Paulie didn’t claim his dad’s body. Told the hospital to do whatever they wanted with it. Hung up and remained still in his kitchenette, like he might become one of the appliances. Went back to his small table and continued writing in his small notebook.
Didn’t take off work the next day, didn’t say anything to anyone at the warehouse. At lunch he did what he always did: sat in his car writing.
A cop Paulie knew came by his apartment with keys, said he could take anything he wanted from the old man’s house before the bank brought the dumpsters. Paulie thanked him and closed the door, stood there with keys in hand beside the small walnut bookcase that held other notebooks he had filled.
The next day he pulled up to a shack of mossy cedar shakes in a sea of tall grass. A downspout leaned away from the house onto a lilac bush. He climbed broken brick steps.
Inside he could smell dry lumber in the stale air.
In the kitchen, greasy pans sat on the crusty stove. He touched a painted-over horseshoe above the doorway to the basement, a souvenir from a second-grade field trip. A maple-stained rack on the wall held a clutch of pens. He pulled out a red Sharpie marker and next to the horseshoe wrote Don’t go down there, it’s dark. ~ Bugs Bunny. He laughed.
Above his parents’ bedroom door he wrote All you need is love. ~ The Beatles. Laughed again.
The bathroom had surrendered to mildew. On that door he wrote Safer to shit in the yard.
His old bedroom still had the light switch with a silhouette of a child, head bowed and hands clasped, with the words Did you think to pray? on it. Next to that he wrote You cannot petition the Lord with prayer. ~ Jim Morrison.
The last room was the smallest. Paulie took two deep breaths and opened the door. It was empty except for an old cast-iron radiator — heavy fins with caked dust in the spaces between, the kind that hissed and pinged on cold nights. Paulie gave it a kick. Then a harder one. Peeled off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, exposing a runic history of radiator burns. Tried to wrench the thing from the floor but it wouldn’t give. He turned and put his foot through the hollow door. Picked up his jacket and his notebook fell out. Snatched it up, then wrote over the doorway to that room Abandon all hope… Didn’t finish the quote. Tossed the marker on the floor.
Paulie shuffled to the kitchen table, took pen in hand, stared at blank paper. His heart raced. His pen stayed still. He got up to wash his hands. Through the grime-frosted window above the sink the other houses were half-remembered dreams on the brink of dissolving. The words would come. They had to, like a next breath. The faucet sputtered what little it had left. He grabbed a filthy sponge and scrubbed, digging in like he meant to reach bone.