Today I pried off wood paneling and scraped away at wallpaper in a predominantly Italian and Southeast Asian neighborhood in South Philly.
An old lady had lived in the house. What was her name? Was it Edith or Enid or Eleanor? Had she worn pillbox hats like Jackie O? Had she thought fondly of her dead husband everyday? What did her husband say when she wanted the bathroom done in pink and black? What did she think when her Cambodian neighbors moved in? When the night wore the perfume of fried garlic and ginger, of a thousand and one curries?
The old lady had left behind a few things: crucifixes, Italian cookbooks, blushing porcelain milkmaids, and refrigerated holy water. A church shaped magnet, inscribed with times for mass. The business card of a doctor for pulmonary disease. Low chandeliers that sent light dashing around the room everytime someone bumped into them, which was often, for we were undoing her house.
Undoing her presence in this or that way, scraping away a surface to find even more surfaces, or drywall where once a door opened, maybe traces of others that Enid or Eleanor or Edith had, in her unimaginable youth, covered up or attempted to undo.
Kris said she would keep the cookbooks. The bathroom, as is. Maybe the holy water. As I pried and scraped, I tried to remember everything that I had seen in this house. I remembered other houses that I had known, even for a little while, and kept in my own way.