Alice nibbles the edges of bread before abandoning them on the counter to become stale, shriveling inward and away from the atmosphere. She does not return the caps to things: toothpaste, milk, cologne, permanent markers. She is a motorboat of small scale destruction and I follow in her wake. When I am not sweeping, re-capping, or licking my finger to unsmudge surfaces, I am watching her, waiting for my next task.
It has not always been this way. I have not always been a hawk, Alice's messes have not always been my prey. When Eric died last month, I found myself living with new labels: Executor of Estate, Widow, Woman Who Cries on the Subway, Neighbor Who Cannot Afford Her Mortgage and Must Move. At first Alice offered to help me pack, help me move. She offered to buy pizza and beer for her husband and his bulky friends to get them to help as well. But then she showed up at my door, the For Sale sign in one hand, a kitschy quilted bag in the other.
"I don't mean to be insensitive," she said. "But I wish my husband were dead and not yours."
I moved aside to let her in, deciding whether or not to say aloud, "I wish that, too."