Preparing for a Coming Extinction
“I heard they called 1-800 GOT-Junk,” my aunt says on the phone. “The crew arrived early, before dawn. Took toilet seat covers and sheets. Even emptied the fridge,” she adds. “From soup to nuts, I believe.” I don’t speak. I’m transported – across town, down the boulevard, around the one-way streets of the condominium complex. I park my lace-ups in the ante room at the base of my grandmother’s second-floor suite. My nose follows trails of scents and sensibility. Her home was always a space built for (and of) solidarity. A gathering for cards and carp, ale and after-shave, brisket and broken hearts (mended, of course). She’d patch egos as easily as denim knees. I had already been mourning her passing. I now grieve for her manners of giving. The apartment had been a second home. One day the lights were on. The next, all of her possessions appear gone. Her keys no longer of the lock. Her stock, what she had promised would be mine, routed to destinations unknown. “There’s nothing left?” I ask. My aunt clears her throat, “Not a thing.”
My grandmother would prepare for a coming extinction as routinely as she’d prepare for company. All counters wiped. All traces of indiscretion swiped. She cursed as much as anyone, maybe more. “Crap,” as common as her late-husband’s favorite fish — carp. “Damn,” as regular as guest as her childhood friend — Dot. “Shit,” sounded as often as the bathroom’s flush.
“War has a way of frying fish and tainting one’s dish,” she’d like to say, then add — “My mouth’s my only form of defense.” She turned up the TV high enough to dull her neighbors’ (upstairs and down) curiosity. “How else might worries be released,” she’d tease. All senses conspired. All souls tired. Bleach was as frequent a guest as her friend Blanche. And April, Bea, Rose, and June. They were close-knit and knotted of destiny. Together they completed the bouquet. A dozen roses. A seasonal blend of scents and hues of yesterday.
She and her friends would play cards (mostly gin rummy) and lament the hands they were dealt. They tossed, like salad ingredients, stories of crass husbands, wayward children, and inflation. Their exteriors were puffed of both pomp and circumstance. They passed time with gin, rummy, and pineapple cubes all while anticipating the end of time. Days of Our Lives and General Hospital peaked as the world pranked. Wars on all corners. Prices never rights. Minutes and memories timed. They’d eat Tastykakes and salmon cakes. Mac and cheese and cheesy Danish (raspberry a perennial favorite). Their natural tongues were as much a source of alliteration as a funnel for home-baked dishes.
A twice-annual change of closets was an unspoken truth. No white after Labor Day. No wool before the solstice. Dual closets offered proof of their continued existence. Most had fled (then later fueled) war with nothing in their single pockets. They remained acutely aware of the nuances and textured shades (extinct and succinct share similar endings) of a punctured peace and the reality of a shaky truce. Their chatter was as much preparation for their own survival as their own extinction. They’d flipped coins at the start of every game. Heads first. Tails second. Checked purses for safekeeping. Kept meticulous notes – birthdays, recipes, seed plantings, electric bills, doctor appointments. All dates and belongings marked and checked.
I always thought I’d follow suit. Not in hands of hearts or spades, but by the color of her house-suits — all fabrics permanently pressed and organically dyed. I had planned to clean (and claim) her closet while recreating what she’d wear and how she’d made a home. She had promised me that domain. With the unexpected reality of the news just delivered, I lost my bearings. Be aware. Beware. Where does one wander once all destinations are deceased? To learn a box truck beat me to her residence was devastating. Also confirmed her trepidations and premonitions of her coming extinction.
I dropped the receiver, then revived my face, Eye shadow and blush. Two earrings. Lip gloss. Motion dulled commotion. Everything in its place. I needed to see that of which my aunt spoke. I drove then parked. Across town, down the boulevard, around the one-way streets of the condominium complex. Placed my lace-ups outside the ante room at the base of the second-floor suite. The vertical blinds were pulled to the right. All that was left was an empty palette. The bouquet no longer stocked. I pulled out my cell and dialed. At least the phone still rang.
14 (plus) ways to prepare for a coming extinction
/ a collection of advice turned curiosities
- Organize closets by reason (not season)
- Season fish. Never fish for compliments
- Prepay phone and electric bills (for no reason)
- Prime neighbors. Avoid prime numbers.
- Pluck fibers (avoid the fray). Pick flowers (then display).
- Curate Rolodex’s (not Botox appointments)
- Bleach and blanche regularly.
- Make motion, not commotion.
- Roll socks. Store rocks.
- Wander without abandon. Worry without inciting mayhem.
- Beware fake flowers. Be aware of dates and hours.
- Boil potatoes in salted water. Stew tomatoes in olive oil.
- Broil fish. Oil outlandish friendships.
- Embrace (perhaps race) stinks. Resist (never twist) extinction.
What happens when a phone rings, yet no one answers. Lines never busy. Signals never crossed. Soils consume water and rains travel coasts. Bouquets of Blanche, April, Bea, Rose, June are no more and more or less a constant part of us. I walk the grounds and count my paces. All tracks muted. All paths overgrown. The gravel beneath my feet crumbles. The clouds overhead open, then sing tunes in off-key tones. I’ve been told that each rumble of thunder is a sign of laughter. Cards dealt. Extinction as much a conviction as a convention. 1-800-GOT-JUNK as much about junk as the voice on the phone. Souls in polyester slacks and cable knit cotton dial. All souls home.
Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. She is a Best of the Net nominee, with stories, poems, and essays published in a wide variety of literary and scholarly journals. She is the author of Invisible Ink (Toho Pub), On Daily Puzzles: (Un)locking Invisibility (forthcoming, Moonstone Press), and Blindfolds, Bruises, and Breakups (forthcoming Atmosphere Press).