Bottles littered the room like headstones. They crowded the coffee table, the counter, the bedside tables, and any other surfaces flat enough for them to stand on. Each of them bone-dry empty. Mike didn’t think about it at first, while Amanda avoided them as if they would infect her with the same uncontrollable thirst that drowned their father.
They started in the bedroom and packed all of his clothes in boxes marked for donation. Mike doubted anyone would want them, but Amanda insisted that someone could use them after they were thoroughly cleaned. He didn’t argue. He just packed. With the landlord’s charitable mercy, they had three days to get everything out. The clothes didn’t take long despite half of them covering the floor. They threw them in boxes without caring to fold or sort them. Hangers and all. Any undergarments were simply trashed. Next, they moved onto bedding. Stripping everything bare while avoiding any stray bottles.
Amanda moved to the kitchen while Mike started on the storage area. He found boxes of Christmas decorations and various broken objects that should have been thrown away a long time ago. Everything had a sheet of dust on it as if it could protect them from the passing of time despite having already been forgotten. By the end of the first day, they had taken a dozen boxes to the donation center and filled another dozen bags that now filled the dumpster meant for the entire apartment complex.
The next day was Saturday. Amanda had to take Danny, her four-year-old son and Mike’s only nephew, to a soccer game in the morning leaving Mike to tend to the cleaning. He finished the storage area and started on the guest bedroom that doubled as a workroom. A few half-finished projects sat on the table. Mike began filling a trash bag and cleared everything except the bottles. When he was done, he took the bags out to the dumpster and piled the bags above the rim. A smaller dumpster labeled for recycling was hidden behind some trashed piled next to the dumpster. He was looking it over when his phone buzzed.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“How’s everything going?” It was Amanda. He could hear kids screaming in the background.
“As good as it can go I guess.”
“Okay, well, I’ll be over in about an hour. Danny’s game is almost over and we are going to get lunch afterwards. Want us to bring you anything?”
“Could…” He heard her almost take the thought back. “Could you make sure it’s not…you know…. I don’t want Danny seeing the place like it was yesterday.”
He knew exactly what she was asking. It had to be done sooner or later, and he wanted to be done as quickly as possible. At least that’s how he convinced himself.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’ll get it cleaned up.”
“Thank you. See you soon.”
He hung up, sighed, then went back up to the apartment. He opened all the windows hoping it would help with the musty smell and grabbed yet another trash bag. He started collecting all of the bottles in the kitchen. He emptied the fridge of the few unopened bottles. Then he went to the living room and grabbed them off the coffee table, the TV stand, the side table, and window sills. He scoured each room and collected all that he could find. The bag started to strain a bit from the weight but it was able to hold them all. He took them out and tossed them into the bin just as Amanda pulled up with a sack of cheeseburgers and a few sodas.
They sat on the curb and ate lunch. The movers showed up and Mike showed them where to go. When the movers were done and the furniture was gone, they would only have to clean the carpets and wipe everything down. Mike knew there was no chance of getting the deposit back. He didn’t even want it. Danny ran in to use the restroom after the movers took the bed. Amanda came up with him. The movers came back and grabbed the small couch. Mike and Amanda were tallying what was left to do when Danny saw it.
“What’s that?” he asked. All innocence.
Where the couch had been were two bottles Mike had missed. Amanda glared at him but before either of them moved Danny went over and picked up a small book that was lying between the bottles.
“What did you find honey?” Amanda asked.
“Let mommy see.”
Danny reluctantly handed the book over. Mike looked over her shoulder as she opened it.
“Let me see,” Danny complained.
They sat on the floor so Danny could see while they looked through the photo album. It was their childhood. The old house. Pictures of their mom and dad and themselves as children. Every picture a glimpse of thirty years ago.
“It was there all along, wasn’t it?” Amanda asked.
Mike looked at each picture, finally noticing that every one showed their father holding a drink in some fashion.
“I guess it was,” he said, “But how were we to know?”
“We’ve known for years. It got worse after mom passed.”
Mike was saved when Danny pointed at one of the pictures.
“Who are those people mom?” he asked.
She went into mom mode and answered instructively. “That’s your Grandpa, and that’s your Uncle Mike, and that’s me.”
Danny looked at them and the photograph and the skepticism slowly carved itself onto his face.
“No it’s not,” he said.
“It is so. This was us when we were a little older than you are now.”
Danny looked up at Mike to see if he would confirm she was lying.
“It’s true little buddy. We were kids like you a long time ago.”
The skepticism grew to awe and the questions poured forth.
Amanda and Mike answered each in turn about each photograph. Sometimes telling stories about what was happening in each. Danny was fascinated by every detail. He still wasn’t entirely convinced the kids in the pictures were the grownups in the room.
With each new picture they flipped to, and each story they told, the bottles in each one slowly faded from their sight. Mike and Amanda once again saw their parents as they had a long time ago. As Danny was looking at them now. They sat on the floor in the empty apartment looking over each photo and answering all of Danny’s questions carefully. They found themselves laughing and remembering fond stories. They continued through the album as the sun disappeared. They only stopped when it became too dark to see.