And so we were in. Susan seems to need me and that’s fine. In her shoes I wouldn’t know what to do first and probably attempt to do everything. But what is everything? Have I checked on Abigail’s January rent? I’m almost certain she hasn’t paid yet, but as I promised Susan, there was a deposit check.
“Don’t feel like you have to send the movers tomorrow,” I said, jerking my arm from Patty’s pinch.
“If you’ll help me,” she said, “you can take whatever you want. I just really wanted to visit today. She was supposed to come over for Christmas.”
“Are you sure? I can help you and Tim probably can too, but, well, just don’t be in a rush.”
“I want to be in a rush. I want it done.”
As we talked, inching through the living and dining room, Patty hovered near the stereo cabinet picking up and putting down the framed photos and souvenirs that sat collecting dust. She moved quietly, as if realizing how inappropriate it was that was there, yet unwilling to call attention to herself by leaving.
“Will you take her pictures and small things today?” I asked Susan.
“Just her jewelry. Not that there’s much, but Kevin gave her some pretty antiques.”
From the credenza, where more pictures and a photo album rested, she picked up the framed snapshot of Abigail laughing with a girlfriend. Behind them boats were docked in cosy rows.
“She seemed to like the Cape,” I said. “There’s a lot of New England pictures around.”
Susan nodded. “I don’t know who this girl is,” she said. “Probably someone she worked with.”
“It’s too bad whoever took it didn’t get out of his own way,” I said, pointing to the photographer’s long shadow.
She sighed and replaced it, wiping at the surface with a tissue.
“Does that woman really want to rent immediately?” she whispered, looking back for Patty, who we could hear creeping up the stairs.
I shrugged. “Let’s go up, she doesn’t need to be in Abigail’s room without you.”
But Patty was already descending the narrow stairs, her high-heeled boots heavy on the carpet.
Later, on the short walk to her car, Susan recruited me to arrange for the return of the rented furniture as soon as I had a free day. I agreed to throw away the perishables in the refrigerator and the half-used toiletries and cosmetics in both bathrooms and to clean all the rooms so that the deposit Abigail paid two months ago would be returned. It wouldn’t be too difficult; she hadn’t been here long enough to even scuff the paint. In exchange for these chores I was welcome to whatever kitchen items and small appliances I wanted. She also offered me a deal on Abigail’s stereo and record collection.
“Help yourself to the clothes, too,” she said. “You girls are the same size.” At the door, she paused. “If there’s a family here who might like the other furniture, let me know. Or maybe we can take it to the flea market?” She then sighed mightily and in that sound revealed herself as the much put upon eldest sister. There was beneath her sorrow a long-felt, seldom hidden irritation. I felt sorry for Abigail. Even in death, she was pissing off her family.
Susan established herself in the driver’s seat of a gas-guzzling Buick, seatbelt securely strapped. She had herself well in hand now. She would take charge, as I suspect she always had. “I'll take her photo albums and scrapbooks when I come back. Oh, you’ll figure it out.” She turned the car in a tight U and gunned it up the hill to Peachtree Street.
Yes, I knew. I also knew that the “we” was going to be me. But Susan was right. I could figure this out. The trick was to make it worth my while otherwise I would just be another little sister used to taking orders. Tim had a truck and, come to think of it, a little girl who would probably love the miniature desk and painted bed. It was easy. I’d cleaned out enough empty apartments by now to know what was trash and what was worth saving. But would I know how to find the trail that would lead me back a year to Abigail’s secret life?