When I Finally Clean Out Your House

by Taylor N. Schaefer

Runestone, volume 7

When I Finally Clean Out Your House
byTaylor N. Schaefer

Runestone, volume 7

Living Room

          We’ll start here. My grandfather’s recliner will be long gone, but the VHS tapes will be neat in their basket, stuffed under the TV stand along with the matchbox collectible cars my brother never brought home. To you, six-year-old me is forever present, sitting crisscross on the carpet, begging you to rewind Dragon Tales for the third time that afternoon. My father told me that the sliding door behind the TV, rusted shut, is where you used to let his dog out without its collar, hoping it would run away. It always came back.



          There will be some non-perishables left in the cupboards, cans of beans and condensed milk they forgot to clear out when they moved you to the home. Who can blame them? They were on shelves too high for anyone but my grandfather to reach. You made me Eggo waffles like you did every morning I woke up here, and from the table I could see them aglow in the toaster oven. Your husband would read the paper as I tried not to wobble my chair on the lumpy linoleum, my legs not yet long enough to steady me. Over and over again, I drew horses, trying to pluck the shapes of their faces from the movie I watched the night before. For every draft there was a detail missing or skewed: eyes too small, ears deformed into triangles rather than twists, a cheek too round, a muzzle boxy, nothing like the soft lines of a living thing. I started again.


Dining Room

          The tongue and groove subfloor threatening to give way beneath me, I will stare and stare at the pristine plates and teacups, and I will notice the veins of brushstrokes outlined in the sunlight. Someone long dead bought this set when you got married, I will think. And you haven’t let anyone eat off of them for fifty years. The china will tremble in its case as I move on. 


First Bedroom

          I will wonder how your only daughter, the purple-haired hippie, ever survived in a room so decadently, severely pink. Pink drapes, pink sheets, pink pillows, pink carpet. I will suspect that you insisted on redecorating when she moved out, as you transformed the room into your study. You spent an hour at the desk every Sunday, your careful curls illuminated by the fringed lamp, pink like everything else. You wrote cursive letters to those poor children in Africa for your church to deliver, always with checks attached. 


Second Bedroom

          The savior crucified next to the door frame will side-eye me as I walk in. I will know this is my father’s old room, but there won’t be any trace of him left among the graveyard of old toys, the Tweety Bird mattress I used to sleep on. You would kneel by my head, brush my bangs back, and tell me to close my eyes as you prayed I’d wake the next morning. Now I lay me down to sleep…


Master Bedroom

          I will let my father handle your bedroom.


          The painting that dominates the mantle will be paler than the last time I saw it, faded by time and relentless sun. I said you only had one daughter. In the canvas, Jesus of Nazareth holds my other aunt in his lap. She looks like her father, even in her pink dress and pinafore. Round cheeks, blonde curls that barely brush her ears. She has a gap between her brand-new front teeth. Suddenly I am in a hospital bay, cold white walls pressing in, watching your baby girl stop breathing. You took her in because she couldn’t breathe properly, because there was something stopping her little chest from rising fully. You took her in hoping the doctors could fix her, but that was the time she didn’t come home. I remember my grandfather telling me about it, in a different house than this, after you’d separated, because Catholics don’t get divorced. His six-foot frame cramped into a wheelchair (six months later, a casket). The look on his face exactly the same as the day you lost her. I will wonder, what are we going to do with this?



          I will pause on the narrow stairs, wary of the wobbly railing, the wood paneling rotting even as I look at it. How did you manage these, steep as they are, with nothing certain to guide you down? How did you manage them when your youngest, at seventeen, finally came home after his accident? Did you regret putting his room in the basement when this little house ran out of room? Did you just let him sleep on the couch? I imagine you standing at the top of the stairs, fiddling with your crucifix, my uncle crutched on one leg and his father’s arm, part of him now permanently absent. 

         I will sit behind the bar you installed to entertain your friends, pull my fingers through the beaded curtain. The books and hand-me-down toys you tried to give me will be stacked where I left them in the corner, dust and mold eating away at their covers and boxes. How much do you remember of me, outside of these walls, this foundation? I imagine I will feel you present here more than I have felt you in years, even as you sit in front of me: another holiday spent in the corner of the room, sipping the tea my father brings you, the world around you muffled and darkening. You’re getting so big, you tell me, like you always do. 

Taylor N. Schaefer

Taylor N. Schaefer

Salisbury University

Taylor N. Schaefer is a student at Salisbury University and editor-in-chief for the literary magazine The Scarab. Schaefer has poems published or forthcoming in Hawai’i Pacific Review, Poetry South, Stonecoast Review, Santa Clara Review, The Shore, and Polaris Literary Magazine.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This