The Body

Dear Lauren,
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow – I keep hearing this word echo in my head. I said “tomorrow;” I said “I’ll write again tomorrow;” but when I wrote “tomorrow,” I had no clue what kind of a tomorrow it would be.
I found a dead body. In my backyard. Under Aunt Pricilla’s rosebushes.
So. Ugh. Where do I even begin?
Ok, so I ended my last letter by telling you that Gordon Ripley had dropped me off at the house because there was a storm coming. And it wasn’t until I was standing there at the front door, and he was roaring away in that old truck, and the thunder and lightning were coming down all over, that I remembered the papers, and realized I had been conned. He seemed like such a nice old guy, too; an uncle sort of guy. Remember Uncle Charlie? You probably don’t remember him as well as I do, and I only remember meeting him once. I remember he gave us golf balls, and he had sticky notes all over the house, with written reminders to himself. So, kind of like him, only more lumbering and more muttering and more – well, altogether overwhelming. But kind and inviting and hospitable all at the same time. The sort of person who loves kittens but could stare down a grizzly. The point is, I stood there and let the rain drench me as I realized that this nice Santa Claus kind of guy had taken my papers, given me lemonade, and sent me home.
So I was in a grumpy mood when I got inside and all the cats were meowing for food. I didn’t have any more tuna, so I opened the back door and picked them up and threw them out one by one. Of course, I quickly realized this wasn’t an efficient method, since they just came scurrying back in again, but that didn’t stop me from picking them up and throwing them out, one by one by one, until I was exhausted and they were persistently getting the better of me, and so I closed the door and collapsed into the living room chair and closed my eyes. The cats swarmed back with me, of course, into the living room and into the kitchen and up the stairs to who knows where. There’s no controlling them. So I gave up. So it was just me and the cats and the storm until I heard one of them scratching at the door. It was just a little scratch: scratch-scratch-scratch. It was a gentle scratch; it was an apologetic scratch. Somebody must have gotten stuck outside when I closed the door. I took a deep breath and pulled myself out of the chair and me and my feline hoard went to let in the prodigal child.
I could hear the wind and the rain outside, and I quickly opened the door. There, in the cold and wet, sat little Smokey, swishing his tail miserably. “Come inside, you stupid animal,” I said, and so he did, and I slammed the door behind him. When I turned around, I saw a tiny trail of bloody pawprints behind him.
“Hey, come here,” I cried out, thinking he had hurt himself. I scooped him up and looked at each of his paws. He wasn’t bleeding anywhere, but he had walked through what seemed to be a lot of blood. Suddenly I smelled it, and my stomach turned. I dropped him in the sink and tried to wash off his paws, but of course he wouldn’t sit still, so he just jumped out of the sink and ran away, trailing a wet mess of blood and soap and water behind him.
That’s it, I thought. I’ve had enough. Cats are impossible. People are impossible. Weather is impossible. I wanted to curl up in my apartment back in D.C., log onto the computer, and watch Netflix for the rest of the evening.
But I couldn’t. Something, I knew, was terribly, terribly wrong. So I pulled on Aunt Pricilla’s old 70’s style rain coat from behind the kitchen door and stepped outside into the rain.
I could see nothing. I could hear nothing but the rush of water as it came pouring down my face and into my eyes and mouth and ears. I could almost smell – no, that wasn’t right. I told myself it wasn’t possible; I told myself it was all a mistake, a horrible, horrible nightmare, that these cats had driven me insane, and I needed to pack up and go home first thing in the morning to see Dr. Shutzpretzel and make him tell me I wasn’t hallucinating again. But a burst of wind blew up and smacked me across the face, and I could almost hear it sighing with strained forbearance at my desperate cowardice. Slowly, I opened my eyes, and I looked out across the backyard.
All was still. Everything was soaked: the concrete patio, the rusty old lawn chairs tossed here and there, the trees, the flowers, the bushes … and there, underneath the row of dainty white rosebushes against the rickety old wooden fence, there was a human leg. I stepped out across the patio, my feet leaden with fear and disgust. I reached the edge of the row, and despite the pouring rain, I could see most of the body: a woman in baggy pants and an orange sweater lay tossed under the rosebushes. Well, maybe tossed isn’t the right word; dropped, forgotten, hastily set aside, to be claimed at a later date? Anyway, she was there. And I was there. Well, not THERE, but there, at the edge of the bushes, in the pouring rain, thinking things just couldn’t get worse. And then I caught a whiff of the most putrid smell on this earth.

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Ripley

I crossed my arms and frowned. Who was he? Where did he come from? How did he know about the papers? Why did he think he could just demand them like that? I shook my head. “This is part of my aunt’s estate, and everything in it belongs to my mother, including these papers. It’s none of your business what we do with them.”
“It might not be my business,” he remarked, “but if your mother knew – does she know about the papers?”
I still didn’t understand. “I’m the one in charge of cleaning up the house. As far as I can tell, the papers are drafts of letters she sent to other people. I’m not going to read them all; that’s rude.” I thought he would appreciate my discretion. “We’re not going to keep the house, so we’re not going to keep the letters. That’s all there is to it.”
He looked at me and scratched his head. “Letters,” he muttered, “letters, right. Well …” he looked around the yard. “Well, look here, the thing is, you’re in a close neighborhood here. There’s the Morgans next to you, and me and my … my dogs on the other side, and Mrs. Wiggins on the other side there, and old Joe Granger across the street; an’ we have some rules – not regular rules, mind you, but neighborly rules, an’ one of those rules is,” he sniffed the air like a bloodhound, “we don’t burn anything except on burning days.”
“Burning days?”
“That’s right, burning days. Tuesdays and Saturdays. And today is Wednesday. So,” he finished brightly, “so I guess you’ll have to wait for Saturday to burn ‘em. Sorry about that.”
I still stared. “Hmmm.” I said. I wasn’t convinced. I opened my mouth to say something, but I heard a crash and bang inside the house, and suddenly remembered the wild herd in the kitchen. “I’ll be right back,” I said, and I leaped into the house.
Having finished the tuna, the cats decided to scrounge in the pantry. It was a jar of pickled asparagus they had broken, and although I didn’t care much, it took a few minutes to clean it up. By the time I was done, and had opened the door to shoo the cats outside (or as many as I could), I remembered the neighbor, who had never given me his name. I looked outside, but he was gone. Huh, I thought. Then, in a flash, I remembered: it was only Tuesday. Which meant, according to the supposed “neighborly rules,” it was a burning day. I flew to the drum.
Sure enough, he was gone – and he had taken all the papers with him.
*
Now, I ask you, even if the papers were any of his business – which they were not – why he would want to have them? They were just old letters, drafts of memos; there were some lines of really bad poetry that she had scribbled over a thousand times, but nothing worth reading. It seemed a breach of privacy to read them. And besides, they didn’t belong to him!
I started off at a brisk walk across the back field in the direction he had come from. It was a muddy field, full of little green plants – not sure what. Too thin to be corn, too leafy to be grains. Maybe potatoes. The point is, by the time I crossed the field, I was caked in mud and questioning my sanity. I found an old white farmhouse on a little hill, and I walked right up to the back door. I could hear voices inside, a man’s voice (my bear-like neighbor) and two women’s voices. One woman sounded like a bird and the other sounded like a badger.
“… the papers,” the birdlike voice chirped.
“But ginger … by the house … burning … and of course, if she … with ginger,” the badger growled.
The bear grumbled in response, but I couldn’t understand any of his words. I knocked loudly and the voices stopped. Someone shuffled to the door and opened it slowly.
“Oh, hello,” it was the woman with the badger’s voice. She looked up at me behind very round glasses. “You must be our new neighbor. Ripley, look who’s followed you home.”
The man rose from his chair in the kitchen and seemed pleased to see me. “It’s Pricilla’s niece, ladies. So nice of you to drop by. Come in, don’t mind the mud. These are two of your neighbors, Mrs. Morgan, from the other side of the creek” (this was the woman with the birdlike voice) “and this is Miss Pleasance, two doors down – affectionately known as Ginger.” The ladies giggled nervously as we all shook hands. I suddenly felt embarrassed, as if I were intruding. But I wanted the papers.
“Ripley was just telling us that you have come to sort through your aunt’s possessions,” said Mrs. Morgan. “What a kind and generous thing that is to do. I’m sure your aunt would have been very grateful for your help. She was such a dear, but,” her voice dropped to a whisper, for fear of offending the dead, “she was not very organized.”
“I know,” I said, “I have been trying to get rid of some trash, some excess papers,” and Ripley filled a glass of lemonade and pushed it towards me with a smile.
“Oh, of course,” said Mrs. Morgan, “I’m sure the house needs a good cleaning. Like spring cleaning, you know. I always try to clean out my house in April, but sometimes it snows, and it’s impossible to keep up with – but you don’t want to hear about my spring cleaning habits.”
“I came here to get my aunt’s papers back.”
“Gordon,” said Ginger in surprise, “you didn’t take Pricilla’s papers, did you?”
“The truth is, I did,” he coughed and looked at me apologetically. “I didn’t mean to steal them from you, Miss –”
“My name is Lindsey, Lindsey Mayfair.”
“Why, what a lovely name!” exclaimed Mrs. Morgan. I’m sure I scowled, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“The truth is …” but Gordon Ripley had no luck that day, for there was a sudden clap of thunder that shook the farmhouse, and Mrs. Morgan nearly jumped out of her skin. They all stood up and started fidgeting; Ginger put the lemonade in the fridge, and Mrs. Morgan started picking up her purse and a basket full of vegetables, and Ripley left the room and came back with his coat. “Storm’s coming,” he said, “time to get you ladies home.”
Before I could protest, I was bundled into the back of a red pickup truck, and we bounced along down the muddy backroads to drop off Ginger at a little grey ranch up the hill, and Mrs. Morgan at a little brick colonial down the creek, and me at my place filled with a hundred pitiful cats. Before I could say a word, Gordon Ripley was gone – still in possession of my aunt’s seemingly-valuable papers. I could do nothing about it now; the storm broke, and I rushed inside to stay dry.
I’ll be camping out in the living room again tonight, but by tomorrow, I’m as sure as anything going to clean off the bed upstairs and sleep in peace.
I’ll write again tomorrow.
– Lindsey

Papers

I woke up the next morning more dead than alive; I know I must have slept at some point, since I woke up all huddled in the armchair in the living room, but I don’t remember falling asleep; all I remember was staring at the kitchen as it swarmed with cats of all colors and all sizes, swishing their tails at me. This was more than I could bear. I was swallowed up in a room of cats, and my head swam with the sound of reproachful meows. I awoke to something similar: as I poked my head over the arm of the armchair and looked around the living room, I saw the hoard had camped out all across the floor and the desk and the windows; some lay peacefully curled up, while others stretched and walked about; some sat demurely cleaning behind their ears. There must have been hundreds. Or at least twenty. I didn’t know if I should move or not; I didn’t know whether they would all start meowing again. So I sat and watched, for five minutes, ten minutes … then I got a cramp in my leg and groaned.

Instantly they snapped to attention. They stood and stared in surprise; for a moment, all was still – then someone sneezed (it wasn’t me!) and the chorus started all over again. I fled to the kitchen and slammed the door behind me, closing them into the living room. Three had slipped past the door, and they clambered onto the counter and onto the sink and onto the fridge, and sat and stared in judgment. I could hear the muffled chorus – Hitchcock thought birds were terrifying, but I promise you, there is no greater terror than a conglomerate of hungry cats.

I went to the cupboard again and pulled out all the cans of tuna I could find. I set them on the counter and was bracing myself to cut into them with the knife, when a sound from the cat on the fridge gave me an idea. I reached up and found the can opener, covered in dust, but still working. I never felt more successful in my life. I opened the cans, dumped the tuna in three different bowls, and tossed my can opener like a gunslinger tosses his revolver. I was elated.

The three cats started eating, and in my (mistaken) generosity, I thought the others might want to share. I opened the door, and the instant it was ajar, the other cats came swarming in, leaping onto the counter and attacking the tuna with the ferocity of a lion. I sighed. There was no hope of organization here.

Well, I looked around the little kitchen, and although this room was a lost cause (for the moment), I thought I might as well start the day well. I poked my head into the living room. What could I work on first? Papers. All those papers. Stacks and stacks of wasted words. I turned to the kitchen’s backdoor.

Outside, I blinked in the sunlight. The backyard was small, but well kept; Aunt Prissy must have been a gardener, as well as a crazy cat lady; there was a Japanese maple on either side of the door, and something that looked like a wilted vegetable garden on one side of the yard, and a bunch of disheveled rose bushes on the other side. I went around to the side of the house, and sure enough, there was a big metal drum, the sort people use for compost or water or anything. It was empty, so I rolled it into the middle of the yard and stood it up on one end. Then I ran back inside, and armful by armful, I brought out those papers and stuffed them into the drum. I couldn’t fit them all, but it was a good start. I found some matches in the kitchen, lit one, and dropped it into the drum.

The match flared up, but quickly went out, and it sat smoldering on top of the pile of papers in the drum. Disappointed, I struck another match. It took almost half the box before I got the papers to catch fire, but when they did, there was no stopping it. I stepped away from the flames and smoke to admire my handiwork.

The sky was blue, the flame was bright orange, and I thought to myself, this will be an easier house cleaning than I thought. I’ll clear out the papers, dump the clothes in a trash bin somewhere, and get someone in to take the cats away. I wouldn’t be able to get any money for the furniture, or what was left of it, but that didn’t matter; the property was good, and once the house was gutted, I could sell it to some remodeling nerds. I was in the middle of mental calculations when I heard a great clump-clumping behind me.

Approaching from the west side of the house, came an enormous man, moving his shoulders and swinging his arms like an angry grizzly bear. He seemed unsure of something, puzzled, but determined to find out what it was. He snuffled the air and when he came into sight of the barrel, his eyes widened with terror. Without even noticing me, he looked at the smoke and the flames, looked inside the barrel, and instantly took off his jacket and started beating out the fire.

Confused and angry, I called out “hey,” but I couldn’t get his attention until he had beaten out the fire. Then he turned to me and stared me down.

“Who are you?” he asked in a deep growl.

“Why did you do that?” I yelped. I was affronted, but I wasn’t ready to pick a fight with him. “This is private property. You’re trespassing. Go away.”

His eyes widened, and lifting a great paw, he asked again, in a louder growl, “who are you?”

I shrank away. “I’m Pricilla’s niece. What do you want?”

He looked at me suspiciously. He snuffled. He grumbled. He rubbed his chin and looked at the smoking papers, then at me, then at the papers again. “I want the papers,” he said.

Day 2 (continued): Cats

Meow. I don’t know how long I stood there; I thought my mind was really playing tricks this time. Or, better yet, it was a psycho-serial-killer who liked playing cat-and-mouse with his victims, and this was his warning signal. But I heard it again – meow – and shook myself to my senses.

Now, you know I don’t like cats. I mean, I don’t like animals in general, but I really don’t like cats. But for once, I was relieved. I opened the back door, and in walked – nay, strutted – this grey cat, with his long tail swishing with every step. He obviously felt at home, as he came in and pranced about and then leaped, perfectly gracefully and perfectly easily, onto the counter. Normally I would have shoved him off and kicked him back outside without warning, but he seemed to feel it was his right, and I dunno, maybe Aunt Prissy allowed it. I stood next to the counter and watched him. He sniffed around, turned towards me, sniffed at me, then sneezed. Eye to eye with the cat, I felt I was the intruder. But he seemed content enough to accept me as a guest, and my gracious host sat and stared expectantly at me.

Meow, he exclaimed ruefully, reproachfully. We had been acquainted for all of two minutes, and I was already neglecting my duties.

I tried the fridge, but immediately slammed it shut – it stunk like Milton’s Satan. I’ll have to clear it out soon. So I tried the cupboards, and had better luck there. Of course, Aunt Prissy was a canner. Rows of tomatoes dating from the 90s – yeah, from the 90s – sat next to an assortment of peaches, blueberry jam, tart cherries, which sat next to every possible assortment of pickled vegetables. Thank goodness no pig’s feet, but I don’t doubt she tried it once.

I looked at the cat, who still sat on top of the counter and swished his tail at me. It was a test, you see; I would never be fully a part of his entourage unless I accomplished the unspoken mission to his undefined standards. Very well, then, I thought; game on.

What would a cat eat? Fish, right? Well, no pickled fish in the cupboards (I shudder at the thought), but when I opened the pantry, I found (among other canned goods) a stash of canned tuna. Bingo. After half an hour of fruitless searching for a can opener, I took out a very sharp knife and cut into the can. By hook or by crook, I was going to feed that cat, and by golly I did. I scooped the tuna into a bowl and set it on the counter. There.

The cat and I stared at each other over the bowl of tuna. He blinked at me suspiciously; I watched him with a fearful eye. Finally, he stood and took a step to the bowl – he sniffed it – he licked it – then he sat down like he was sitting in a café in Paris, and he ate that tuna like it was caught and flown in specially for him that morning.

I grinned. I grinned at the cat – I grinned at the tuna – I grinned at the putrid fish and the decade’s worth of pickled asparagus and the faded Home Sweet Home rug on the floor by the sink. By this time, you have to understand, I was more than slightly loopy (I had just found out that my would-be assailant was just a cat) and ready for bed. So, after the cat finished the tuna, I dumped the bowl in the sink, scooped him up in my arms, and took him to the psychedelic armchair. He curled up in my lap and started purring, which is one of the strangest and yet most satisfying sounds on the planet. I was trying to think of what to call him – what is a good name for a calm, grey cat? And I was running through a list: Charlie, Benjamin, Aloysius, Rum-Tum-Tugger, Riki-tiki-tavi (or was that a dog?) … and suddenly he jumped down and sprang away towards the kitchen again. I had been on the verge of sleep – but I got up and followed like the obedient slave that I had so quickly become. What could it possibly be? Did he want to go outside again? Very well; it was more comfortable inside, I thought, but cats were cats, and a vague memory of fourth grade floated up – remember Miss Sterling? And I reminded myself that cats were in fact nocturnal, and could not be expected to spend all their waking hours with sleeping humans, and something about that fourth grade memory made me think of math class, and in a strange fit of trying to find something solid to think about, I started reciting my times tables to myself, and I had just gotten to the sevens and was about to open the door to let the cat out when MEOW.

It came again. And it wasn’t Charlie. (Or Rum-Tum-Tugger. Or Riki-tiki-tavi – especially if that is a dog name).

There was another cat.

Meow.

Meow.

I stood, still listening, in the middle of the kitchen. The cat swished his tail: another task had been set for me.

Swish.

Meow.

Swish.

“Smokey,” I suddenly exclaimed, not questioning the origin or purpose of the name, but accepting it as much as if he had held out a paw and introduced himself in a grave and somber tone, “Smokey, have you brought company?”

He looked at me as if to say, open the door already, or you’ll regret it.

I was powerless. I opened the door.

There, in the misty darkness of an O-dark-thirty dawn, glowed countless pairs of eyes blinking up at me.

Meow.

I stood with my mouth ajar and the door hanging open, not quite fully aware of my situation, until they flooded in like a wave of furry fiends.

The house is now infested with cats.

Day 2: Nighttime

Dear Lauren,

I DID IT. I SURVIVED. I survived a night in this house. And even if “spend a night in a haunted house” wasn’t on my bucket list before, it is now – and it’s scratched off. Because I did it.

Ok, so I didn’t actually see ghosts. (Can you imagine Aunt Prissy as a ghost? She’d come hobbling up to you and clasp her hands and in her screechy little voice beg, “oh, please, oh, please could you maybe possibly keep the noise down slightly?” and then go scurrying off, embarrassed at the thought of having to ask a favor. Not your typical ghost). But I trudged – practically tunneled my way up the rickety stairs, because of the piles of things on each step – not just books and papers, but old clothes and bedsheets, cleaning supplies, Christmas garland and ribbon – you can imagine. But I had to go upstairs (or so I thought) since I couldn’t exactly sleep in either the kitchen or the living room, which are the only two rooms on the first floor.

Well, upstairs is just as bad. There are three tiny rooms, a bathroom, and a linen closet; that is all. I could hardly open the door to the bedroom, because it was crammed with more stuff; the second room was piled high with plastic storage boxes, labeled in large messy Sharpie handwriting with things like “Mom’s dining room linens,” “Ed’s stuff,” “winter sweaters,” “winter blankets,” “things to fix,” “PHOTOS,” even an entire box filled with old stuffed animals. I started sneezing as soon as I opened the door, so I closed it again and went to the third room. The third room, though even smaller than the others, was nearly empty. There was a desk, a chair, and a typewriter. Yeah, legit, a typewriter. An unusually neat pile of blank paper sat on the floor on one side, and an unusually neat pile of typed paper sat on the floor on the other side. I picked up the top sheet, but I couldn’t tell what it was; it sounded like a letter telling some people about a trip to Florida. As far as I know, she’s never been to Florida, but I guess I can’t say for sure. I guess I don’t know Aunt Prissy all that well; I don’t really know anything more than what Mom has told us, or those few visits when we were younger.

Anyway, so I thought I was going to sleep in her room, so I pulled my suitcase up the stairs, but as soon as I put on my PJs and finally pushed my way past the books blocking the door, I realized the bed was covered in papers. Of course. And by this time, I wasn’t about to start cleaning. So I went downstairs and made myself a cup of tea. She has a cute little green kettle on the stove, and I thought, hey, why not? So I put the kettle on and pulled a mug out of the cupboard and was feeling almost cozy, when I found her tea stash. Well … it’s not real tea. I mean, I’ve had herbal tea before, but this stuff was different. It was something called tisane; the box was all in French. I couldn’t find any other kind, so I tried it out. When I poured water over it, it turned a sickly kind of green-yellow and smelled like rotten vegetables. I dumped it and poured myself a glass of water.

By this time, I was tired, so I thought I would curl up in the chair in the living room. Like I said, it’s one of those big plush chairs that you fall into and can’t always get out of again. So I turned off the light and tumbled into the chair and closed my eyes.

It was a little windy outside, and I could hear the leaves rustling outside the front door. The old house creaked, from the kitchen all the way upstairs; at one point, I thought I heard a car drive by. It was all just your typical white noise, the sorts of sounds that help you sleep. And then, I heard other things. Scratches. The sort that makes your skin crawl. Scratches against the door and against the outside walls. Ticking on the roof: tick-tick-tick … and then it paused … and again, click-click-click. Swishing, scraping, moaning – I opened my eyes, and in the darkness, all I could see were two red eyes glowing at me from outside the window.

I jumped from the chair (as well as I could – you would have laughed – it was a bit inelegant) and flicked on the light. The eyes were gone; the swishing stopped; the ticking stopped; all was still. I still had goosebumps up and down my arms, though, and I looked around for a bat or pole. In all this stuff, Auntie doesn’t seem to have kept anything for self-defense. Well, there were knives in the kitchen drawers, but I didn’t feel satisfied until I found a garden hoe by the back door in the kitchen.

You know how people decide to go “investigate” in slasher movies? Well, you can bet I did no such thing. I pulled all the blinds on all the windows, double checked the locks on the doors, and brought the hoe with me into the living room. I had a moment of questionable sanity where I took a glance at the pantry’s empty glass bottles, but most of them were canning jars, and I don’t think they would be able to balance on any doorknob. Hey, a night alone in a creaky old house could turn anyone into a conspiracy theorist. Just saying.

I left a light on in the kitchen pantry, grabbed the hoe, and returned to the chair. I felt slightly foolish, sitting there immersed in this chair, holding on to the hoe for dear life, listening for any sound. My ears felt like they would explode. No sound. Not one. The wind had died down, the ticking and scratching were gone … I was almost asleep, when I was startled awake by another noise, entirely different and entirely unexpected.

Meow.

Day 1: Arrival

Dear Lauren,

I guess that’s how people start letters. Weird, right? I know you are going to think this is weird; well, guess what, I do too. But I have no internet access in this stupid, creepy old house, and I can’t reach you on your phone (there is no reception out here. NONE). If I don’t talk to you one way or another, I’m going to go as crazy as Aunt Prissy seems to have gone. I mean, we always knew she was senile – you’ve heard Mom’s stories of what she was like when they were growing up – but this place is like a shrine to that place in that book about burning books (ask Mike; I can’t remember and I don’t care). There is not a single room in this cardboard box of a house that isn’t stacked to the roof with books. And papers. And MORE PAPERS. AND MORE BOOKS. It’s like she loved trees so much that she cut them all down and shredded them all up and threw the pieces all around the room. CREEPY.

I’m sorry she’s dead and all that. I mean, I’m sorry Mom’s sorry she’s dead and all that. But it doesn’t make up for the fact that I’m the one who got volunteered to clean out this dump – not good timing! I was SO CLOSE to making project manager. SO CLOSE, and I know they’re just going to give it to Carole now. Kevin was seriously irritated when I told him I was taking personal time. He gave me that look and twitched his mustache and “hmmm”ed as if I had said I was quitting or joining the Marines – or the Salvation Army, for that matter. Personal time? What the heck? If I was going to take personal time, do you think I’d be spending it in the middle of NOWHERE, Midwest, USA? I wouldn’t take personal time to spend with you in CA (seriously though, you know it’s true. Ok, maybe sometime. It’s just so much easier when you come back to D.C. Besides, then Mom can see you too. Speaking of which, when is the next time you’re coming? She has been asking. And I don’t have anything to tell her.).

Ugh. So in all this mess of books and papers, guess what else our dear Auntie has a lot of? That’s right. Stationery. I thought this stuff had died out with gel pens and My Little Pony. And if you’re going to do the whole sending letters thing, then just get notecards, right? The smaller the card, the better, because then you can write big and don’t have to say anything other than “hi how are you hope you’re good ok bye.” But noooooo she has all this stationery with some of the ugliest designs I have ever seen. Sheets of it, boxes of it. All flowery and pink – a lot of it personalized. I do not know how much money she spent on personalized stationery, but it has to be a lot. Like, enough money for me to actually take personal time. Maybe I can sell it. Obviously not the personalized stuff (who wants to write letters with PRISCILLA AGNES O’REILLY in big gold script across the top?) but maybe some of the rest of it. I’ll have to clean it out with everything else, so there’s no harm in trying.

Anyway. So I got here this afternoon, and I took a look around, and even though it has to be the smallest house I have ever seen, it is going to take years to clean it out. Like, probably a whole week at least. I get that Auntie has lived here for the past forty years, but why is that an excuse for keeping enough stuff to get you signed up for an episode of that hoarders show? Sigh. So I’m going to get some cardboard boxes and trash bags and start tackling the rooms one by one, and maybe I can do a room a day. I don’t know. That seems optimistic, especially when I look around the room I’m sitting in. Not sure what the room is, exactly; I mean, it’s obviously designed as a living room, but there is no place to sit down except one painfully rigid desk chair at a large wooden desk, and one plush oversized armchair – the sort you sink into and can’t get back out of and end up falling asleep in and having weird dreams about fire engines and peanut butter. I mean, WEIRD. But both of them, as well as the desk, are, of course, covered with piles of papers. There are more papers stacked around the chair and around the desk, and against the wall, and under the window; there’s no other furniture except one of those old sets of shelves for special dining room china. It looks empty, but I can’t open it because, guess what! I can’t even reach it because the floor in front of it is covered in books. It’s like a Red Sea full of books and Moses forgot to open it. And you have to remember, this is all in a room with the floorspace of a stovetop.

So yeah. That’s all there is in this room. I don’t think I even have the strength to look at the others until tomorrow. I’m going to sleep now.

Anyway. I don’t know what else to say. So, goodbye. Or something.

Lindsey