There's Nothing Here You'd Want

Pamela Ryder

Broom clean, the realtor had said. Don't give the buyer a reason to renege.

Certainly not. Not after so many delays: the dickering over price, the demands for repairs before the closing date.

One last look, the daughter decided, arriving broom in hand for a final sweep.

Cabinets had been cleared. Belongings had been sorted. Discards had been bagged and stuffed down the garbage chute. Even the doorway mezuzah had been removed.

The father's name remained in place under the bell for buzzing in, below the hole for peeping out.

Closets had been emptied. Clothing bundled up. Personal effects dispersed.

Furniture, furnishings, father.

Early on she surveyed the wreckage—the old foldout sofa, the bulky end tables, the banged-up dining room set. She decided what items she could carry, and what would require vans and men—including the hospital bed where the father spent his days and nights, and the bedroom bed where he once had slept.

Early on she noted what would require packing up and hauling out—including the father's live-in girlfriend and her well-stocked cupboard of comestibles.

The woman—Babsie—had hinted at her impending departure.

Where do we sit? Where do we eat? she had said as the father's pill bottles piled up on countertops and collected on the kitchen dinette, and as the sofa became stacked with plastic bins that held mattress pads, pajamas, changes of bedding. The chair with a toilet seat and built-in bucket was positioned bedside; the urinal was kept at the ready, plainly displayed.

Personal care items, the daughter said.

Poop pan, the father said. Piss pot.

It's more like a sick room or a hospital ward, said Babsie while she polished off a dish of kugel. This is much more than I bargained for.

The daughter rolled up the rug. Pile and fringe, the potential for damage: the father could slip; his shoes could catch.

Obstacles were everywhere. The father could stumble. A hazard, the daughter said, shoving aside the clutter.

She relocated lamps, secured electrical cords with tape. She plugged in night-lights that glowed like miniature moons.

The credenza was relegated to a corner. Dining room chairs were dismantled. The glass-topped coffee table—an item nearly invisible and subsequently hazardous—was summarily displaced.

All my nice things, said Babsie between bagel bites. It's hardly my home anymore.

Never was, the daughter said.

Nevertheless, the father took a spill.

I'm fine, fine, he said, sprawled on the kitchen floor. He waved them away. Stop making a fuss, he said. Just give me a minute to sit.

The daughter knelt beside him. Just what did you think you were doing? she said. Just tell me what you were trying to do.

Boil a hot dog, the father said with great sorrow. Heat up some beans.

Well, said the daughter, that's that. New rules, she said. New footwear. Supervision.

She sorted through his shoes—the slippery soles, the dangerous laces—and bundled them up with his clothes to give away—the trousers gone too loose, the shirts he couldn't button.

He took to staying in the bed where she put him beside the big window. He pushed her away when she pulled at his arms to have him stand. I can't, can't you see that? the father said.

Come on, the daughter said. Get going. Just a few little steps.

Enough! the father said.

My golden years—ruined, Babsie said.

The radiator had rust. Grout was crumbling.

A tough sell, the realtor told them.

Inadequate upkeep, or the total lack, took its toll. Offers were not pouring in. Hardly a nibble, the realtor said. The kitchen was obsolete and downright dangerous. The oven overheated. A back burner shot stars. Nothing had ever been replaced. No need, the daughter told the realtor: Babsie did not cook, though the shelves were stocked for snacking. Actual meals consisted of dining out or ordering in. Hence the out-of-date kitchen and its old appliances, the realtor explained to potential buyers. Hence the price.

The bathroom, too, was a liability. Buyers want tiles in muted tones, the realtor said, and showerheads with adjustable functions—forceful massage or sprinkle of rain. They want self-heating towel racks, not safety-grip bars screwed into the wall. Not toilets with handicap seats.

Inquiries were made about the crack inside the tub. Purely cosmetic, the realtor explained to interested parties, defending his contracted turf. Nothing structural, he explained when they asked him: Were any of the occupants somewhat obese?

You never know when a buyer might come by, the realtor told the daughter, so keep the place clean. And by the way, maybe you could paint.

The daughter mopped, wiped, swept.

Babsie cleaned her plate.

The father wasted away.

Babsie let nothing go to waste.

Perfectly good cake, she said with fork in hand, picking through leftovers the father had left.

I never liked cake, the father said. Rugelach—maybe.

Tapioca then, the daughter said. I added eggs. Lots of protein.

Fish eyes, the father said. Forget it.

How about a blintz? Sour cream or blueberry? How about a nice potato knish?

Three strikes, said the father. How about that?

His hand shook. A tremor of utensils. The shakes, the father said. I'm missing my mouth.

The doctor was kindly, his voice soft.

Try adaptive devices, the doctor said. Spoons with big grips. Sectional plates.

He's gotten so weak he can hardly sit up, the daughter told him.

Have you considered getting some help? he said. Live-in? Round-the-clock?

A woman—Bettylou—was subsequently hired; someone bigger than Babsie and primarily toothless, but having Babsie's potential for consumption. The father listened as they made meal selections—Babsie and Bettylou commiserating over menus: Nine Napkin Burger. Peking Palace. Hot Wings.

This sounds good, said Babsie, contemplating an order of barbequed meat. Want to split a bucket of ribs?

Big meals were telephoned in.

The father struggled to turn in his bed. Need help? asked Bettylou as she speared a wing. Looks like you're trying to roll yourself over.

Sure, said the father, but you go ahead. Finish eating. Relax. No rush.

The doorman announced impending deliveries. Pizza! he called. On its way up!

The woman folded over her slice of pepperoni. I'd offer, she said, but it's loaded with salt.

Looks good, the father said.

And I don't think it's Kosher, said the woman.

Cheese stretched. Sauce dripped. No, she said, definitely not.

She did less, ate more. Chips, dips, assorted nuts. She requested a pay raise. The daughter shelled out. She requested another. The daughter acquiesced. Suspicions were aroused when valuables disappeared: a watch, a ring, and a tub of butter. Voices were raised. Fingers were pointed. Ugly scenes ensued: who polished off the nachos? Who paid for the butter pecan? Inevitably came the shakedown: She would leave them in the lurch if they didn't cough up. I'm walking, said Bettylou when she walked off the job. Jews, she said.


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