Nathan jumped off his bike and rang the doorbell. He let several seconds pass, then opened the door. He was keen to get his chore over with. Electric chimes, activated by the swing of the door, rang out in bright melody.

“Hello,” Nathan called out.

He parked his bike just inside the door and closed it behind him.

“Grandma,” he yelled, entering the kitchen and seeing no-one.

He almost tripped over a cardboard box in the middle of the corridor. The place was piled with junk. Boxes and plastic bags of clothes, trinkets, and videotapes stacked on furniture encroached on the last rivulets of walking space. A desk in the corner was stacked high with ripped envelopes, papers, books, packages of pens and pencils, and there she was sitting, a missionary in an unknown jungle. Her laptop occupied the only clear space on the desk. It was a like the shaded beacon of a lighthouse. The bedroom, and in fact the whole house, was as cluttered as the desk. The old woman never threw anything out if it could be used. And you never knew when something would prove useful. There were half-empty food cartons in the kitchen and in the living room, boxes of Christmas ornaments and decorations waiting to be packed away, stacked four or five high. Porcelain figurines, potted plants, clothes, and collectible knickknacks covered every available surface in the house. Somewhere there was a banker’s box full of little wooden ice cream spoons.

“Hello, Grandma.”

The old woman rose ponderously from her seat. “Oh, Nathan, how lovely to see you. Can I get you a drink? Dr. Pepper?”

“Yes, please, but I’ll get it. Do you want a Diet Coke?” offered Nathan.

“No thanks, nothing for me. Why don’t you sit down a minute before we get to work.”

Nathan retrieved the drinks from the fridge and sat down on the couch next to his Grandma’s recliner.

“Thank you, Nathan. Oh look, your shoes are untied.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Nathan moved a stack of catalogues that were on the couch on top of a stack of boxes. The magazines teetered but did not fall.

“So how’d you get here?” asked Nathan’s grandma.

“I rode my bike straight from school.”

“All that way. Gosh. You know, I have been so busy today. I went shopping and I bought something for your father. I don’t know if he’ll like it or not. Ha. And I’ve been making a shelf to put all my videotapes on. But the dumb screwdriver ran out of battery power, so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to finish it.” She paused. “Hey, do you think your mother would like some soap? I bought too much today. It’s real nice, Floral Fragrances.”

Nathan knew his mother didn’t want any soap. But he didn’t want to say no.

“I wouldn’t be able to carry it on my bike,” he said.

“Oh well, that’s alright. Did you get those shoes tied? Good. Alright, let’s get to work.”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Nathan.

“Well, all those boxes of Christmas stuff in the living room need to go upstairs in the attic.” It was almost worth it if he took another Dr. Pepper when he left.

Hoisting a box on his knee, Nathan opened the door to the garage. Overflowing bags of clothes and towels were all over the floor. Nathan walked sideways down a narrow path of concrete that led past the washer and dryer to the back corner where the stairs began. Nathan ducked his way past cardigans and shirts hung from the ceiling, out to dry. His feet thumped against the narrow, steep, plywood stairs. No-one had been up here since he had brought the boxes down at the beginning of December. There were plastic bags full of plastic bags. The air was motionless and dusty. Nathan navigated the narrow walkway between shelves stuffed with cheap souvenirs and boxes of plastic bottles. He scraped his back against a shelf and when he looked, there was a little tear in his shirt. The slant of the ceiling forced him to hunch over. His forehead smacked against a low-hanging fluorescent light.

As Nathan set down his first box, he thought: why doesn’t she get rid of this stuff. It’s all junk. All of it. How did she let it get like this? She’ll never use any of this, anyway. He picked up a limited edition Ohio State University calendar from 1993 and threw it in the trash on his way through the garage. That was how he took out his frustration.

Eight boxes, eight trips through the obstacle course, to the attic, eight pieces of junk in the trash.

“How you going out there, Nathan?” asked his Grandma over the TV.

“I’m done,” replied Nathan, entering the family room.

“Oh, thank you so much. You really are a sweetheart, you know that?”

“Uhm, hmm.”

“Oh, you are funny.”

“Grandma, you have way too much stuff,” Nathan said.

“Well, it pays to be prepared. I know your dad would like me to get rid of some of it, but what if I need it?”

“Everything in the attic?”

“There are things up there that are very valuable, that you might get someday.”

“Like what?”

“Some of my mother’s old dishes and cutlery. All kinds of things.”

Nathan’s mental clock told him he needed to stay a few more minutes to not feel guilty when he left. He was also holding out for another Dr. Pepper.

“You know why I told you to tie your shoes, Nathan?”

“Uhh, no.”

“Because, once, oh before your Dad was born, I was sitting there in our house, or no, it was out the kitchen window. I was boiling the chickens that my mother was bringing in from the yard so we could pluck the feathers off. I was the oldest, so I had to learn how to do all the work and I saw a group of children out there playing, running around on the street, and one little boy had his shoes untied…flying every which way and they were running around, kicking a ball all over creation and I saw that little boy trip over his shoelaces and fall there on the pavement. Well, we got through with all the chickens and he was still laying there, hadn’t moved. He was dead.”

“Yep,” his Grandma continued, “and do you know who that little boy was?


“He was your great-uncle.”

“Oh wow, I didn’t know that.”

“Well, I figure you’re old enough for stories like that now.”