The Caretaker

by Robert P. Barsanti

I imagine that they had come into some money. Not an amount of money that would require lawyers, stock brokers, and accountants. But some money.

Enough.

So they rented a house in Tom Nevers with four bed rooms, three baths, and a distant water view. They had two weeks of a cascading moment, then they left.

They left a good bit. They left two Lego superheroes and several red bricks in a downstairs bedroom. They left a charging cord plugged into a wall socket in the kitchen. They left brie and crackers, half of a key lime pie, an opened liter of tonic water, and a bottle of ketchup in the refrigerator. They left three cans on Ensure in a cabinet.

If I were a good caretaker, I would not have much imagination. I have seen better people than I walk into a kitchen with a large green trash bag, dump everything into it, bleach the counters, and move on. We have work to do, very little time to do it, and another family on the 4:15 slow boat. Even if this family had not left clues and hints, I would still have sand, and dust, and cobwebs. The spiders always work, always weave, always plan; they have no time for curiosity and imagination. Moments after a morning’s spider work has been vacuumed up, along with the best of a generation, a new generation descends and begins the great work anew. Long after our race of hairless monkeys have slipped into sandy history and have been filed into one dirty clay layer in a limestone wall, the incurious, industrial spiders will still spin their architecture.

Before that happens, I can take a moment and consider that there was a child and there was a grandparent. Ensure remains one of the last drinks we have on this earth. It is chalky, unpleasant, regular, and fortifying for one more day. Someone, perhaps the grandma, had brought a present for the young boy. That boy, Charlie, will wonder where Spiderman has gotten to. Right now, I had him. I tucked him into a pocket and would mail him back later. Years from now, Charlie will want to remember the present Grammy bought him on her last vacation. The memories had yet to make the plastic vintage, but it would.

It may take ten or twenty years, but Spiderman will be worth a lot more to the man than it did to the boy. It would bubble and effervesce with this moment. I stripped all of the beds. The two twin beds smelled of the sea and the pillows breathed a wet and mildewed cough. In the master bedroom, one pair of male underwear was tucked down into the bottom of the sheets. The guest room held the jackpot: two empty nips of Fireball, and one empty Bud Light can, shaped and punctured so that it could light another bud in it.

So, there was another child, an older one from the little boy downstairs. Perhaps this one was from another marriage. Perhaps this one, Kristen, hadn’t wanted to come along. His new wife hated her, she thought. And Kristen hated the new wife, Jennifer. Except the new wife wasn’t a Jennifer, she was a Jenni and she was fifteen years younger than her father and ten years younger than her mother and she just hated her. Judgement is a privilege of the innocent: mercy is the cost of experience.

But Kristen didn’t hate her father enough to not come on vacation and she didn’t hate him enough to drink and get stoned out in front of everyone else. Outside, they had not filled the bushes with cans and glassware. Too many times I have come to this house to find wine glasses and beer bottles amid the rosa rugosa and the blueberries. They had filled the trashcans, but someone else should have taken care of the lobster shells and milk cartons before the moment spoiled. That someone else was going to let the rotting and the dead foul the bed of his pickup truck.

They had moved two of the Adirondack chairs away from the light of the house. At the foot of one of the chairs, two plastic cups rested upside down on the top of Dom Perignon Epernay Brut 2006. They had left one half swallow, which I considered, before dumping it on the ground.

I saw him then. He wore chinos and a striped dress shirt that Jenni had bought for him for that night; it had been her present to him. They had gone to dinner at Le Languedoc and had the lobster bisque and the lamb and the pot de creme and a bottle of chardonnay. Or two. His mother had gone to sleep early and Kristen had watched Lego Batman with Charlie and they had gone to sleep (or pretended to go to sleep). He had driven a quiet Milestone Road back from town, under a moonless and star-filled sky.

He had slipped the bottle out of the refrigerator and walked out to the chairs. He silently popped it, poured two plastic cups, then sat next to her. Still airborne from dinner, he sipped the champagne and settled his head back. Unblinking stars spilled across this night and every night forward for eons and epochs into the time of the spiders. Jenni reached over and held his hand. They did not speak. The seconds faded into distant crashing waves. It had been a huge amount of money, but, perhaps, if he weighed it out over the years, it was worth it for the moment. For this moment, when Charlie was still young enough to love the waves and Kristen hadn’t slipped away into her well-trafficked life, and his mother could feel the sun and Jenni had said yes and he could lie back in this one moment, this one expensive moment with a $200 bottle of wine under the ancient light of long dead stars and hold that moment in a handful of sand.

I could see it that way, if I sat still, closed my eyes, and looked carefully. It’s the truth even if it never happened.