Crimson and Clover
Demonte Crimson sat on the front doorstep of his dead Aunt Trinity's house waiting for Clover - the widow of his dead cousin Jeremy - to arrive. Monty had foolishly allowed Clover to volunteer to help clean out Trinity's home although she had been absent from the family for several years.
"Aunt Trinity turned into a hoarder after Grandma died," Monty warned Clover during the family gathering following Aunt Trinity's private burial . "The place is a mess."
"I'm a professional cleaner," Clover reminded her former cousin-in-law as she munched on some Swedish meatballs.
"Just don't freak when you see what I'm talking about," Del replied.
Monty sucked in his breath as he waited for Clover to arrive, wondering why he allowed himself to let her back into his life. Was he and the Crimson family cursed or just plain screwed up?
Trinity's house was actually Monty's grandparents' house, the place where his father, uncle and two Aunts grew up. But Trinity never left, living with her parents until they both died and Trinity remained in the house until her own untimely death from declining health a few weeks earlier.
Trinity joined her parents as well as her brother Mike (Monty's Dad) in death, plus her brother Chip's wife Renee and her sister Jaycee's son Jason (Clover's husband).
"Everybody seems to die in this family," Clover remarked, having attended five Crimson family funerals in a ten year span.
The death of Monty's grandmother (eight years after her husband) was to be expected – the woman was in her late eighties and had lived a good life. But Monty's Dad dropped dead from a heart attack a year later, followed by Aunt Renee from cancer less than a year after that. And then came the shock of the Opioid overdose death of Clover's husband, cousin Jason, three years ago, and now Aunt Trinity was gone.
Monty couldn't help but wonder (and fear) which Crimson might be next.
He watched the mini-white van approaching on the street. The Green Four Leaf Clover on the side panel gave it away – along with 'Clover's Cleaning Service' in green lettering. The van turned into the driveway and parked behind Monty's older sedan.
Monty sucked in his breath when he saw Clover pop out of the van, walk across the un-mowed scraggly front lawn and plop herself next to Monty on the cement step. She was wearing a green 'Clover's Cleaning Service' sweatshirt and Levi jeans, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was as beautiful as ever.
"When was the last time you were here?" Monty asked.
"When your grandmother died," Clover replied.
"That tree over there was barely a sapping when I was a little kid," Monty said, gesturing to a fairly large tree in the corner of the front lawn. "I was only five but I could still reach the tallest branch."
"That was like thirty years ago, Monty," Clover said.
"Seems like yesterday," he sighed.
"There's a lot of family history here," Clover said.
"Let me call Mag's Recycling and Removal Service to do this job," Monty told her.
"Aren't I still part of this family?" Clover frowned. "Why don't you want me helping you out?"
"It's going to be a big job," he cautioned.
"I can handle it," Clover insisted. She peered at him for a moment. "Why are you the one in charge of all this?"
"Who else is going to do it?" Monty asked with a frustrated and exhausted half-laugh. "Uncle Chip is a semi-invalid. Aunt Jaycee lives in Colorado. The cousins are all spread out."
"Maybe you shouldn't have come home after the Army," Clover commented.
"Where else would I go?" He sighed, but he knew she was right. He shouldn't have come home after the Army because then he wouldn't be sitting next to her now, smelling her hair and feeling his heart race.
"You could have joined your mom in Florida," Clover said.
He glanced at her. "Why are you still here?"
"It's home," she shrugged. "Are you going to take over the house?" She asked.
"Can't live with Uncle Chip forever," Monty reasoned. "He's getting as pathetic as Aunt Trinity was. Ever since he took early retirement, he just sits around and mopes about poor dead Aunt Renee."
"Some people grieve forever," Clover said.
Monty gave her a long look, wondering if she was talking about herself too, a widow for three years now.
"Are you ready to go in there?" He asked, gesturing to the house behind them, the paint faded, the windows streaked with dirt and grime.
"Yeah," she said.
They both stood and Monty opened the rusty squeaky front screen door and unlocked the heavy inside door which opened into the living room. The air was musky and heavy with odor.
The room was dark because all the shades were pulled down. Monty turned on the overhead light and he heard an audible gasp from Clover standing behind him.
"Holy shit," she said.
"I'll call Mag's Recycling and Removal Service," Monty said, reaching for his cell.
"No, No," Clover said, grabbing him by the arm. "I can do this." She tripped over some boxes and other clutter as she began opening the shades and windows which revealed just how bad things had become inside the house. "Jesus Christ," she said, glancing around.
"I told you it was bad," Monty sighed.
"We'll have to get a dumpster," Clover realized.
"I figured out why Aunt Trinity didn't want anybody coming over when I walked in here the day after she died," Monty said with sadness.
There were piles of debris two or three feet high throughout the house - empty and full cardboard boxes, stacks of newspapers, magazines, books, trash, beer cans, empty pizza cartons, and other junk with little pathway openings from room to room.
"Is the whole house like this?" She asked.
Monty nodded his head affirmatively. "Should I call Mags?"
"No, just get a dumpster delivered to the driveway," she said.
"The garage is filled to the roof with junk going back to when my father was a kid."
"Where's her car?"
"I think it got repossessed," Monty said.
They made their way to the kitchen - buried in trash bags as high as the ceiling in three of the four corners of the room.
"I don't think she took out the trash in years," Monty observed.
"She probably didn't want to pay for the stickers," Clover said.
The walls were stained by years of tobacco smoke, the wall paper peeling from the endless humidity of the sealed up house.
"Everything in the cellar is ruined," Monty reported. "There was a pipe leaking for who knows how long so everything is waterlogged, soaked and mummified. Most of it my grandparents stuff."
"There's a busted window in one of the upstairs bedrooms so there's water damage from the elements - leaves, twigs, sticks, bird droppings..."
"How could she let it get away from her like this?" Clover sighed.
They returned to the living room. Monty gestured to an arm chair in the corner of the room.
"My most vivid memories of Aunt Trinity are of her sitting in that chair at night reading a book with her martini and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth," Monty reflected. "She was very well educated, well-read, and intelligent."
"But she worked for forty years as a bookkeeper, a job she hated," Clover said. "Such a sad and tragic ending for an unhappy and troubled woman." She glanced around the room with disbelief.
"You sure you want to do this?" Monty asked one more time.
"We're family, Mont," Clover reminded him.
"Yeah, a dysfunctional family," Monty countered. "Aren't you living with your parents now?"
"What's that got to do with anything?" She frowned as they stepped out the front door, Monty closing and locking the door behind them.
"You don't have to associate yourself with the Crimsons," Monty said awkwardly.
"I am a Crimson, you asshole," Clover snapped.
"Sorry," Monty mumbled.
"I don't have to have this done by tomorrow, do I?" She asked sarcastically.
"Of course not," Monty said, handing her an extra key to the house. "No time table. No hurry. Do what you can when you can."
"It's just that I have other clients too," she explained.
"I understand," Monty said. "It's fine. I usually work second shift at Duffy's. I'll stop by when I can."
"Do you wish Crimson's was still open?" Clover asked.
Crimson's had been the family's restaurant on Route 36 near the Hillsboro boarder with Greenville, started by Monty's grandfather nearly sixty years earlier, taken over by Monty's Dad but Monty's mother sold it after her husband's death and the building was razed, replaced by a Taco Bell-Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Most of the Crimson family had worked at the restaurant at one point or another – it's where Clover met both Monty and Jason in high school (she lived in Greenville).
"Sometimes," Monty admitted. "But my mother made the decision."
"And then left," Clover noted with disapproval.
"I guess the past dies when people die," Monty said.
"We're still here," Clover said with a smile as they walked toward their vehicles in the driveway.
Monty wanted to tell Clover that he didn't want her back in the fold because he knew he was going to start hurting all over again just being around her.