Hello, Bill!

I had one more errand to run and then I was on my way home. It had been an exhausting week at work and now here I was doing errands for them on my own time. Traffic in New Orleans was normal, snarled up like a string bag. Just as I pull away from the pharmacy window, armed with the requested medicines, my cell rang. Exasperated I snatched it up and barked,”I just got it and I’ll be there in a minute!”. “I hope so,” replied the voice of my neighbor, “You need to talk to this sheriff,” he added, without pausing for breath. “WHHHHAAAT?” I gasped, nosing my car into a parking space in the drug store lot. Then the deputy was on the phone, asking if I knew Susan _____. I told him she was my roommate. “What on earth has she done?” I inquired, shocked to my shoes. Susan was not the sort of roommate one expected to have dealings with the police. She was quiet, recently widowed, diabetic and rarely left the house for anything but a Dr’s appointment. He told me that Holder Homes was about to hook up the trailer I lived in and haul it off! The sweat that sprang out all over my body had only a minimal connection to the breathless heat and the fact that my a\c was broken. After conversing with the deputy, a nice lady representative from Surity Bank, my neighbor and then the deputy again I felt I had a grasp on the situation. Seems that Susan had not been paying her house note. What’s more, she had prevailed on the neighbor to take her to the bus station a day or two before, saying she was going to care for an ailing elderly aunt. I assumed she would not be returning. Convincing the assemblage to leave my house where it was for the 3&1/2 hours it would take me to drive home I zipped through traffic back to work, kind of flung the bag of medicines at my relief, babbled some incoherent nonsense and jumped back in the car to head for home. I’m sure that trip was my fastest ever. My car was probably mistaken for a low flying jet by casual observers.

The lady from the bank was nice, but definite. Susan had not paid a note for many months. Since her husband’s death, it seemed. The fact that her sister-in-law’s husband worked for the bank is the only reason a repossession had not been done months before. She was sorry, but there was no more time. She was willing to sell it to me, unfortunately the price was about twice what it was worth. I declined with as much regret as I could muster. It was a very small amount. What if I agree to clear the place out, I said. It was the right choice. Susan or her husband, or somebody had been something of a horder and except for the rooms I used regularly, the rest, and the shed outside, were pack floor to ceiling with furniture, old magazines and heaven knows what. The bank lady jumped at my offer, negotiating a time span of 3 weeks, which gave me two useful weeks, as I would have to work one of them. I waved the lady out to her car, picked up the phone and began rounding up help. My daughter was a given, my friends were good souls and the neighbor loaned my a pick up truck. We began making trips to the dump the next morning. In any spare moments I looked for a place to move to.

Finally a new house was found, the junk was nearly gone and I was beginning to pack up what I was going to move with me. Early one morning, before anyone had showed up to help, I began packing up things on a bookcase I planned on taking. The bookcase had been Susan’s, but most of the things were mine. One of the exceptions was a small, black square-ish box at the back of the very top shelf. I had always assumed it was a speaker for the surround sound system that she had forgotten about when she’d sold the system a few months back. As I wiggled it off the high (for me) shelf with my finger tips I thought it felt awfully heavy for a speaker and rather too much like plastic. Getting it within my grasp at last, I hauled it down where I could look at it. On the top of the box was a tag, “remains of William H. _______”. It was Susan’s dead husband!

I put the thing down rather abruptly on the coffee table as I collapsed onto the sofa. Staring fixedly at the box I said the first thing that came to mind, “Well, Hello Bill!”. My mind was spinning its wheels, slipping gears, as I wondered what on earth I was going to do with Bill. About that time my daughter walked through the door, “What’cha doing?” she said, strolling across the room, dropping her keys on the table as I pointed at the box, apparently stricken dumb by astonishment. She picked up the box for a better look. It plopped back to the table rather suddenly as she joined me on the sofa, staring at the box. It occurred to me, having seen pictures of Bill in the past, that it had probably been many years since he had been the recipient of so much concentrated feminine attention. “Naomi, meet Bill,” I said, “Bill, Naomi”. She laughed a bit raggedly and said, “What are you going to DO with him?” An excellent question I thought. “I could give him to you,” I told her. “Nope” was her instant response. Sighing I got up and together we moved the coffee table, with Bill on it, to one side of the room and commenced packing.

Bill sat there for the rest of the move, the subject of nearly all of the conversations in that house. Conversations with everyone who came to help and some who came just to look. There are those who feel compelled to check the veracity of every story. Many ideas for his disposition were presented. Putting him in the river, or on his garden behind the house. Scattering him on theTrace, or into the wind off the river bridge. Mailing him to a random person in an old address book we found in Susan’s bedroom. Taking him to the movies or a ball game and just leaving him in the seat. Even the dumpster or a good flushing. None of these seemed right. Some of them were disrespectful, others probably illegal, and as for the rest, well, I’d never known him while he was alive, so I just didn’t feel qualified to choose his final resting place. Besides, I was sure I’d heard Susan speak of his children by a previous marriage. They might want him. I was positive they would want him more than I did. I was beginning to have unsettling dreams in which I had to lug Bill around with me for the rest of my life due to my inability to decide where to put him. The solution, when it finally came to me, was, like all perfect solutions, elegantly simple. When everything was moved out and the place was “broom swept and wiped down,” my last act, after placing the key on the kitchen counter as I’d been instructed, was to place Bill next to it with a note attached to him directing the recipient to deliver him to his brother-in-law at the bank. I wished poor Bill well as I walked out the door and sincerely hope he ended up someplace nice.

 

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