Inching her way through her mother’s living room, Minnie squeezes between the south wall, where the fireplace used to be, and one of the massive piles of stuff that has built up to shoulder height over a period of time. Technically, the fireplace is still there, but Minnie hasn’t set eyes on it for years. Her mother long ago used the brick cave that was designed to hold a fire for a repository of old bank statements, tax returns, newspapers and magazines. Stacks of stuff now engulf the hearth and continue precariously up to cover the mantel and the wall above the mantel.
Turning sideways to make the going easier, she continues down the “goat path”, occasionally catching a glimpse of the carpeted floor below. She knows her mother is home because the old Buick is parked in the driveway.
“Mother?” she calls.
Minnie’s voice is muffled in the densely packed room. She edges past one of the pianos that can still be played, if you don’t mind standing up to play and leaning over the cardboard boxes full of clothing and purses and gloves that are stacked on the piano bench. The top and legs of the piano are invisible, hidden behind and under more stacks of sheets and towels, clothes needing folding, and books. Lots of books.
The room is dimly lit. All of the windows are obliterated by stuff and the afternoon sunshine only shines through an occasional chink. From the street the house looks unoccupied, even at night, unless Gloria remembers to turn on the porch light. ‘Good thing they bought a house with skylights’, Minnie muses to herself, looking up. There is so much leaf debris on the skylights that they don’t do much good. It’s been five years since she last visited her mom, and not much has changed. Except that there are now several large plastic storage units lined up on the driveway, taking up the space of a second car. Gloria told her about those last year. “I need a bigger house,” she had said.
The opening to the kitchen is a few paces ahead and to the right. The door is half blocked leaving space enough for only one person to squeeze through. The kitchen used to be the center of their family life when Minnie was a child. Minnie caught a whiff of a very bad odor when she was out in the front room. Now she can barely stand it. In front of her is the kitchen table, which is piled high with a mountain of papers, books, magazines and mail. One corner – about the size of a dinner plate – of the yellow Formica tabletop is visible. Fruit flies hover over a wooden bowl full of decomposing oranges.
Daylight leaks in through the plants outside the window over the kitchen sink, which is piled high with dirty dishes. There is just enough floor space in the kitchen to move from table to sink to stove to refrigerator. The kitchen door to the yard out back is completely blocked by empty grocery bags stuffed with plastic bags, empty cans and wine bottles, and trash. Minnie edges around the table, past the sink to the refrigerator. The door hangs ajar, and she cannot push it shut because of the overflow of food. The meat drawer and vegetable drawer won’t close, and each shelf is crammed with food.
“Mom!” she yells, turning away, her stomach lurching from the stench, tears pricking her eyes.
March 13, 2011