Marie made four or five trips to and from the U-Haul, and up and down the three flights of stairs, for every one that Madeline made. Having endured two days of driving in a cramped and un-airconditioned U-Haul, Proust was not about to leave Marie’s side. He followed right at her heels — crossing the street to the van, jumping into the incrementally growing empty space in the cargo area, wagging his mini tail as the women piled on each load, and yipping his high-pitched howling bark at completely random intervals — the entire time.
The U-Haul sat empty in what seemed to be an astonishingly short amount of time. Madeline stood in the street and gaped into the vast cavern of vacant space as if it were a true miracle, as if an outline of the virgin mother would undoubtedly appear on a side wall, like Jesus on a piece of toast.
“I’ll clean it out later,” Marie said over her shoulder. “I want to do some unpacking.”
“What are you talking about – ‘clean it out?’ It looks pretty cleaned out to me.”
Marie did not respond, as she was already on her way into the house.
Madeline leaned her head into the stairwell to the third floor and called up to Marie, “Anything I can do to help?”
A distant voice, dimmed by mountain ranges of boxes and belongings that lay between the two of them, called back, “No. Thanks. I’ll feel better if I can get a little bit done.”
Madeline attempted to read and otherwise occupy herself despite the fact that it sounded as if elephants were tossing very large pieces of furniture around, two stories over her head. Every so often Proust let out a machine-gun burst of yipping, serving as Marie’s doppelganger mixture of impatient insistent cheerleader taskmaster.
Amidst the cacophony of chaos, Madeline found herself welling up with a strange wave of utter peacefulness. The Little One could hear the occasional yip, clunk, rumble and clatter while she talked to her mother on the phone, and Madeline mentioned her wonder at her own surprising sense of peace. “Ha,” the Little One said, “Face it, Mom. This is your dream come true.”
“What do you mean?” Madeline asked.
“The house is filling up again,” she said.
When Madeline hung up the phone, a ripe orange glow from the late September sunset flooded the room, and she noted a distinct lack of clatter coming from above. Again she climbed the stairs and leaned her head into the stairwell. “Marie? How’s it going up there?”
“It’s going OK. Come on up if you want.”
Madeline slowed as she neared the top of the attic stairs, stopping a few steps from the top. Marie sat on an old wooden chair at a beloved kitchen hutch she had rescued long ago and now transformed into a desk. She was leafing casually through a stack of papers when she looked over at Madeline and said “What? I’m taking a break for a while.”
Madeline had every expectation of utter catastrophe, but nothing could have prepared for the scene she beheld.
The sizeable room looked as if a gifted and meticulous set decorator had labored long and hard to create a masterwork from the following task: assemble a young woman’s room that is both crowded and painstakingly decorated. Give prominent placement to her many hundreds of books and tapes — likewise to her artwork that has been collected from friends and strangers alike since she was a child. Make clear that she is a lifelong denizen of thrift stores, where she has spent enormous amounts of time scanning the tossed-aside detritus of others’ lives for objects that speak directly, and deeply, to her. Demonstrate that her aesthetic is completely idiosyncratic, and fully formed. Fill all of the space. Make clear that each and every item in the room has a meaningful history, and has been placed with great care.
Proust lay at the foot of the perfectly-made bed, radiating serenity in a way that suggested he was always this calm, and furthermore, was prepared to chest bump anyone who hinted otherwise.
The house is filling up again, Madeline thought.