it was her sister cynthia. cynthia didn't live that far away - just across town - but they hadn't seen each other much in the last few years.
"what's up?" marya asked.
"remember uncle joe? dad's brother? he used to come around sometimes when we lived on fruit street."
marya was just a little hung over. "oh yeah, sure. uncle joe. what about him?"
"oh, that's too bad." marya didn't know what else to say and didn't feel like trying to say anything. "does someone want us to go to a funeral or anything?"
"no, he's already buried."
"his landlady tracked me down. i have the same name, since i divorced teddy."
"mmm. so what did uncle joe do, leave us a million dollars or something?"
cynthia laughed. "no, i don't think so. anyway, the landlady thought we might want to take away some of his stuff."
marya rubbed her eyes. "that doesn't sound very likely. where did he live?"
"right here in centerville, over on townsend, down by the bus station. it's funny, i guess he was living here all these years and we never saw him or knew he was there."
"mmm. that's - that's pretty funny all right."
"anyway, i though i'd be a good doobie and go over and look at the stuff. i'm going over there now. you want to come with me?"
"um - i don't know."
"come on, i'll drive. it's a nice day."
marya rubbed her eyes again, trying to get her brain to function.
cynthia spoke up before marya could answer. "you wouldn't want me to find that million dollars and keep it all to myself, would you? ha, ha!"
marya managed a chuckle. "no, i guess not."
"o k, i'll be there in fifteen minutes. see you."
marya hung up. she wondered if she should have a drink. just a little one.
"thanks for coming." the landlady, a thin young woman in a knicks t-shirt, looked questioningly at smiling cynthia and bleary-eyed marya. "which one of you is cynthia?"
cynthia offered her hand. "i am."
the young woman shook cynthia's hand. "thanks again. "i'm sorry for your loss."
"we hardly knew him," marya told her. she was looking up and down the completely ordinary street, not making eye contact.
"yes, that's what cynthia told me. my husband, he just wanted to throw everything out, but i thought we should try to contact the next of kin."
cynthia nodded and smiled. "that was very thoughtful of you. we appreciate it."
"oh, well, come on in, i didn't mean to keep you here gabbing." the woman looked at marya. "my name is trudy, by the way, i don't know if cynthia told you."
marya and cynthia followed trudy into the house.
"so what did he have?" marya asked. "just a room?"
"no, he had the whole second floor."
there was a staircase right inside the front door and marya and cynthia followed trudy up it.
"he was a perfect tenant," trudy said when they reached the second floor. "you see, everything is nice and neat but that's the way he was. he was very quiet."
marya and cynthia looked around. the curtains were drawn, it was a sunny day and what there was to see could be seen clearly. there was just a small kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom and one other room. there were no pictures on the walls and no photographs or decorations in evidence. it looked like an apartment ready to be rented except for one thing - a large covered cardboard box, like a very large shoebox, on a table in the center of the main room.
trudy pointed to the box. "i found that. it says 'private' on it so i didn't want to open it."
cynthia nodded. she went over and looked down at the box and it did indeed have the word "private" written on it in black magic marker. but it was not taped or sealed in any way.
"i'll leave you to it," trudy said. "i'll be downstairs if you have any questions."
"thank you," cynthia told her.
marya and cynthia waited until they heard trudy's footsteps reach the lower floor.
they looked at each other. "the million dollars," said cynthia.
"yeah, right." they both laughed.
"well, let's take a look." the cover of the box came off easily in cynthia's hand.
the box was filled with photographs and pictures of various sizes. polaroids, black and white and colored glossies, but mostly pictures cut from magazines.
all the pictures were of naked women. a great variety of naked women, of all shapes and sizes and colors. short and tall snd fat and thin and black and white and brown and yellow. flat chested and with enormous boobs, with bald heads and with long hair down to their ankles, with shaved pubes and big flowery bushes.
the one thing they had in common was that they were all wearing hats and nothing else. fedoras, berets, pillbox hats with veils, big flowered hats, mother goose bonnets, all sorts of hats.
marya and cyntha laughed as they went through the box.
"see any money?" marya asked.
"one fifty dollar bill would be nice."
"i never knew uncle joe was such a weirdo," said cynthia.
"i never knew there were so many pictures of naked women with their hats on."