He walked into the room, gawking at the cot. "Thatís for me?"
"Why donít you sleep on it and Iíll take the loveseat?"
"Hah! I donít think so, Mike. Itís all boxed in. Besides, if itís too short for me, and youíre a whole foot taller, it wonít work for you. Plus, youíve got stiff joints and painful body parts. So you sleep here. Iíll grab the other blankets and pillow, and camp out on the floor, next to you."
"Well, thatís not going to be very comfortable."
"Maybe not, but itíll be less uncomfortable for me than for you. Come on, letís get some sleep. Iím beat."
"I bet you are. I thought of taking a shower, but that old bathtub really is ready to fall through the floorjust like that house inspector said." He sat on the cot and took off his shoes.
"I saw that too. We can take showers tomorrow down at the Kenmore house. Weíve paid rent for the whole month, so we should be entitled to one last shower!"
I looked at the cot. Mike was comfortably settled under the covers, his shirt and pants draped over a ladder in the corner. By the time I returned with blankets and a pillow for me, he was beginning to snore. I spread a blanket on the floor between the cot and a stack of boxes, plopped the pillow at the far end, and the other blanket on top. I didnít undress, just flicked the light switch on the wall and felt my way into my so-called bed. It would be where I slept for the next three years.
I woke early on Saturday morning. In fact, I woke several times during the night, trying to ease the pain in my hips by rolling from one side to the other. But now daylight approached, and I managed to get upright despite my physical aches.
I woke Mike, reminding him we had a busy day ahead. We gulped coffee and gobbled toast for breakfast, then headed for Kenmore.
Two hours later, I had cleaned all three bathrooms. I stopped to stretch my back in the midst of scrubbing the kitchen floor, and began to admire the expensive, custom drapes in the living and dining rooms. I remembered it testing my patience, dealing with the girl at the drapery factory, but eventually they got installed. I hated to leave them behind, but Ö"
"Auntie Helen! Auntie Helen!" The sound of little girlsí chatter ascending the stairs distracted me from dwelling on the draperies as another loss. My younger brotherís two girls ran to hug me.
"Can we help you?"
"Yeah, what díya need done?"
I asked the girls to check the rooms for anything I might have missed, and let them carry the broom and mop downstairs. I followed them with the bucket of dirty wash water to be emptied into the front flower bed.
"Hi Norm!" I called to my brother as he and Mike walked toward me from where they had been visiting next to our old motorhome, its engine running.
"Good God," my brother remarked. "Your face is red as a beet!"
"Probably so Ö Iíve been working really hard this morning." I wiped my sweaty forehead with my arm.
"You better take it easy for a while." He reached out, gently taking hold of my upper arm. "Donít want you to do yourself in."
"I wonít." I wasnít so sure inside.
"You going to go gas the rig now?" I asked Mike.
"Yep. Normís going with me."
"Okay." I was relieved heíd have someone with him, being it was past noon and we hadnít had any lunch. "Iíll visit with the girls while youíre gone. Can you bring back some burgers for lunch?"
"Yep. How many?"
"Enough for us all. Five, Iíd say! And some cups for water?"
"Sure." He climbed into the rig and backed out of the driveway. Norm gave a wave as they turned to follow the long straight neck of our cul-de-sac.
Talking with the girls allowed me to cool down, and soon the motorhome reappeared with our lunches. We ate and joked and conjectured into mid-afternoon, when Norm and the girls left for home.
We had each showered and were loading the wet towels and my cleaning supplies into our wagon when an unfamiliar car pulled into our driveway. I cast a questioning glance at Mike, who cast it right back at me.
I immediately recognized the man and woman when they got out of the carit was the couple who were buying our house. After a brief chat and a quick tour, they agreed to our leaving the remnants of the last garage sale for them to donate or discard. They would take possession tomorrow. My overheated body, painful feet and frazzled psyche were relieved. We gave them a house key and promised to leave the extra key in the garage.
"Well, you ready?" Mike asked after the new owners had gone.
"To leave?" I asked, though I already knew what he meant.
"Let me take one last look through the house."
"Okay. I'll recheck the basement and my hobby room. And the garage."
I climbed the stairs for a final farewellfirst to the master bedroom, with its blue shag carpet and shower with the massage-shower head I had given to Mike one Christmas. The lined draw drape I had made that perfectly fit the window. The patched hole in the ceiling where Mike's shotgun had errantly blown a hole the day before his first fem-pop surgery. My muscles twitched recalling the struggle I had, crawling through the access opening in the ceiling of the closet to staple plastic sheets to the rafters, in an effort to divert the rain water to the hole only, and not ruin a larger area of the ceiling.
Then to the music room, the bedroom on the end that held my Gulbransen Theatre Organ with an extra, external Leslie speakerthe work it was to remove the door casing to get it into that room in the first place. And how it hurt to sell them for pennies on the dollar when Mike was forced into this medical retirement. Some of my art work was stashed in that room and, finally, I looked at the spot directly under the recessed ceiling light where I sat, with the door closed, practicing my first accordion at age thirty five. I pictured Shotgun, our Cairn Terrier, sneaking into the room to curl up inside my accordion case and fall asleep. I glanced out the window that overlooked the entrance to our cul-de-sac. The window where I'd stood and stared, on many a night in the darkness of this room, waiting to see the headlights that told me Mike was finally coming homedrunk, but safely home.
Next I visited the smallest bedroom. The one I used for an office; the one that held the lease company I'd salvaged for the VW dealer. His desk. His filing cabinets. And then it was removed, making way for my own spacemy sewing and ironing, my writing, my paste-ups of book pages for self-published books.
I also began sleeping in that little room each night, when Mikeís incessant leg shakinghis attempt to ease the constant pain of peripheral neuropathybecame too much to endure. I moved our little metal army cot into my office room, and kept both bedroom doors open so I could hear any moaning, the telltale sounds of an insulin reaction.
I returned to the long hallway of our split level with its very red shag carpetinga color I chose because it agreed so well with the Spanish style of the house. I ran my finger down the wall outside the main bathroom, where Mike had punched a hole through it that day of his worst insulin reaction of our marriage. Iíd made a clumsy patch before we listed the house for sale.
On to the kitchen, and recollections of the Thanksgiving dinners I had prepared there. The dozens of Christmas cookies, the crock pot, the African violets all along the wide window shelf that Mike had made to my specifications. I hoped the new owners would appreciate it as I had. The dining room, with its amazing, somewhat medieval chandelier that Mike chose, and that I would drape with an artificial holly garland each Christmas. Then under the wide arch to the living room, with its white brick fireplace which we stuffed with a wood-burning stove. And the five narrow and tall windows on the front wall, where we could look out over the roof that covered the entrance. On clear days, we could see Mount Rainier peeking out beside someoneís treetops further south ...
"Hey, Hel! Ready to leave yet?"
"Yes, I'm coming." One last look around, then down the stepsthose red-carpeted stairs that Iíd line on one side with red poinsettia plants every December. A quick peek into the basement, which we'd had updated from an unfinished open space into a fine recreation room when we sold the little house. Bitter-sweet memories, good times and bad. Yes, I was ready to leave.
I joined Mike in the garage. He put our last house key on a side shelf and walked out onto the driveway. I stood near the door-opener button on the back wall, arm outstretched, finger resting in place. Shorter than Mike and better in physical balance, I had offered to push the door-button and make the dash to get under it without getting smacked.
Feet in place, knees bent, finger at the ready Ö "One, two, three Ö" Push! The door started, I sprinted my best, and made it! One familiar thud as the door met the pavement. Then, silence.
We stood looking at our old friend for a few moments, Mikeís arm around me, mine around him, then bid good bye to our home of fourteen years. Mike drove the motorhome, and I followed in our wagon.
Bitter-sweet memories trickled into my head and down my cheeks during our drive north. Life as we knew it had ended. I couldnít imagine what this new chapter would bring, but I was sure we would survive itwith Godís help.