It’s six in the morning. She sits up in bed. She looks at the room around her. She takes stock of time. She recounts the days and the minutes and the hours and the seconds since Uncle Genius died. Since he got sick. Since he called her in France just to say hi from a mountain because he could.
Don’t hurry kid, he told her once. She was always impatient. Don’t hurry kid. You have time. You need the bumps and bruises. And if you try to hurry past those, you’re never going to make it. Don’t hurry kid, he told her.
She knows that it’s been too long though, and she knows she has to stop paying the rent on Uncle Genius’ apartment and empty it of him. She has to go through his things, keep them, hold them, sell them, give them away.
Until today she has kept it a shrine to the day he last went to the hospital. She hasn’t touched anything. There is probably a coffee cup half full of moldy coffee on the kitchen counter. There will still be the newspaper from that day sitting next to his bed where she was reading to him when he began to convulse.
The coffee table will still be placed sideways on the couch to make room for the paramedics.
She will still be calm, and will still hold his hand while they take him out of the apartment and down the stairs and away from her. She will still know that she will never be the same without him.
But she has to do it. She has been paying the rent on his apartment now for too long, just to avoid this. Just to keep him alive a little longer. It’s time to do this. Uncle Genius would kill her if he knew she’d been keeping his apartment like a shrine. It’s time.
Uncle Genius’ apartment is in the most ridiculous area of town that is an ugly mess of renters, and owners, churches, mosques, corner shops, homeless people, drug addicts, and business people. A park, and a farmers’ market (neither of which he ever used, but he did know every drug addict on the street by name, and by drug of choice and had shared cigarettes and beer with probably all of them). It was in the back of several other apartments, situated in an alleyway. The stairs, all 3 stories of them, were outside, were wooden, were precarious, and reminded her of a weird Escher painting if Escher had made things fit logically.
She unlocks the door and takes a deep breath. As she walks inside, she is surprised by the fact that it doesn’t actually stink like she had expected it to. She imagined it would smell like death-like old sweaters, moth balls, sick, and tired and dry. It doesn’t. She laughs at herself for being so maudlin.
She wanders through each room for a few minutes before settling in the living room and Uncle Genius’ record collection. It’s hers now if she wants it. If she wants it. IF. She remembers him lecturing her on the proper way to store vinyl so as not to warp them, but she can’t remember what that is. She pulls out a record and touches the cover. It’s been listened to a lot. It’s been held a lot. She puts it on the record player and puts the needle down gently onto the edge of the record and listens to just the slightest, smallest pop. And then the music starts. The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. He forced her to listen to this album repeatedly when she came to him as a young girl and said she liked The Beatles. He was having nothing of it. He told her she must understand that The Kinks were better than The Beatles, they were thinking man’s pop music. The Beatles were drivel. But he had original issue Beatles records wrapped and taken care of. He didn’t really hate the Beatles. He just didn’t want her to go down the wrong path. He probably saved her that day he made her listen to this album. Her breath was taken away when she heard the song Days. She’d never heard anything so touching, so sweet, so tragic, and so cynical all at once.
She stands up and begins singing, “Do you remember Walter playing Cricket...” and smiles. She does a little dance. “But Walter my old friend, where are you now?” and changes the name Walter to Genius.
She can totally do this.
She walks into the bedroom. She rips the sheets off the bed. Trash. She is throwing these things in the garbage. There will never be sickness again. Ever.
She opens all the windows.
“picture yourself, when you’re getting old.…”
She takes the mattress and the box spring out to the deck at the top of the stairs. Now that those are out of the way, she can set to the task of going through every minute detail of every single thing in here in this apartment. Uncle Genius had lived in this apartment as long as she could remember. He hated change. He didn’t like to move. And as she looks around at everything, she can see why. She wouldn’t call him a hoarder. She’d just say he had surrounded himself with himself, and she can see why disrupting this would have been nearly impossible.
He has two closets in his bedroom. One for clothes and one for… she opens the door and from ceiling to floor she finds boxes.
She takes several boxes into the living room and begins to open each one. This is going to take forever.
It’s photos, short stories, ticket stubs, pieces of napkins with just a word written on them, Christmas cards from 20 years ago, that she knows without a doubt he had intended to respond to and never, ever did. Probably every damn box is going to look like this, she thinks.
She can’t bear to throw any of this away. She wonders if there’s any way she can keep it. and spend the rest of her life going through it and surprising herself.
There are pictures of her from when she was a kid. There’s one of her and Uncle Genius sitting at a picnic table together laughing. She puts that in her pocket. Uncle Genius had a good laugh. Even if he employed it rarely.
“girl it’s a hard hard world …. ”
There’s a dissonance listening to the Kinks and emptying out Uncle Genius’ life.
The Rolling Stones ticket stub from what looks like must have been 1975.
A napkin with the word, ” Muswell hillbilly” written on it.
A beer mat with a picture of horses on it.
Why did he keep these things?
A box. Four inches by four inches. Wrapped in what must have been gold paper at one time. It’s unopened.
She holds it and stares at it. She feels like she shouldn’t open it. What if he finds out? Will he be mad at her for going through his stuff?
She sighs. And begins to unwrap it.
Inside there are several pieces of paper folded together-a letter. And below them is a velvet box, and inside of that is an engagement ring.
Uncle Genius… bought an engagement ring for someone?
She unfolds the letter and begins to read it.
“My heart. My heart. My heart.
You’ve held it in your hands for so long now, I swear you must have taught it how to beat. You must have. I don’t remember a time when it didn’t beat for you.
I can’t remember a time before you. And I can’t imagine a time after you.
I know I’m breaking our promise. I know we swore we’d never do this.
But you know I never do what I’m told.
And my heart. My heart. My heart! Where you go it goes.
And I want to spend my life going wherever you go.”
Uncle Genius never once had ever told her that he had been in love. She thinks on that for a moment. She almost had an Auntie Genius-or maybe another Uncle Genius? There’s no date or name on the letter. And it had remained unopened since he had wrapped it. And he had stored it away inside a box underneath Rolling Stones ticket stubs.
Why hadn’t he given it to the person. Why had he kept it?
And why had he never told her that he had been in love?
Uncle Genius had kept a secret from her. A big secret. And he wrote love letters. Good God, Uncle Genius wrote love letters. No wonder he never told her about it.
“Thank you for the days, those endless days those sacred days you gave me… I won’t forget a single day, believe me.…”
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