Nate switched off the vacuum cleaner, pushed the table out from in front of the under-stairs cupboard and put it back where he found it. It was the second glass he had smashed in as many hours but it should be added that both incidents were an accident. He was not the type to go around breaking other peoples things.
Not even when those people were dead.
It was the second month of the new job and, contrary to his original thoughts on the matter, cleaning out the belongings of people who had died alone for an insurance company was not such a bad gig after all. Sure, it was grim and dirty sometimes but once you got past all of that, it was pretty interesting. He worked alone and unsupervised - that in itself was worth getting up in the morning for. Nobody got on his case when he found a book that looked like it needed leafing through, nobody told him when to eat his lunch and consequently there was nobody to tell him when to go home either - and most days he was so engrossed in the junk of the lives he had walked in on, it was dark before he realised he should be some place else.
This house was, it has to be said, the dirtiest he had come across so far. With no relatives left to decide on what was important and what wasn't, Nate was left to make those decisions on the deceased's behalf. What was deemed as rubbish went into a skip - which was always in place outside the house before he began, for they were nothing if not efficient - and the remainder that had the potential to be re-sold, was stacked into different piles and collected by various companies whenever Nate made the call to say that he was finished.
This house had belonged to an elderly man - from the stack of mail that had conspired to prevent him opening the door, he figured out that his name was George Arthur Kimble - and his great passion in life was undoubtedly Japan. There was so much 'Japan' in the house, Nate figured there might be more of it here than there was over there. Paintings on the wall from Japan, books about Japan, pressed flowers from Japan, rugs from Japan, cooking paraphernalia from Japan. No doubt everything else was from Japan as well and merely in disguise as otherwise every day objects - including a glass blowfish with funny eyes that acted as a fruit bowl on the counter.
On that first day, Nate set about the obvious and emptied the fridge and kitchen cupboards into a never-ending series of black refuse sacks, pausing only to examine a tin of mustard powder that was hidden at the back of the cupboard and finding it had a 'use-by' date of August 1968. Some people kept the strangest things around them - or maybe they simply forgot they had them. Is that what happened to George? Surely he must have living relatives somewhere in the world? Maybe they simply forgot about him stuck here in the back of this terraced cupboard - or maybe he had reached his 'use-by' date long ago and wasn't needed any more.
Kept for emergencies only.
With the foodstuff out of the way, Nate packed up the crockery, saucepans and whatever else he found in the cupboards in the kitchen. He put the rubbish in the skip and ticked a box on the sheet of paper that was attached to his clipboard before moving into the lounge area.
As he ploughed through cupboards, unearthing hundreds of books which took him most of the day to do, he stacked them all against the barest wall he could find and moved on to carefully packing George's paraphernalia into two cardboard boxes - the type you have to assemble yourself - from the back of his van. Working like a robot, he paused over none of this and didn't notice himself sighing several times over the fact that the most interesting thing he had come across was the mustard powder. That really intrigued him.
He took the pictures down from the wall along with the framed exotic butterflies that were pinned and mounted in a frame. He separated the TV from the VHS player and set both of these next to the books. By the time he had finished all of this, he went outside to take a cigarette break and found that it was dark.
Same damn thing happened every day.
The following morning, Nate went back into the house to finish up. Two bedrooms, a bathroom and a loft - in theory, that could be done before lunch. Strip the beds, bag the clothes, stack the furniture. It was easy when none of it belonged to you. It was nothing but the collateral damage of life itself. He may not have been doing the job very long but Nate had already come to the conclusion that this time would come to us all eventually. Even your closest relatives wouldn't keep everything you had accumulated in your time here. Consequently, since he had begun the job, he had spent an hour or so every evening throwing his own belongings away and felt all the more liberated for it.
The bathroom took longer than he expected as it was full of half-used tins of shaving foam, towels covered in dust and - possibly the worst thing he had discovered here so far - an old wicker laundry basket that had not been emptied for far too long.
The bedroom at the back of the house was easy however. George obviously didn't sleep in it and though there was a bed in there, made up ready for a potential visitor, it was musty and flecked with the scent of damp. Nobody had slept in here in a long time. He stripped it in seconds and put the bedclothes in the trash-bags. The cupboard that was also in the room was empty already, so he left it where it was. That was some other monkeys job to try hauling that down the stairs. Those were the rules.
Nate then moved into what he assumed would be George's room at the front of the house but found it to be exactly the same as the room he had just ticked off. The only sign that it might have been occupied in any way, was a pair of trousers hanging from the top of the wardrobe door.
- How incredibly sad.
Nate said that out loud though he hadn't meant to. He pulled the pants off the wardrobe, checked the pockets - which were empty as expected - and threw them out of the bedroom door along with the bed sheets from this room, onto the top of the black trash-bag that he had left outside the door.
The upstairs of the house had taken Nate almost three hours and his work-sheet was now almost full of ticks. There was only the loft space left and given the state of the rest of the house - stuffed to breaking point downstairs, void of life upstairs - he didn't expect to find anything but bats or a wasp best up there.
There was no ladder or any other means to get up to the hatch, but there was a lone wooden chair keeping the black sack company on the landing that looked strong enough to take his weight. Nate tested it out.
Moving it to beneath the loft hatch, he pushed up at the wooden covering, took it out of its hole and dropped it lightly to the floor. He unclipped a small torch from his belt and, holding it between his teeth hoisted himself up into the bleak roof space.
To his surprise, it was completely empty. He swept the torch beam in front of him to find nothing but rafters, insulation and a water tank. Putting the torch back between his teeth, he held onto the roof supports to turn himself around and almost fell back down the hatch when he was met by the spectre of a man lurking in the shadows.
- Jesus wept! You scared me half to...
Nate closed his mouth and squinted into the darkness where his torch couldn't quite penetrate, to find it was no man at all. Not really. It was a suit. A suit of samurai armour that had been posed upon a display stand. He carefully crossed the rafters until he could inspect it a little more closely.
It was actually a classic example of Ō-yoroi armour that came from the Heian period and was nearly a thousand years old. The aged leather was practically solid to the touch but it was hardly cracked at all. Also attached to the display stand were various items that went along with it. A bow guard called a yugote, a helmet known throughout history as the hoshi-bachi-kabuto and a mask whose proper name was a mengu. This was rich-man's armour, designed to be worn on horse-back rather than the lower ranked foot soldiers.
Nate however, knew nothing at all about samurai armour. All he knew was that it looked like it could be worn, which made it a 'suit' and should be treated as such according to his training manual. He pulled the armour from its display stand and piece by piece, threw it out of the loft hatch. When he was satisfied that the loft was empty, he lowered himself back down, reclipped the torch to his belt and stuffed the samurai into four black sacks. After tying the tops of them, he ticked the box on his clipboard to say that he had cleared the loft and with that being the last box on the sheet, Nate could consider the job finished.
Dropping the black sacks into the skip on the way back to his van, he lit a cigarette and sat in the drivers seat with the window open while he smoked it, congratulating himself on another job well done but still seriously chewing over how somebody could forget about a tin of mustard powder in their cupboard.
He had thought about taking the tin home to show his wife, but you could lose your job over something like that.
It was important these days to have a job where you could be trusted to do exactly what was expected of you.