Empty Rooms

The house next door is a rental property, one of the few in my neighborhood. It’s empty now, vacated last month by a family that stopped paying rent in January. The owners—siblings who grew up in the house some twenty years ago—have been carting an astonishing amount of left-behind junk out to the curb for weeks since the eviction. Clothes, dishes, broken furniture, bedding, toys, wastepaper, food. Pretty much anything the occupants couldn’t fit in their sedan on the morning they drove away. At night, people in vans and pickup trucks stop in front of the house and pick through the refuse, looking for something, anything, of value.

The family that lived there experienced one of those calamitous implosions that are no less inevitable for being slow and lengthy. They were a married couple in their forties, with a young daughter who was seven years old when they moved in. There was an older child, too, a girl old enough to move out shortly after the family moved in. I thought that she might have been a child from a previous marriage, though I could easily be wrong about that. My wife might know better, but I hesitate to bring the subject up with her.

The man, whose name I never knew, was on disability. One of his legs had been amputated at the knee, the missing portion of limb replaced by a steel rod and prosthetic foot. I sensed that his disability was the result of some chronic disease, like diabetes, rather than an accident. He had the look of a man with entrenched and ongoing health problems. We didn’t see him very much, but we often saw his wife, puttering around in the yard or getting into her car to run errands.
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