The house was empty. It had been empty for some time. He could tell by the smell of it. Most of the houses he cleared had that smell. Fusty, whatever fusty meant. He had decided that it meant dead.
Cobwebs strung across the door as he entered. Silver strands hung from an old lampshade in the centre of the ceiling. He brushed them aside with his hand as he moved, looking around. In the centre of the room, he stopped.
The curtains to the small living room had been closed but not pulled together. Dust motes hurried through streaks of sunlight that leaked in through the gap. The light reflected off a glass-fronted display cabinet standing against the wall behind a leather sofa. There was a matching leather armchair. The cabinet was filled with a collection of porcelain figurines. A painting of a country house had been positioned on the wall above the cabinet. Decorative prints of rural scenes hung on either side of the painting. There was nothing of any value in what he saw.
On top of the cabinet stood a large framed photograph of a young bride and groom. The clothes they wore were from the sixties. The couple were smiling. A later photograph showed them wrinkled and unsmiling at a wedding. Smaller photographs stood beside these. They showed the progression of a girl from a baby to a child to a young woman. The most recent photograph showed the young woman in a wheelchair looking out over a beach. The man looked at the young woman for some time.
In the corner of the room near the front window he saw a television. It was a recent model with a screen too big for the size of the room. The television stood on a storage unit crammed with video tapes. The man noticed that there was no VCR. An old electric fire sat in a tiled hearth below an unframed wall-mounted mirror. In the centre of the mantel shelf was a wind-up wooden clock. The clock had stopped. He tried to wind it but the key just kept turning. A lidded vase stood on one end of the mantel. The vase was made of plain white marble or alabaster. The worn leather armchair had been pulled up close to the fire. Or perhaps the vase.
The man sighed. Then he thought for a moment. He picked up the vase and took it back out to the front of the house. The small garden had been given over to roses. He walked around them. There was a tall bush with white flowers. It had the prettiest flowers and the strongest scent. He emptied the contents of the vase around the base of the rose bush. Dust from the pile of ash drifted up in a thin cloud. The man stepped away quickly. He didn’t want to breathe anything in. He felt that would have been disrespectful.
“I suppose that’s really all we’re good for in the end,” he thought. “The roses.”
He walked back into the house and began to clear away other people’s lives.