Yesterday, I had cause to visit a neighborhood not far from my own to deliver some wayward mail that occasionally gets misdirected to our address. It was on my way to the grocery store anyway, and I figured I'd do the residents a good turn since all of the three siblings that share the house have a disablity of one kind or another. Indeed, they are quite likeable people. But they are also very strange people.
This is the kind of neighborhood that seems fairly sweet and sleepy upon arrival, but soon certain things pop to the attention. One, there are peculiar mixed-breed dogs either tied up in yards or wandering about, looking like they were drawn by a four-year-old child. Occasionally, there are peculiar humans, also seemingly the work of a young artist with a tendency toward rotund, rather than straight, stick figures. Their heads shoot up as soon as you park your car, and their expressions are not what I would deem friendly. If you were in the South, you would definitely be hearing creepy fiddle music. But, this is Westchester, NY, so the fiddles are stashed away. Then there are the ominous eyes that peer at you from behind curtains that are quickly twitched back into place as soon as you turn around.
I tweren't scared, but the place was unsettling. I got to the house where I needed to deliver my mail and spotted K, tooling around in his driveway in a wheelchair and so hopped up on steroids he could barely stop talking to take a puff from his ever-present cigarette. Then out stepped P, his sister, who invited me inside for the "grand tour." Recently recovered from a bout of "the cancer," P was looking pretty healthy, especially compared to her brother. A third sibling--whose mail I was delivering--was not at home. "That idiot," said P when I asked after him. "He's an idiot." (This brother actually happens to be "slow," so calling him an idiot did seem a bit uncharitable.)
The grand tour of the house made me feel pretty sad. It was dark with the shutters drawn throughout. There was a tiny railroad kitchen, stacked high with detritus; a smoky and stained bedroom for K, another for the "idiot brother," a living room that did not invite laughter and conversation, and a simply awful enclosed "front porch" that was darker than a tomb and about as wide as a cat's hips. "We like to spend lots of time here hanging on the porch!" said P, brightly. But...it's...not a porch. It's dark! There's no...light. "We like our porch, too," I offered. How poor, wheelchair-bound K even maneuvered around this place--filled with old, sticky furniture--was beyond me. P was embarrassed to show me the bathroom because of the color of the tile, but since the entire home was wood-paneled and covered with ugly vinyl-like tiles from stem to stern the bathroom's perky green tiles seemed like a nice break.
A friend was there tearing out K's carpet because K so often lurched about and spilled food on it from his wheelchair. He nodded curtly at me as he carried out a giant sack containing about 1,253 cigarette butts and other detritus.
"Want to see my room? It's pretty cozy," P said. Where could it be? The whole house was no bigger than a breadbox. Ah, the basement! We went down the stairs into a low-ceilinged and yes, wood-paneled area. The bed was piled high with clothes and the place smelled musty and depressing. There was a large pile of Cheez Doodles (the puffed kind) spilling out on her sheets in a strange, orange tableau. "And there's my potty!" said P, pointing to one of those portable toilet seats that the disabled sometimes use, with arm rests--and no plumbing whatsoever. Only a bucket of some kind.
At this point I was about to get mad. When people suffer through a bout of "the cancer," they shouldn't have to use a potty with a bucket under it, for gosh sakes. They should have a proper potty with a flush mechanism! But who is going to pay for P's plumbing, or move her to a bigger house with a nice, sunny front porch where she can sip cool lemonade and watch the world go by, lazy and content, flush with Cheez Doodles?
So we went back upstairs, where she started to fix lunch for K and the friend who was helping to tear out the dreadful old carpet. She cut some nondescript, pinkish-grey meat off a loafy-shaped thing and slapped it on some buns, tearing off the extra fat with her fingernails and leaving it in a little, pink pile on the mustard-colored countertop. The men chomped into those things--yum! yum! I was deeply afraid that she would offer me some, but she didn't. She did offer me a drink, but I said no thanks. I'm afraid some deep-seated nausea kicked in and I didn't even want to drink a can of Dr. Pepper out of that fridge. There were also tons of wild animal figurines from K's room that had been cleaned and left to dry haphazardly all over the kitchen. A falcon in the dish rack. A wild deer and a bear perched on the bread loaf. All with beady, black eyes and wild wings and claws and fangs.
The funny thing is, the reason that I have these people's mail in the first place is that they used to live in our house. For 45 years, the three sibings (plus another) shared the place with their parents and an ancient great-granny who took up one of the only three bedrooms. At one point, the kids were stacked in one of the bedrooms in neat rows, like sardines. There were so many mattresses in the room that the floor was just one, big mattress. Another year, their parents moved into the dining room to accommodate another elderly relative. That must have been the year that they boarded up the beautiful 1905 leaded glass window in that room--for privacy.
They loved this house. When they sold it to us, they cried. Their initials are etched into the basement stairway and they used to jump from the landing on the stairs to the floor, just like my two boys do now. When they lived here, they had the same ugly old furniture but they had a proper front porch, with sun, and big windows, and hardwood floors (that they covered with hideous tile that we had to tear up, but let's not get into that.) Eventually, after the parents died, they had to sell it, partially because K couldn't get up the stairs into the house nor up the stairs to his bedroom anymore. They owned the house outright after all those years, so it makes me wonder:
What have they done with all the money?
And I also wonder at times, mostly in the middle of the night: What's in the water? Sure, I haven't seen the fourth sibling since the closing and I can't remember her at all, but something tells me that she's not the pinnacle of health, either. It's just a guess. I just don't picture her as a veggie-eating marathon runner.
I think about moving a lot, but I know when our For Sale sign does go up K and P will be the first to hear about it. (They knew when we redid the bathroom, planted the sod, and tore up the patio that K put down at age 16. They see it all. The houses here have eyes, too.) They'll be concerned about who is coming, and who is going to take care of the old house.
After my visit to deliver the mail, they asked me to come back, please, anytime, and bring my kids! Like I said, these are the nicest people in the world, so I wouldn't mind paying them a visit or two down the road. I just keep thinking of that little pile of pink meat strips on that old countertop, and the guys sitting there with the dust motes floating in the one, narrow ray of sunlight that's coming in through the window. Then I glance out at my own front porch, and remember that they grew up clattering across it, and clambering up the stairs after school, and watching the snow fall out the big front window.