What’s left of the Japanese plum tree outside the dead landlord’s apartment blooms one more time. Its roots reach deep into the sewer line, so it will follow “Uncle Dale” except by chain saw, not by smoking and living over the septic tank. A battered lilac must go with it.
The man’s been dead eight years. His one-room solar studio has floor-to-ceiling glass and you can look right in. Most of his things are still there. Relatives came not long after he died and carted away a few family antiques and objets d’art, but the day bed he slept on is still there with his bedding. His hat and jacket are on the clothes tree. I walk past that end of the house twice a month and try not to stare.
And I must have been doing a good job. Today I had business back there and this time I looked: what was that all over the floor and chairs inside the glass? Oh no. A vine of some kind had grown into the room through a crack in the window frame. Inside the solar-heated space, the plant had lived long and prospered, covering the furniture like kudzu, and died!
A rough brown blanket of dead leaves lay in heaps. I peered closer to see how far it extended. Not as far back as the kitchen. Less light, I supposed. But then I saw a box of pancake mix in the middle of the floor next to a grater and spatula. A cabinet door was open! Some kind of beast had been there, but when and how? That didn’t surprise me as much as the fact that no one had cleaned out the cupboards in over eight years. I wish I had a key so I could do all that and snoop.
I found the dead landlord’s bio on the funeral home’s website today. Who knew they kept such things online after all this time? We knew him fairly well, but not all the details. His full name was Kirby Dale Blair. He won three Helene Wurlitzer Foundation grants for writing and was a Taos resident for over thirty years. Before then he was the film and stage critic for a newspaper in Dallas. He wrote plays and a historical novel about a famous Texan called Quanah: The Coiled Snake. After he died, a medicine man helped several of us toss his ashes into the acequia at the bottom of the hill.
I want to remember this before I cut down the tree, a special one he planted himself years ago. Plants and animals will eventually reclaim his old apartment. Our bedroom is on the other side of the thick adobe wall, but we won’t be here to witness.
As long as we are, though, we’ll be able to flush.