I don’t know what to do.
When Grandpa died, no one else wanted to clean out his home. It was a big manor house out in the country, seated on some valuable property, but full of the physical evidence of his life. He was a member of that generation who’d grown up during the Great Depression, an experience that cultivated in them the habit of saving anything that might be of future use, and my grandfather was no exception.
He wasn’t a hoarder, not exactly; he kept everything, but he curated them into collections, organized by use or by the memory they held. He’d been a field surgeon in the second World War, and afterwards made a living as the kind of country doctor who still made house calls. Not all of his neighbors had money, so they paid Grandpa in food or trade goods. Even far into his dotage the old man’s mind remained as sharp as one of his hypodermic needles; pick up an old boot and he’d tell you how it was hand-made for him by the local cobbler in exchange for setting a broken bone. “Nothing more valuable than something made by a skilled craftsman working with his own hands,” he’d say, or something like it.
As a boy I loved my summers out at the house with Grandpa & Grandma, hearing the old man’s stories and growing tall and strong eating my grandmother’s country cooking. As a game I’d pick objects at random from his collection and listen to the accompanying tale. There was the radio he’d listened to Babe Ruth’s record-breaking homerun on (“Turn it on, boy – still works!”); the gingham picnic blanket he’d proposed to my grandmother on (“Over a plate of peach cobbler!”); the wicked-looking Turkish knife he’d taken off a mercenary in the war (“What do you think your grandmother killed the chicken we had for supper last night with?”).
Since I was adopted, he wasn’t my “real” grandfather, but he loved me anyways. After the city doctors diagnosed me with diabetes, he was the one who showed my parents how to manage it. When Grandma died I spent more time out at the house, letting the old man tell whatever stories he wanted. I think it was his way of remembering when Grandma was in his life, addressing his grief tangentially, where he could get a handle on it, rather than head-on.
Because I loved my Grandpa, I volunteered to clean the house. It was a lot of work. First I had to sort what was actually valuable from what wasn’t, then I had to hire an appraiser to advise me on the value of what remained. Some of this I donated to historical societies, some I sold at auction or to collectors online, some I just let the neighbors who’d known him keep for themselves. Grandpa wouldn’t have seen anything go to waste.
His old medical bag I kept for myself. The leather was creased and faded from love and use, and resting inside, in their little sterilised cases, were the same stainless steel hypodermics he’d given me my injections with as a boy.
Everything was going well enough.
Until I found the room.
It’s in the basement, a door built into a shelf and hidden behind a stack of old newspapers and storage tins. A laboratory and surgery of some sort, jars and jars of old chemicals and medicine bottles, microscopes and beakers and bunsen burners, everything coated in a thick patina of dust.
On the shelf nearest the door are a series of small medicine bottles, cleaner than the rest. I can’t read the faded printing, but penciled over it are the words, “Danny’s insulin.”
I’ve never seen insulin that color before.
But worse is what I found in the back: specimen jars, dozens of them in various sizes, each containing things I can’t identify. Some look like parts, and some look like body parts grafted onto other body parts. I can’t bring myself to look at them for too long.
Floating in a few of the bigger ones are things I want to tell myself are only pig fetuses. Just something a curious country doctor might have need of.
Want to, but can’t.
One of them sits on a shelf of it’s own, next to the operating table. There’s liquid inside but it’s otherwise empty. It’s the only one with a label, just a piece of masking tape with ”Danny” written on it.
I don’t know what to do.