Every room was cleaned, tagged, and ready for tomorrow’s estate sale. Paul had taken off earlier to catch up with old friends. Now Sarah was sitting on the kitchen floor, tying shoes and gathering toys, readying the little ones for dinner at the restaurant. She was tugging on a sock when she looked up.
“Are you sure you won’t come, Edna?”
It was the third time she’d asked, and while Edna never saw enough of her grandchildren, she needed to be alone. “I’ll be fine.”
Once they were gone and the house had settled back into its familiar calm, Edna wandered the rooms. She stood in the doorway to Paul’s old bedroom, where the boxes were piled three high. She shuffled through her living room, once alive and loud with family but now stripped to an echo. It seemed like yesterday her and Charlie sat in their chairs, talking about tomorrow.
Edna hadn’t planned on visiting the basement, but when she opened the door, just as she’d done so many times to call Charlie up for dinner, another memory caught her breath.
She took a the first few timid steps down the dark stairs. How long had been what? Ten years? No, maybe five, yes, five, Edna recalled. She’d been wearing those hideous sneaker, the blindingly white things Paul had given her.
“For your heels, Mom,” he’d said. Edna hoped her son had done better for Sarah.
Reaching concrete, Edna stood, her hand on the rail, tethered to the safety of the stairs. She stood blind in the dark, arms out, feeling her way around. This had always been Charlie’s thing, this basement, with its spiders and must. Edna never thought herself a particularly needy woman, but Charlie had always been handy.
Ten years, she sighed, ready to give up on the light and conquer the steps again when something grazed her cheek. Edna gasped. A string.
Now we’re cooking with grease, as Charlie was so fond of saying. In the light, Edna found more boxes and tags. Charlie’s old Toro mower. Rakes and shovels and tools on display. But in the light, Edna saw that a window was cracked, there were signs of flooding, a bookshelf had collapsed.
No wonder they want to move me, she thought,
Edna rummaged around, clutching her elbows and nudging boxes with her foot. She remembered the paint cans on the shelves, breathed their sharp twang of turpentine. Charlie never threw out much, and he certainly would’ve scoffed at Paul and Sarah’s talk of square footage and living spaces. To Charlie, a finished basement was just that, finished.
About halfway back Edna knocked into the storage wardrobe. It took her several tries to work the zipper but eventually, allowing breaks to shake out her arthritic hands, she had it opened. She felt her heart.
She picked out his jacket and hugged it, swung it over her shoulders and closed her eyes. She smelled the tobacco and aftershave as he leaned close to kiss her on the bridge. She felt his hand as he caught her wrist to steady her. How many heartbeats had it been since that night?
Edna ran a finger over the shoulders of the shirts on the rack. She placed the fedora on her head, just as he had done as they’d sat on a blanket waiting for the fireworks. She closed her eyes and warmed in the silky embrace of the jacket, she heard her young children’s laughter at the sight of their mother wearing their father’s hat and caught a sharp whiff of sulfur in the air. She leaned into the very jacket that was now draped over her shoulders and marveled at the wonder in the sky.
Her eyes opened to the plodding footsteps upstairs. Sarah calling from the door. Edna closed her eyes again to recapture the memory.
“Edna—uh, mother, are you okay?”
“Yes, dear. I’m…” Edna realized she was sitting on the floor and not a blanket in the grass. She heard the kids giggle.
“Grandma’s wearing a funny hat.”
Edna smiled. Sarah helped her to her feet. She assured her panicked daughter-in-law that she was fine. She wanted to tell her to enjoy it with Paul. See the fireworks, but Sarah was worried about the kids being in the basement.
Edna set the hat on her grandson’s head. She took her granddaughter’s small, sticky hand. As they started up the steps, she looked back and whispered into her daughter-in-law’s ear.
“I’d like to be buried in this jacket.”