"He was a fool. He did a lot of foolish things," Bobby's father said as they walked down Walnut street in the shadow of City Hall toward the apartment building where his dead uncle had lived. "I'm warning you. I don't know what we'll find in that apartment."
Bobby hunched over against the cold January wind whipping down the street. He was going to his Uncle Lenny's apartment to clean it out. Lenny had died three days earlier, and since he had no other immediate family, it was left to Bobby and his father to dispose of his earthly possessions.
Lenny was the black sheep of the family. He had done everything wrong in a long life, and Bobby's parents didn't like to talk about him. Bobby hadn't seen him in ten years, since his First Communion, when Uncle Lenny had showed up drunk in church and caused a scene.
"How did you have a brother who's so different?" Bobby's mother would say. "You're an accountant, a churchgoing man, a man who pays his bills on time. Lenny -- he's nothing like that. It's like he's from another family."
"He was always different," Bobby's father would say. "He had a splint or a cast on some part of his body our whole childhood. He was always breaking bones because he'd fall out of a tree, or jump off a cliff, or something stupid like that."
They came to the gray building where Lenny lived, and they went downstairs to a trash-filled stairwell where Bobby's father pulled a key from his pocket and opened the door.
It took Bobby's eyes a few moments to adjust to the darkness, but then he saw that the room was very cluttered. It was just one large room, with a sofa bed in a corner and an ancient TV set on a stand across from it. There was a small table with two metal folding chairs, a rickety wooden desk with a chair, and every surface was covered with piles of newspapers, books, candy wrappers, magazines, clothes, bottles, and myriad other things.
Bobby's father found a light switch, and illuminated the mess. "God, this is worse than I thought," he said. "I can't believe someone would live like this." He turned to Bobby with his hands on his hips, and said, "I'm sorry you have to see this, but maybe this will make you appreciate the comfortable life we have in the suburbs. This is what comes of living your life without regard to rules."
He had brought a box of black heavy duty trash bags, and he opened it, took out a bag, and began to pick up things and put them in the bag.
"Dad, don't you want to look around first?" Bobby said. "I mean, maybe there's something worth keeping here."
"Worth keeping?" his father curled his lip with disdain. "In this trash pit? What could possibly be worth keeping?" He went back to picking up wads of paper, clothing, anything he could reach, and stuffing it all in the trash bag.
Bobby looked around the room, and a wave of sadness hit him. It seemed tragic that a man's whole life, all his earthly possessions after 60 years, could be contained in one small room. He went over to the bed and looked at a stack of magazines and books there. There were books about UFOs, conspiracy theories, murder mysteries, detective magazines, tabloid newspapers with screaming headlines about alien babies and two-headed axe murderers. There were cigarette ashes on the bed, and it smelled of alcohol and stale food.
"Come on, Bobby, we don't have all day," his father said. "We have to clean this place out so I can cancel the lease. I don't want to have to pay another month's rent on this dump." He threw a trash bag to Bobby. "Get to work."
Just then there was a knock at the door, and a woman's voice. "What's going on? Where's Lenny?"
Bobby turned to see a middle-aged woman wearing an overcoat and high heels. She was heavily made up, but the makeup couldn't hide the lines around her eyes and mouth. Her coat was open and she had on a red spangled dress that showed her cleavage and slightly chunky legs.
"Who are you?" Bobby's father said. He was pursing his lips with disdain at this sparkly red vision in Lenny's doorway.
"I'm Lenny's friend Inez. Who are you?" she asked, "and what are you doing here?"
"I'm Lenny's brother Andrew. I'm here to clean out his place. He died a few days ago."
"What?" her eyes widened in horror, and she reached out to brace herself against the doorway. She looked like she was about to faint, and Bobby grabbed her and helped her to the bed, where she sat down heavily. She looked up at him and said, "Thanks," then her face contorted and she started to cry.
"My God, I didn't know," she said, sobbing. "What happened? When?"
Bobby's father made no effort to comfort her. "He died of a heart attack. Last week. I'm amazed it didn't happen years ago, frankly. The landlady found him and called me. We had the funeral yesterday. No sense wasting time; he didn't have many friends."
Bobby found a box of tissues in the clutter next to the bed, and he gave it to Inez, who grabbed a handful of tissues and blew her nose loudly.