The asphalt is white with salt. What grass pokes out from the crusted snow is a dull yellow. The houses in this lower middle class neighborhood are all grey. Walking up to house, I am struck by the only color I have seen for days. On a concrete slab of a driveway there is a red Camaro – the color seems artificial like a reissued old black and white movie where they have colorized only this one car.
The call is for a sudden death — woman can’t wake up her fifty-year old son, who is cold. The cops slowed us to code one once they arrived. The downstairs of the house is clean and spare. In the front living room there is only a couch, a table, a small TV on a stand, and a coat rack at the base of the stairs. The officer, who is talking to an elderly woman, points up those same stairs.
Newspapers and boxes are piled on the narrow steep steps that lead up to darkness. There is no bulb in the light fixture. The carpet is thick with dirt. An officer stands outside the bedroom. He shines a light in. Dust swirls in the light beam. The room has a slanted ceiling. There is just a narrow passageway through the high debris to the low mattress. The yellow beam rests on an unmoving head visible above a blanket. While my preceptee carrys the monitor in, I stand by the door and look about. On the floor there are piles and piles of VHS tapes nearly three feet high — there must be a thousand tapes, all caked in dust. On top of the tapes (like an archeological dig site) are DVDs, hundreds. I see only a few covers to get their gist – they are all porno. The room hasn’t been cleaned in decades.
The man has rigor with lividity. My preceptee says he vomited bile before he died. I turn and go back in the hall. I cough heavily.
Back downstairs, I hear his mother tell the officer. “He wouldn’t ever let me go up there. I only went up because they called from work that he was late.”
I notice then on the hat rack by the door, two clean pressed tan janitorial uniforms, still in the dry cleaner’s wrap. I see the man’s name on the patch over the right pocket and the name of his employer on the left.
“He was a good boy,” his mother says. “He just bought that car outside, spent the whole week cleaning it up, polishing it. I guess I’ll need to find someone to help me go through all that junk. I can’t believe he lived like that, living like a rat.”
She answers the phone. “Yes,” she says. “I found him this morning. He’s gone.”
Three days later we drive past the house. Snow covers the Camaro. Everything is again black, white and grey.