Five hours after the coffin was pushed into the crypt, my stepfather called and told me to come get my mother’s stuff. “Don’t forget the bathroom. Take her toothbrush too.” He wanted it gone that night. I told him I’d be there the next day. The woman down the hall was moving in sooner than I figured.
Mother’s polyester pants, stained tank tops, yellowed bras, and the down coat from 1982 barely filled a Hefty garbage bag. And that bag probably weighed more than she did when her lungs finally stopped, when the sound of bubbles blown through a straw into chocolate milk finally ceased. I gave her the last shot of morphine. He said I killed her. Hospice told me it was always like that.
I’m moving again, time to get rid of stuff I don’t need, starting in the spare room. Half way through the room, the disingenuous cigarettes and Here’s My Heart perfume smells assault me. I dump out the bag of my mother’s clothes, looking through the socks where she kept her Fun Money; he probably took the money right after they zipped her up in the bag and wheeled her out of the apartment.
The two corrugated boxes are limp and filthy, tape peeling. I hope for pictures of me and my brothers. One box is full of vinyl purses, colors to match the bell-bottom pant suits and glitter blouses now decorating the dumpster. The second box is full of shoes.
Fancy shoes: red slings worn beneath crisply starched A-line dresses topped with a string of pearls, black patent leather stilettos for satin sheaths with sweetheart necklines and crystal jewelry, cream low heels for respectable suits (with red lipstick). There are brown suede pumps with a tiny brass ribbon, snakeskin slings, royal blue pumps, strappy silver heels: crumpled and bent, but no scuffs or tears, the richly embossed insole labels are not even smudged.
I line them up in pairs, wondering about the woman who wore them. Surely not the single mother who worked as a waitress twelve hours days, six days a week. Not the woman who got drunk on Tuesday nights to find someone who’d buy her nice things. Pulling a wad of paper from a toe, I try to step into the shoe; it’s too small, narrow.
There is writing in the sleepy wrinkles of thin paper from the shoe–her handwriting, always in pencil: “To My Daughter – the best way to apply your lipstick is to look in the mirror and smile.” Each shoe yields dated notes, ten years of advice on recipes, men, dresses, dances, and decorating. Through three sons and a stillborn, she kept writing to her not yet conceived daughter.
I should do something with these shoes, they are in such good condition. Maybe I’ll take them over to Goodwill.