Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Empty and Full (06/04/09)
TITLE: My Sister's House
By Vickie Buchanan
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I entered the through the back door, preparing to inspect the kitchen first, then the rest of the rooms. My heels clacked on the new tile floor, echoing through the empty cupboards with a hollow, empty-house sound. I wanted to be sure everything was perfect, ready to put the house on the market. Handyman Andrew Crestmore, better known as “Handy Andy”, was doing a fine job. Every room had needed fresh paint, carpets cleaned and numerous minor repairs. It looked good, so far.
I moved through the back hallway to her bedroom. It was bigger than I thought, now that it was empty. It had seemed crowded with my brother-in-law’s hospital bed and the queen bed squeezed side by side. When the hospital bed left it all looked off-center, the previous soft elegance was never restored. Moving on to the other two bedrooms, I tried to imagine a family’s use of them. Maybe a small child in the back room, a sewing room off the front hall. It was a nice house, perfect for a young family or a middle-aged couple. My sister had loved it; they had it custom-built a few years after they married, when I was in Junior High School. I never dreamed I would be the one to dispose of its contents, refurbish it and find a new owner. But my sister died.
She died on Christmas Day, quite unexpectedly, not long after her 80th birthday. Her husband’s condition had declined so badly he was in a nursing facility, unable to comprehend his dark and frightening world of dementia. I will always believe his illness was her cause of death. She was a caregiver by nature, and there was nothing more she could do to take care of him.
There was nearly 20 years difference in our ages; she was like a second mother to me. There were other siblings between us, but their locations and situations prevented them from helping with details. My sister had no children, so I was the obvious choice to step in, and I would do so with love and respect.
It was hard to look at the living room. Her gracious sense of style was just a ghost in this vacant space. Without her rich walnut pieces and classic upholstered seating, without her just-so accessories, without her artistic touches, this was just a rectangle with a fireplace at one end. This is the room where the sadness was waiting for me. I had wondered where it would be. I expected it in the den, where she spent so much time. I thought I’d feel it most when I remembered her one and only decorating faux pax, the ugly love seat. We often laughed about it, wondering what she was thinking, those huge flowers and bright colors. It didn’t sell at the estate sale; I finally gave it to a needy family. But that room had made me smile, knowing that was where she curled up to watch TV, read a book or use the phone. That was where she was comfortable. But the living room is where she showed her talents. Decorating, entertaining, playing the piano…all these took place right here. This was the room where she was most absent.
This was the room that made me weep.
Handy Andy arrived to collect his pay. I wrote the check without reservation; his work had been all I hoped for. Looking at my watch as he left, I saw that soon the realtor would arrive. He would tell me facts I needed to know but wouldn’t really hear. Fortunately, it would also be in writing so I could read it later. He would place his sign firmly in the front lawn, right in front of the charming lamp post they gave each other for an anniversary two years ago. Another day he will tell a new family how the fireplace has a custom designed mantel and gas log. He will show them the amazing lemon tree in the big back yard and the convenient back entrance through the laundry room. They’ll admire the beautiful tile in the master bathroom as they look at each other with raised eyebrows as if to say, “This is just what we are looking for.”
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