The Home Helper

The knackers were done with it, everything removable, the iron stoves standing like Celtic monuments in the adjacent lot, the cheap roof slates brought from Bangor in Wales when there was employment there. The cheap zinc flashing piled in crumpled sheets looking like El Greco draperies, the plumbing, the removable porcelain fixtures, watercloset cisterns and cast iron bathtubs like sledgehammered dinosaur eggs. Patent explosion-proof English coal holes, ornamental trolleywire guy anchors, fanciful shop door latch handles, front entrance newel posts, porcelain light sockets, iron cellar stair griffins, the baseboards pulled out and floors broken up by professional coin hunters. Yet someone was living there, the unrehoused, an old woman in a scuffed leather aviator’s helmet and one with her ass full of money.

Crosseyed daughter, what do you see in your hake focus? You know what we do to sows whose piggies are defective? We send them to the bologna factory!

Lady you don’t know this guy. He’s the famous perfect crime murderer, living it up in the homosexual underground where he continues to be a useful citizen.

Ida Jacobsen put her kettle in the sink and opened the faucet. Then she turned on her electric range and placed the flats of her hands on the hotplate to feel it get hot. Maybe it was because there was extra little pressure in the pipes this afternoon so that the kettle, whose thick bottom was what Svend perhaps inaccurately called a machined bottom, the other day the home helper removed the scale out of it considerably increasing the… Because her hands were weak she was obliged to use both hands when lifting it out of the sink. It was going to rain. Now the kettle was overflowing but she couldn’t take her hands from the hotplate. The water was pouring out of the kettle but her hands were stuck to the hotplate, and now she could smell flesh burning.

Marjorie and Aurelia Hornby were from Odense, where their father worked for the railroad. Dark haired Marjorie and light Aurelia. Mild Marjorie, straight cheeks and level brow, proper as pretty is. Aurelia, distant and effervescent, a well of electricity. And which kind of Marjorie are you? Are you a grumpy Marjorie or a merry one, clapping her hands?

The clouds were congested, the sky full of dust raised by the wind before a rain. She came with her supermarket shopping bags, picking her way across the rubbish-filled wasteland. A huge crumpled sheet of plastic passed overhead crackling like a document. Across the way they had begun erecting the new flats. She called them “doing things by halves.” Prefabricated concrete wall segments with a sheathing of red brick and a window or two. How many half bricks could half a bricklayer lay in an overtime day? She had seen the prospectuses. Thin-walled dwellings at rents exorbitant to the point of creating a state of urban serfdom. What was worse, the new blocks were continuous and without facades, for people who watched a lot of television. Without faces or bodily features, they turned their backs on the street.

She came to the last building left in the block, standing like a molar in a jawbone. Out of an overturned fiberglass garbage bin crawled some kind of great animal. It was a Newfoundland dog. It was wearing a suit of some terribly soiled scarlet fabric, parachute fabric, in tatters from the animal scratching itself which it now did with a huge hind leg, wagging and slobbering, the tongue a whole steaming calf’s lung. She clutched her shopping bags. Go away doggie. A bus passed on the street shaking the sidewalk. A knot of street boys were looking at her. Lying propped up against the empty storefront was a suit of Japanese armor. One day it was sitting there in the rain. She stepped around it. It had been there so long that streaks of rust. It hadn’t rained for a spell which was normal before Whitsun. A noise made her turn around. The boys were kicking the outlandish pile of armor. It was coming apart. She turned inside the building. The stairs were full of rubbish. The demolition company had attempted to seal the abandoned apartments with sheets of plywood. She thought she could hear someone screaming. A quavery voice, screaming. She put down the shopping bags and took out her keys. She always got eczema. The dog was following her up the stairs. The door of the Jensen apartment was standing ajar. She knocked and went inside. The hall light was on.

Because he was blind they had managed to find space for the old man in a nursing home. He had been placed in a nursing home. He and his sister hadn’t spoken to each other in thirty years. She was backing the door shut to keep the dog out when the light went out. She put her shopping bags down and worked the switch.

—Miss Jensen!

For years, in his increasing blindness, the man had moved about in the apartment by feeling his way along the walls, touching them lightly and continuously so that gradually a line was worn into the wallpaper at about pocket level, and in the doors deep sockets like a saw handle or the grip of a power tool were worn where he had gripped them between thumb and forefinger with a resoluteness as he passed from room to room.

—Miss Jensen!

The old woman didn’t respond. Outside the windows the sky was darkening and all at once she was filled with dread. The place was a mess. The old man’s butterfly collection lay kicked apart, the cases smashed and the lepidoptera, vivid as life, liberated as it were, broken wings tracked across the floors like wet leaves… Someone was screaming upstairs. It was old Ida Jacobsen. She hurried to the kitchen and put down her shopping bags. Then she went into the bedroom.