a short story by Jerry Zinn
I told the men they weren’t welcome in my home. I’ve been here forty-seven years, and they act as though it’s theirs. They ask how I’ve lived in a place so cramped. They’re the same ones who sanitize homes with white furniture, only a succulent and an Indian rug to accent dispassionate concrete. But there are memories in the pores of this place, in the DNA of the wallpaper, in the armchair’s aged leather scent, and yes, in that painting of the quiet harbor.
Cluttered. Hoarding. Disorganized. Unhealthy. Descriptions uttered in passing as though my hearing aids were earplugs. It’s easier to pretend I can’t hear. Saves me from a disingenuous apology.
We have an unusual relationship, if you can call it that. They come, unwelcome, offer deep criticisms in hushed tones, take my belongings, and leave by saying, “thank you.” Thank you? And I’m supposed to respond with a cheery, “no, thank you?” And I do, because that little morsel of sarcasm is my last defense, the drops of juice I squeeze from the rinds they leave. What remains of my dignity lies in that pulp.
In the beginning I followed them, asked why they were taking certain things. Sometimes I got angry, like when they tossed my mother’s delftware cookie jar as though it were a rugby ball. I didn’t follow them upstairs. I haven’t been up there in years. No need. And whatever mold’s up there’ll give them more hell than I could.
I leave the door unlocked; they don’t knock anymore. Resistance is a waste, but I still have my fun: turn up the TV real loud, scream obscenities. Nice senile stuff. So far it’s kept them from stealing from the living room where I roost in my chair with a sparkling water and look at the short, flowing brushstrokes and mellow hues. I get lost looking for my reflection in the dark pond, imagining I could walk across the bridge under the moonlight.
Repossession. Foreclosure. Reverse mortgage. They run together after a while. I suppose each item is seized for a specific reason. From a legal perspective that’s important. From where I sit it matters as much as String Theory.
When the men aren’t here to dismantle my life, I dedicate my time to reading. For a few weeks it was 18th century poetry, then it was science fiction from the fifties, and recently I’ve been engaged with graphic novels. I don’t go out of my way to vary the material; that’s what the people from the library drop off. Not sure who thought a Hoover baby wants to read about an orphaned Frenchman with lasers for eyes, but it isn’t as bad as it tries to be.
One day the personality will be totally sucked from this place. They asked me, eight times actually, “Are you sure you won’t sell it? You could pay for everything if you put it up for auction? Keep the whole place and all you’ve got in it. Buy anything you want.” What they didn’t understand then and still don’t is that I could never sell that painting. It was a gift from an old friend. We used to travel together and talk.
Now he’s gone, and what’s left of him lives in that canvas. None of the hired muscle see the value of the work. They wouldn’t know Monet from Hirst.
The idea of selling it, of others ascribing a value to it, willingly giving it up to keep what I have, it’s antithetical to my being. They’ll have to tear it from my rigor mortis hands. Rather unassuming life that work has lived in my care, nestled between potatoes and roses. You get to convincing yourself the artist admires your treatment. So long as you don’t cover it up or lock it away. When it catches my eye I feel proud for serving as its custodian.