Hello – the question.

He stepped inside and shut the door against the late autumn wind. The warmth inside felt the same, but the air was different, tinged, he noticed, with the dull edge of decay, hovering stagnantly between him and everything which hadn’t changed. A slanted sunbeam burst through the filthy window as the large hull of a cloud passed, and, as the room brightened, floating pieces of dust seemed caught naked in its sudden panic. The smell had gotten stronger of pillbottle plastic and adult diapers, but he closed his eyes and shook this into the dark neglected back of his mind.

Hello? he called. The afghan was crinkled on the couch’s curled cushions, but Grandpa wasn’t there, with his bald head propped on the worn armrest. Neither was Grandma in her electric recliner. Near the door stood her walker, the TV remote and a pair of reading glasses caught in its wire basket. A row of antique pull-toys stared up from the dark hearth beneath the chipped paint and dirt of having been loved, wooden ducks, dented Tonka trucks, and crippled sheep, and he thought of junkyard cars lined up, fenced in and cut off by that hillbilly Harold, who would only allow a handful of kindred souls inside to touch his rust empire.

Hello? No answer.  He looked through the kitchen to the family room where a second empty recliner crouched beneath a lamp next to the window. The furnace kicked on. He coughed in the upturned dust, then peeled off his boots on the rug, stepping on the back of each muddy heel. Maybe Grandma was in the bathroom, or asleep, or…

Another thought to be shaken toward that dark corner. On the kitchen table, a shiny array of home medical instruments and bright white childproof pill bottles, like the organized chaos of a city skyline jutting heavenward, sprawled, spilling over their tray’s stainless steel edge. Antique tins, once full of candy and cookies, sounded the empty echoes of drums as he tapped them, except one. Inside, pretzels. He took one and bit it. Stale, but ate it anyway.

Hello? No one was home. He walked through the rooms just to be sure, where the same furniture sat in the same places. A maid still came once a week to vacuum around their wood and metal feet. Outside, around the cracked brick corners of the house, the gusts of wind brushed. He laced his boots up again, zipped his jacket, and stepped out, pulling the door behind him until it clicked. They ought to at least lock it, he always thought.

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