He had saved the bathroom vanity table for last. After clearing out her side of the closet, her few books, her knickknacks in the living room that he always thought was clutter. After the hospital, after the doctors, after the roses falling on wet earth, after the quick kisses on the cheek from the grandnephews and grandnieces, after the pats on the back, after the whispered murmurs of consolation, after the departures and farewells, after everything.
He stood in front of the mirror. This was where he remembered her the most: at her stool, putting her makeup on before work, brushing her hair before bed. She was not a vain woman, but her things were there. Sometimes she sat and wrote her letters on the counter. The light was brightest there, she used to say, especially in later years when her eyesight wasn’t as sharp as it used to be.
He brought in a cardboard box and started working. One by one, into the box. He could have dumped the entire contents of the drawer and organizer straight into the box, but he wanted to touch it all. Her nail clippers. Her lip gloss. Her pills. Her lotions. A key chain without a key.
Placing things in boxes occupied his time now. It was good work. He had always liked things neat. She liked to place things within arm’s reach. As he filled up the box, he understood, with no satisfaction, that he was getting his wish.
He picked up the photograph, turning blue with age, in its seashell frame. Three years shy of being a bride. The smile on her face, the ice cream cone peeking out from the edge of the frame. That summer day when they went to the lake and sat by the dock and she took her shoes off and splashed them gaily in the water. The reflection of sunlight on the water in his eyes. He had chided her for getting her feet wet and she bristled, half-jokingly, telling him he couldn’t tell her what to do.
He tried to explain that he didn’t have a towel to dry her feet. She said the sun would take care of things.
Then the man with the ice cream cart had strolled by, ringing his little metallic bell, and he spent almost all their bus fare for their return to buy ice cream. She gave a squeal of delight, their small argument forgotten, and the scoop of vanilla was already melting and she quickly dove in for a bite only to get ice cream on her nose and lip and then he had taken the picture. There it sat on her bathroom table. He picked it up and placed it carefully in the box.
Her makeup accessories. There were names for these objects, which he did not know, and never would.
Her bottles of perfume. He opened a couple of bottles and could recognize none of them, their scents unfamiliar.
Her brush, with her silver hair tangled in the bristles. He lightly brushed the strands with his finger. He hesitated, and then put it in the box.
A half-empty tube of ointment for her joint pains, when the night was cold. A candle for those nights when the storms would come and the electricity would go out.
He could not bear for her things to stay behind after she herself had gone. He wanted only her absence to remain, to grow inside him, to fill what was now empty.
And finally, all that was left, to be swept into the box and sealed shut: Her two Japanese dolls, male and female, in their kimonos. Her artificial rose, its fading red petals with a sprinkling of gray dust, inside a black vase.
Her rosary, her tubes of lipstick, her jar of cotton earbuds, her bangles, her coins, her pack of matches, her spare buttons, her pearl earrings, and her small porcelain figurine of a ballerina with an arm lifted to the sky, and then she was gone.
Written in response to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge.