“Bulb’s dead,” he said.
Rebecca sighed. “Of course it’s dead,” she murmured under her breath. She tried to hold back the irritation but the stressful past few days had her nerves raw. “There’s another light at the bottom.”
“Careful,” Brian added as she started down the stairs.
Rebecca didn’t pay any attention to her older brother. Her fingers traced down the wooden banister while her other hand brushed along the concrete that enclosed the stairwell. She knew the steps as well as he did. Since they had been children, they had raced each other through the corridors of their parent’s house.
It was different today though. Now the house was filled with ghosts.
Her foot falls on the wooden steps echoed down into the basement. They creaked once more as Brian followed her. She took each step steadily, counting down the 12 she knew were there. She could feel the cold concrete as her foot hit the floor.
With her hand still on the banister, her opposite fingers reached out into the dark. They batted the frayed string that dangled from the other light. With a sharp pull it clicked on. The dull yellow light sputtered admirably. To Rebecca the bulb seemed about as tired as she felt. As old as the house that stretched on three floors about her head.
The crowded basement that the light illuminated seemed to sag heavily, as if under the same weight that had fallen upon her shoulders, and that of her quietly descending brother.
“Wow…” he murmured as he came to the last step.
Rebecca’s eyes passed over the collection of odds and ends. From the tricycle she remembered using when she was a girl, and then Anna using when her daughter was still of an age interested in such things, to the new washer and dryer Brian had bought when the last one broke down, the basement was cluttered with a lifetimes worth of objects. In one corner were other toys that she and Brian had used when they were kids. There was piled furniture from when they had outgrown their small bedrooms. The old kitchen fridge still rumbled along one wall, struggling to keep what would probably be enough frozen food to last into the next century, cold and ready. Boxes with rows of scratched out labels towered along the right hand wall. Some had gone from holding clothing, to ornaments, to clothes and then dishes. What they held now, who knew.
But that was their task. The house needed to be sold now that mom had gone. At least, like dad she had been able to stay here until the very end. It was clear to Rebecca though, that their parents hadn’t wanted to get rid of anything. On the upper floors, their lives had flowed along with changing styles and economic circumstances. But down below, it all gathered together. It was like a time capsule, except without the capsule. The history of their family, of this home, lay in cluttered groups scattered based on some kind of order known only to the house’s longest occupants.
Now their children had to make sense of it. She and Brian would be sorting through the debris left in the parents wake. They’d have to determine what should stay, what should get sold, what they wanted to keep. For a moment, Rebecca stood beneath that flickering light and wished that the second bulb had decided remain unlit like the first. Then the stretch of history that lay before her, waiting to be delved into, would have stayed safely in the dark. It wouldn’t be facing her with expectation and a haunting array of memories she would have gladly kept from her tired and wounded heart.