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I visited Aunt Jacquie’s vacant house with my parents to hollow it out for whoever would live in it next. The pictures of lighthouses and English Royalty still peppered the walls, and the scent of musty antiques was fighting to take over the smell of my clothes, just as it always had. Her former bird’s cage cornered the living room with a grim picture of him placed inside. The house had a stillness I had never felt before.
“Here, take a bag,” my dad said to me, “put anything in here you think can be donated.” He left the living room for me and escaped to the basement with a bag of his own. My mom took the upstairs.
It had been three weeks since Aunt Jacquie died, three weeks since she went to sleep and finally decided not leave the oneiric landscape of her dreams. Even though I knew she wasn’t there, I could see her in all of the pictures of Princess Diana and Nantucket that plastered the walls, the glass bowl of diabetic lollipops on the side table next to her lettuce-colored rocking chair, and the dunes of books that spilled out all over the oak floor (peeks of tissues coming out of the pages as makeshift bookmarks).
She was eccentric; that person you meet only once in your lifetime, or that movie character you see only on screen. At seventy-five, she never had her ears pierced, but had hundreds of pairs of exorbitant and colorful clip-on’s to match every one of her outfits.
In all of her idiosyncrasies, though, I remember her most for her red pea coat. A coat she wore everyday. A heavy, satin-lined jacket of a glaring, cherry-red color that never left her hunching back, not even in the most bristling hot weather, followed her to every family outing, sports game, and graduation, sealed her in with three gaudy plastic buttons to keep her personality spilling out all over the floor, and was never worn by anyone except her.
I heard my dad coming upstairs and became frantic to make myself look busy. There was a lot of paper strewn on the tables and floors, some letters and envelopes, piling books, but mostly blank paper, so I shoved some in my deflated and empty bag. Equipped with plastic gloves, my dad tied his garbage bag and grabbed another one from the kitchen.
“How’s everything going?” he asked.
“Fine,” I said, “gettin’ a lot of stuff.”
I put some more paper in the bag and took it to the corner of the room. I came across Aunt Jacquie’s pea-coat, glowing bright red in the sunlight that streamed through the shaded windows. It was hung up on a coat rack next to Bill’s cage. I lifted up a sleeve and plopped it back down, sending whirls of dust off dancing into the natural light from the window, and stood with a reel of memories fulminating through my head.
“Wow, I can’t believe that thing looks as good as it does,” my dad said, leaning against the door frame in the living room. “That’s gonna make someone else real happy.” He left for the basement again with another bag in his hand.
“Where do you want trash?” I called down to my dad.
“Kitchen. There‘s a can in there,” he said.
I came to the pea coat, unhooked it, folded it, and carried it with me. My bag still a hollow shell lined with crumpled up paper and ragged books, I drug it took the kitchen and threw it next to the trash can. All I heard was a clang, and all I felt was the knowledge that Aunt Jacquie’s pea coat would have a better life in a heap than on a body where it would fade into a dull, lifeless red.