Four

There were four of them.

Binbags, huddled like mourners in the corner of the room. I looked at them for some time but neither of us said anything. What was there to say?

It had been another in a long list of extra tasks for the night, the closest I would come to getting a break.

Pack up her things. The solicitor will collect them in the morning.

Perhaps boxes would have been more sensitive, less… dismissive.

Shirts, shoes, pyjamas I’d washed a hundred times when she woke up soaked in pain and darkness, a book of short stories her mother had given her for Christmas eighty-six years ago, a packet of half eaten peppermints as though she would come back later to finish them, her beautiful wooden bookends, pictures of her parents.

It all fit in four binbags.

They were packed alone in silence. When I spoke, it was a whisper. Not that it mattered. It was 3am but I wouldn’t have woken anyone.

A middle-aged manbun came to help towards the end, compulsively cramming the silence with conversation which was not in itself wrong and yet felt somehow irreverent.

He didn’t mean it. He didn’t know. He had arrived a day too late to understand.

The last thing to go in was a toy giraffe, nestled amongst the floral hand lotions and long lost postcards of distant lives.

How heartless it seemed to see all that she had owned in life and left in death folded and tucked into black plastic bundles like so much rubbish, ready to be removed and disposed of. In a few days she would exist only in memory, another ghost painted and carpeted over, replaced by another who would eventually share the same fate.

I looked at the binbags and they looked at me. Like she did, still and silent, a whole life wrapped inside her tissue paper skin.

It took her five and a half months to say a single word to me. When she did, she demanded to know about my eyes, my parents, my siblings. Then I was instantly dismissed to fetch coffee.

The second time she spoke it was to ask about my eyes and then my brothers. She remembered despite her age-clouded mind. Her silence was tired but it was not cold.

Four. Just four bags.

All that was left of a lifetime.

I wondered, how much would any of us leave behind? Would it lie there in the dark, ready to be disposed of without a thought? Would we too disappear into the magnolia paintwork, covered over by other soon forgotten lives? What would be left in the end?

Would it be four parcels of clothes and postcards, ready to be collected and dispersed by someone we hardly knew?

The darkness sighed and rolled over in its sleep as I turned down the covers and switched off the lights.

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