none. She continued to pound on the door for a few more minutes before turning her shoulder downward and ramming it into cold wood. It was no use. The door was sturdy. Cumbersome. Not like the one’s manufactured today. Grace slid down and sat on the top stair and sat in complete obscurity and silence until…
A tiny squeak echoed from somewhere nearby. Then another. Claws scratched against the cement as something scurried across the room looking for the last bits of food Earl and his crew had dropped during their lunch break. Grace hugged her knees to her chest as she listened helplessly. She hated mice. If that’s what they were. The hairs on her arms began to stand up and a soft, tickling, sensation seemed to move from her elbow towards her wrist. Only it wasn’t the formation of goosebumps. It was something else. Grace jerked her arm up and down as she spatted away whatever was crawling on her. It was something with many legs and a hard shell.
Grace screamed as she shot up into a standing position, writhing internally with fear and disgust by what she had just experienced. The squeaking continued and new tingling sensations, like the feeling of spiderwebs settling over her body, began to startle her. She faced the door again, kicking and punching it until she reached near exhaustion and tears began to well in her eyes.
“Grandma!” Grace screamed. “Grandma! Open the door!”
On May first, Jane Hawkins took a bite of a sandwich she made herself for lunch. One piece of turkey between the loaf ends and a hint of mayonnaise. There was plenty of food left from the weeks before, as she didn’t eat much. She got about halfway through when she decided she’d had enough. She tore up the rest of the bread into tiny piece and began throwing them out the window. As she watched the spring chickadees peck at her offerings, she smiled to herself. How pretty, she thought.