Path of the Comforter
by A. S. Andrews
I enter the house, expecting the usual mess. Expecting thick dust coating messy half-packed surfaces, rising like glitter into the air when I yank open threadbare curtains and let sunlight seep through grimy windows. The shelves will look ransacked, the cupboards half-emptied, odd items stacked here and there, burying the beds, as I work my way back in time.
A dresser missing in this corner, its drawers emptied into the dirt that accumulated for thirty years where no vacuum ever reached beneath the bottom drawer. White squares on sooty walls, punctuated by hooks where pictures once hung. The good silver already claimed and taken. Piles of wrapping paper, newspaper clippings, books, stationary, colored pencils, teacher’s chalk, shoes, handbags, raincoats, hat boxes, photographs.
A lifetime of stuff that hasn’t been seen in a lifetime, consuming another lifetime to wade through. This is what I expected.
Someone has been here.
The rust orange velvet couch from the upstairs landing sits downstairs now, cleaned, glittering, glamorous, the appliqué chairs with the dark carved wood placed to the sides of the couch, the entire living room rearranged. The walls white, the stacks gone, everything scrubbed clean. The house a showcase. What happened? Relief. Wonder. Confusion.
I rush upstairs to the bedrooms and find more of the same. Beds made, rugs vacuumed, toilets scrubbed. The crusted jar of face cream, the crystallized mouthwash, the yellowed, dog-eared magazines, all gone.
But wait! Stop!
In the guestroom, I rip the embroidered white comforter, the one with the matching lace shams that are nowhere to be seen, off the guest bed and stuff it in a bag. How did it get here, anyway? I move on, collecting two blankets my mother crocheted in my childhood, caressing them, folding them, stuffing them in the bag. A waft of floral sachets takes me back.
I’m missing something.
Another comforter, the blue and pink satiny one that belonged to my grandmother’s mother, that was once full of down but now so thin. When did it get thin? Was it thin before, when I once slept under it? Or was it always thin, and I only imagined it full? Wasn’t it on that shelf in the closet? No matter, I must find it and stuff it in the bag, before the whole house becomes so clean that it all disappears.
Where is it?
Where are the papers?
Disappeared. Entire lifetimes disappear. Like so much dust puffed into the air.
I have another job. My job is to complete the paperwork, to deliver the news. You will die. In the natural order of things, you, yes you in the long, black sari, you will die first. And you, you there in the eggshell blue sari, you’re next. But you get an extra twenty years at least. Still, the paperwork involves both of you. I know you both, personally, closely, from a time twenty years past. I want to hug you, laugh, smile, ask how you are and what you’ve been up to all this time, but there’s the problem of this paperwork, which I am supposed to deliver professionally, without involvement. Detached.
It’s a will, and some related things. You have to sign, you see, and then I take it away, and you go. Your cancer, it’s not in remission anymore. But I’m not supposed to know this. Don’t know why I know this.
I don’t want to be the one who does this. Isn’t there someone else?
I hand you the papers and you nod and smile, and ask me for directions, as if we’ve never met before. And I give them to you, you in the black sari, while wiping tears. I want to toss the papers, take them back, turn back time, undo it all. You don’t even recognize me and I want you to know me. It’s important that you know me, but you don’t. My eyes water, I swallow, I cough. Just a little tickle from all this dust.
You leave, both shuffling, the woman in the black sari leaning on the one in the eggshell blue.
The missing comforter. I have it now, it’s mine again, and as I’m trying to put it in the bag, it slips through my fingers, still silky soft.
A feather pricks through, draws a drop of blood. The drop quivers, slides, hangs suspended, glittering in a ray of sunlight before falling, fat and heavy. Splat. Seeping into rust orange velvet.
I’m back at the paperwork, except this time it’s not for you. This time you know me, both of you, and I set aside the papers and we hug each other as old friends should. My sari is pastel pink. I don’t even know how to wrap a sari but somehow I’ve done it, and we laugh and hug and compliment each other’s saris. We have the same white sandals, and this time when you ask for directions, I say to you both, come with me, I know the way.
Arm in arm, we walk down the dusty road, shaded by the cherry blossoms, on our way at last.
Copyright © 2010 by A. S. Andrews