Piece by Piece

Eloise was in the process of telling me how her husband, Bobby, hadn’t slept with her in several years when Bobby wandered through the living room into the kitchen. I heard the refrigerator open and close, and the gentle pssst of the beer can popping open. Eloise rolled her eyes.

I didn’t know Eloise, but I was sitting in her smoke-saturated recliner, my eyes watering and catching the penetrating gaze of their ancient, morbidly obese Dachshund, Floppy.

Eloise raised her Pinot Grigio-filled jelly glass in a “cheers” gesture toward the kitchen as Floppy descended a set of plush steps leading down from the overstuffed leather sofa to the floor and nuzzled my ankle.

She’d been a director for a pharmaceutical company, but had retired years ago – spending her time recovering from invasive surgeries, the pain from which she countered with “lovely things.”

Things that overflowed from every available surface.

When I arrived – arms brimming with plants, vases, and assorted blown glass – I asked where I should deposit everything. She motioned over to the cluttered kitchen table, and I nudged figurines and boxes out of the way just enough to accommodate everything. She shoved a wad of cash into my hand, and then asked that I sit.

“So, what about you? What’s your story?”

Later, as I waved goodbye, Eloise shuffled after me and told me to take some bubble wrap for the rest of my “pretty things, so they don’t get scuffed.” I followed her outstretched finger, my eyes dodging below multiple hanging pea coats adorned with brightly-colored, jewel-encrusted pins and brooches.

“Oh yeah. Those are something, aren’t they?”

Eye-level with an enormous Christmas tree pin, I stooped to pick up the two carefully tied bags of bubble wrap.

“They certainly are somethin’.”

After I closed the door, she and Bobby commenced sniping at one another – their slurred commentary chocked with “…more of this crap…” and “…oh don’t you start with me.”

I exhaled. Breathed in the chilly night air. And whispered back to the items I’d left behind.

I’m sorry.

I counted the bills, tucked them into my wallet, and turned the ignition.

Onward.

***

Nearly an hour later, after I pulled up to the house and deposited the bags of bubble wrap into the recycling, I noticed that a few steps in the rotting staircase leading down to the house had cleaved away from the banisters. Each hung lazily from rusted nails. But rather than stooping to investigate this new project, I braced myself against the handrails and launched myself over the gap.

Each day it seems some part of Gay Gardens falls apart. The sink with its leaks; lights buzzing and flickering from the moisture inside the walls; the clapboard popping away from rusted penny nails. And I listen to it all slowly coming undone, as creatures scurry through the walls. It’s as though Gay Gardens is a meteorite hurtling into a planet’s orbit – captured by gravity, plucked from time, slowly losing pieces of itself as it crashes to its entropic finale.

I’d forgotten to leave the porch light on, and listened as JoJo paced impatiently on the other side of the weathered door while I fumbled with my keys in the dark, the drips from the leaking porch roof slowly dotting my jacket sleeve.

Just a few more months.

With a concerted push, the swollen door flew open, knocking into the small Art Deco end table and jostling the tabletop lamp – sending it into a momentary, wobbly dance and spraying light across the living room.

Just inside the door, JoJo twirled in a circle – her typical greeting. During a time of transition, it’s always a comfort to focus on the minute details of normal life. I bend, murmur Oh my goodness! – her cue to roll over, exposing her hairless tummy and pawing at my hands.

I stood and scanned the room – visually hopscotching from the small mound of books at the fireplace threshold to the pieces of furniture jammed together, the paintings resting against the wall.

This has been a good home.

In the rapidly emptying space, there’re the slightest hints of echoes: jarring, enlivening – replete with potential.

***

In the weeks leading up to my visit with Eloise, I’d been spending every waking moment outside of work hustling furniture and planters and plants and every conceivable item into new hands.

Van Briggle pottery to a traveling nurse who carefully removed the small, matte-finished turquoise pieces from the butcher paper wrapping, her bandaged hands slowly tracing the delicate forms as she grinned. A Depression-era dresser to a petite grandmother who, from the far depths of her flea market booth, admired the piece in the dull lamplight and mused about how much her granddaughter would love it. A small 70s table to a young woman whose eyes sparkled as she looked it over in the oil-stained parking lot where we met, the rain drizzling down as she beamed, “It’s exactly what I wanted.” A tripodal, midcentury-style contemporary planter to a towering, quiet man whose deep laugh echoed in my mind as we said goodbye.

We are not so alone in this world.

***

After a few rounds of tossing battered toys, JoJo and I ventured out into the rapidly chilling, darkening evening.

A full moon cast a dull glow across the yard – now cleared of gnomes and planters, pocked with the occasional filled hole where I removed and re-homed a planting. Awkward shadows danced across the warped clapboard as I nudged a leaning downspout back into place.

Upslope, leaves sparkled from neighbors’ holiday lights; wind rustled through the trees, expelling saturated, rotted wisteria vines. The lights’ twinkling glow filtered across the yard, falling over the scuffed, upturned earth where the garden used to be.

Moss clung to the edges of the paint-chipped concrete birdbath, rainwater from the afternoon’s showers glutting its shallow bowl – refreshing it, finding the worn grooves.

Overflowing, dancing down to the ground.

Alive in the moonlight.

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