text by Paola Cane
My grandmother's apartment is spotless.
My mother arranged for the furniture to be taken away. Carpets have been rolled up, the pictures and curtains have been taken down. The electrician dismounted the ceiling lights and left cables hanging. Most everything disappeared in trash bags: the round carton where she kept the candy, half a bar of lavender soap, all sorts of rags, her flesh-colored underwear, a picture calendar from the credit union that was mounted on a hook in the kitchen. The hook is gone, too, tossed with the rest. The lady who always came to clean the place, to fight a losing battle with the mold between the tiles, tore off the hook and scraped the rubbery adhesive from the tile.
My sisters and I only kept a few things of little value: an old barometer that has been tracking change for years, a sewing box, and a picture that shows her as a young blond girl, hair combed back. Honestly, I don't really care for the photograph. I never met the girl in the picture. My grandmother has always been old to me, ever since I can remember. Twenty years ago she seemed even older to me than she did just before she died, even though back then, when I was little, she wasn't much older than I am now. And although she was always more indulgent with us than our parents it never occurred to me that she may have treated us this way because she remembered her own childhood.
The painters came and a small moving truck. The Goodwill store picked up the furniture we weren't able to sell. Nothing is left. The painter had to apply two coats of paint to make the shadows disappear that had formed behind the pictures and the furniture.
I went upstairs in the morning to open the windows and let some air in. The smell of the fresh paint was overwhelming. My mother wants everything to be presentable, in case someone shows up to look at the apartment.
There is no trace of her, I have found nothing. The corner where she used to sit and watch TV is empty. Where the sofa used to be, there is nothing. She used to sit and knit and solve cross-word puzzles for hours. There is nothing left in the kitchen either. She used to bake cookies here, make coffee when she had visitors. Maybe no one else will notice the absence. The new tenants will see space, which they will want to fill.
One thing, I notice, is left. On the tiles in the bathroom there is a porcellain fish. It will have to remain there, it can't be removed. It is one of the things that she looked at every day, possibly without ever noticing it. The people who are moving in see nothing but space.
All I see is what's missing.
Something is missing that has always been here.
Until at some point I didn't notice it anymore.
Translation: Gregor Hens