After her grandfather died people kept telling her that she had to go through everything, that old people hid things, valuable things, in unexpected places: in books, in the hem of clothes, rolled in socks or old medicine containers. It may have been a smile or a grimace on her face when she nodded politely and agreed that she would keep searching. No one knew better than she about hidden things, secret things, and few could understand the amount of work they were asking of her. She knew they meant well.
At his daughter’s funeral he stood at the front of the church, like an aged choir boy. He looked too enthusiastic for event, too hungry to be the center of attention. He rang the bell during the Eucharistic Prayer in a practiced way, and then, as if whipped from his hand by a strong wind, the bell flew across the sanctuary.
There were things about her grandfather that she never knew when he was alive. There are things she never needed to know, but she tries to be dutiful now. These are the things she learned about her grandfather: He stole silverware, towels, and even rolls of toilet paper from the hotels he stayed in. This went on for decades. These things were not put to use in his home, instead they filled one of three enormous storage units he rented. She also learned that in 1953 her grandfather had applied for the job of executioner at Sing Sing Prison. Ten years after being rejected for that job, he offered himself up as an LSD test subject. She wonders if rejection can be transmitted genetically.
He wasn’t ready to come out and meet the world, so the doctor reached in with forceps. He paid for this initial reluctance with a dented forehead, which marred his looks his entire life.
They are never close, but while she is still young he takes her to Philadelphia to see the sights. What she remembers most is the Liberty Bell. She remembers how large the bell loomed, the velvet rope, and how it felt to put her little hand in the crack. People tell her that this last memory is a false one, that security would never have allowed it. Now, they keep the Liberty Bell behind bullet proof glass.
The apartment was a fourth floor walk-up row house near the Chelsea Piers. He had moved in with his parents when he was eight. Two bedrooms, but only one had windows looking out to 7th Avenue and beyond to the new Empire State Building. He would remain there for the rest of his days: marrying, raising his daughter and granddaughter, losing both wife and child, and finally dying alone on the bathroom floor. The neighbors below noticed a strange stain on their ceiling and told the police they hadn’t seen the old man in a few days. On the day he dies there are condos blocking the view of the Empire State Building.