An Eclipse of Moths
sometimes our clutter gives everything order
Tucker had given up on the basement. He felt so defeated he finally called one of those junk hauling services he saw advertised on the television every day. They advertised that their fee started at just two hundred dollars but to call to make an appointment for a formal quote.
“How much are we hauling away?” Rick, the attendant, asked when he showed up at Tucker’s house to view the basement.
“All of it,” Tucker said.
“Yeah, I mean, I’ll go through it first and separate out anything I want to keep, but that’s going to be very little. I want it all gone.”
“This will be about two truckloads and take three guys, so let’s say four hundred dollars. If you end up keeping more than a third, we’ll drop it to three fifty. Sound good?”
“Absolutely! I definitely won’t be keeping a third. Do I pay now?”
“Pay half now, the other half when we are done.”
“When can you start?”
“How about next Saturday? That gives you a week to go through stuff.”
Tucker noticed Rick was sweating. He constantly wiped beads of sweat off his forehead, and the pits of his company polo were dark with sweat rings. It was mid-July, the hottest time of the year. He didn’t envy the guys who did this job, who had to clean out people’s basements or attics, hauling boxes up or down stairs because the homeowners were too lazy to do it themselves.
Tucker had thought about donating stuff to Goodwill or having a yard sale. He thought about that every time he had to go down to the basement to do a load of laundry. There was a narrow path now, barely one foot wide, just from the stairs to the washer and dryer. The rest of the basement was inaccessible, so he didn’t know where to start, and every time he thought about doing it the task just seemed too daunting.
It would take numerous car loads for him to get everything to Goodwill unless he rented a truck. If he had a yard sale, it would take several trips to get stuff out to the lawn. He got winded from just one trip of carrying his laundry basket up the stairs! And what would he do with the stuff that didn’t sell after it was over? He could rent a storage space, but he really didn’t want to pay a monthly rental fee for all of his junk. For Tucker, the four hundred dollars to get someone to “make it disappear,” as their TV ad said, was money well spent.
Tucker had lived in the house for fourteen years. His house was tiny, but big enough for just him and the two cats. The basement was unfinished. When he first moved in, he dreamed about remodeling the basement and making it into a formal laundry room, a TV room, a small spare bedroom or office, and a bathroom. Instead, it had become a dark cavernous hollow even the cats were too weary to explore beyond their litter boxes in the corner.
He’d been excited about having the basement for storage back then. There were boxes of things he’d kept from when he moved out of his apartment. These were boxes he’d never opened in fourteen years. The movers had put them right in the basement and that’s where they’d sat since then. There was his old couch. He had three bicycles. He didn’t even ride one, so he didn’t know why he had three. There was a broken treadmill and a set of free weights—sad reminders taunting him of his failure to get in shape. The basement was full of reminders he'd been ignoring for years.
Tubs of Christmas decorations and spare bedding that would take up too much closet space filled one wall. There were boxes of clothes; Tucker liked to switch out his winter and summer wardrobes each year and clean out his closets each spring. Instead of donating old garments, he packed them away and added them to the wall of boxes beneath the house. Every old computer he’d ever owned since he’d been in the house was buried in this crypt. He counted four. There were at least two old microwaves, two weed eaters and three lawn mowers. His basement was an appliance cemetery!
He wasn’t a hoarder. The living quarters upstairs were clean and uncluttered, so he wasn’t sure how the basement had gotten so out of control. He supposed it was out of sight and out of mind as they say. But it wasn’t out of sight. He did laundry every weekend and the disorganization of the basement was stressing him out every time he had to navigate through it.
Tucker now had one week to figure out what he wanted to keep. Two days passed without him even getting started or venturing down to the basement. It still seemed too overwhelming. He kept telling himself it wouldn’t take long to figure out what he wanted to keep. Another day passed, and another. Soon, it was the night before the men were coming to haul everything away and he had not so much as touched one box.
He walked downstairs to the basement and turned on the light. Standing there, he took a quick mental inventory of what could stay. He picked up a few boxes and moved them to the side, attempting to dig a trench through the mountain of junk. He picked up another box to move it, and the side split open. Its contents spilled onto his foot. It appeared to be some mementos from school, including a couple of old yearbooks. One of them was his eighth-grade yearbook.
Tucker picked it up and opened the front cover. Numerous signatures in blue ballpoint pen greeted him. There was one from his best friend, Chris, who’d died in a car accident shortly after high school graduation. Most of the others were from people he had not stayed in touch with since high school. Some he had not seen since eighth grade because they’d gone to a different high school all together.
Stay cool, someone named Mike had written.
Never change, a girl named Oliva had scrawled.
It was easy to say that back then, but they had all changed. Change was unavoidable. Tucker’s life had certainly not felt as cluttered back then as it did now, but he was about to change that now.
He spotted a tiny epigraph in the corner in neat script that said: I’ll never forget the summer of the green light eclipse. It was signed - Audrey.
Her name was Audrey Lambe. Tucker remembered how she liked to say, “It’s Audrey with an E, and give the Lamb an E too!” Her last name was very appropriate when it came to her stature. She was a tiny girl. Audrey was not a dwarf and not handicapped in any way. She was just very small, but if you dared to call her a “little lamb” she’d punch you in the balls.
Her family had moved in across the street from Tucker’s family home the summer before his fourth grade year. Audrey was in the third grade, so she would not have any classes with Tucker, but that did not prevent the two of them from striking up a unique friendship that blossomed that first summer.
“Hey!” she yelled at him one day from across the street when he came outside.
Movers were hauling boxes and pieces of furniture into their house. Audrey was playing in the yard, anxiously waiting to see her bike come off the truck. Her father was supervising, while her mother was inside directing the movers where to put things.
“Hey there,” he’d said back as he picked up his own bike that was laying in the yard.
“I’m Audrey. With an E.”
“I’m Tucker. With an E too, I suppose.”
“T-U-C-K-E-R?” she said.
“Can’t think of any other way to spell it unless you misspelled it.”
“Did I misspell it?” she asked.
“Where you going?”
“Just gonna ride my bike around the neighborhood.”
“Can I come with you?”
“I guess so.”
“Can I ride my bike?” she asked her father.
The tall lanky man looked over at Tucker. Tucker could sense the man’s hesitation. Tucker raised a hand and waved to let the man know he was sociable. He heard Mr. Lambe tell Audrey to be careful and not to go far. He reached for her bike on the truck and unloaded it for her. She grinned and jumped on her bike and followed Tucker down the road.
Her father’s name was Jim Lambe. Tucker thought he looked too young to be anyone’s father. Tucker had even thought he might have been Audrey’s brother at first. He rarely saw Mr. Lambe after they moved in, or Mrs. Lambe for that matter. Mr. Lambe worked odd hours, and Mrs. Lambe was always asleep so Tucker was never allowed to go inside their house.
This left Audrey alone most of the summer since she did not have any siblings, so she frequently knocked on Tucker’s door seeking his company. They rode their bikes all around the neighborhood. They caught frogs or boxed turtles in the woods in the day and chased fireflies at night. They hung out in Tucker’s tree house or played video games in his bedroom.
Tucker liked Audrey because although she was younger than him, and a girl, she was a bit of a tom boy. She never wanted to play house or play with dolls. She was content with doing whatever he wanted to do and playing whatever game he came up with. When she did have an idea, it was always a good one. “Let’s go build a fort for your army men and then knock it down,” she’d say, or “Let’s play pirates.”
When school started in the fall, their summer bond seemed to come to an end. Since they weren’t in the same class, Tucker rarely saw her in the hallways at school. After school, Audrey’s mother made her stay inside and do her homework. Tucker also had homework which left little time for playing outdoors. He was content with planting himself in front of the TV if he had time before bed.
Daylight Savings Time meant the sun set early which shortened the amount of time you could play outside after school anyway. This meant the street lights came on earlier. Those lights were a typical indicator for the curfew of any kids playing outdoors. Since Audrey never came outside after school, she and Tucker shared only a summertime friendship, one that quickly ended unbeknownst to either of them one day when summer ended and they had to go home and go back to school.
That changed when the school year came to a close again the following May. It was as if Audrey had only been away somewhere and come back home for the summer. There she was knocking on Tucker’s door asking if he wanted to go bike riding again, and the two picked up right where they’d left off the year before. The summer was theirs to conquer.
It was the Independence Day weekend of their second summer together, and they were sitting on Tucker’s front porch enjoying a freshly sliced watermelon while watching the sky around them light up with fireworks. It was getting dark and Tucker’s mom insisted on turning on the porch light even though it was better to watch the fireworks in complete dark. It was a green light which Tucker despised. His mother made his father change the bulb to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day several months ago, and Tucker’s father had never changed it back.
“Damn green light,” Tucker said.
“Eh, an eclipse will cover it up soon,” Audrey said.
“A what?” Tucker asked.
“An eclipse. Learned about it in science class last year. A group of moths is called an eclipse.”
“Huh! I didn’t know that.”
“Me neither. Isn’t that cool? They all flutter around the bulb, blocking out the light, so it’s an actual eclipse.”
“Pretty cool! Did you know a group of camels is called a caravan? That’s pretty neat since they live in the desert.”
“And a group of apes is called a shrewdness,” Audrey shared.
“What? No way! Apes do look pretty shrewd,” he laughed.
“Yep. A group of cobras is called a quiver. Oh, and a group of crows is called a murder.”
“That’s pretty weird. I always thought a gaggle of geese sounded funny.”
“A bunch of frogs is called an army. Guess what a bloat is?”
Tucker laughed so hard he almost spit out his watermelon. It made Audrey laugh too.
“Porcupines are a prickle. Owls are a parliament. Rhinos are a crash,” Audrey kept going.
“So cool! Now I want to learn more of them,” Tucker said.
“Me too,” Audrey said.
Finding out the collective name of groups of animals became a game they shared the rest of that summer and every summer that followed. Tucker found out from a nature show on TV that a group of jaguars was a shadow. Audrey shared that squirrels were a scurry. She’d learned that from a set of encyclopedias her father had bought her one Christmas. Sometimes they’d lay in Tucker’s tree house and quiz each other.
The summer after Tucker’s eighth grade year was different. He would be going to high school and didn’t really “play” anymore, especially outdoors. Audrey had matured too. She’d made friends with some girls from school and started hanging out with them instead. There was no formal good-bye or anything. Just like they’d done at the end of every summer before, they drifted apart. Their summer friendship was over.
Now, standing in his basement and looking in his yearbook, Tucker could not remember the last time he ever saw Audrey. He took the yearbook upstairs and sat down at his computer. He pulled up Facebook on his computer and typed her name in. No Audrey Lambe was found with that spelling. She’d probably gotten married and changed her name, or used a different name online as girls were apt to do these days. He opened the yearbook and read what she’d written again: I’ll never forget the summer of the green light eclipse. – Audrey.
He smiled. He turned to her class in the yearbook to look over her classmates. He typed a few random names into Facebook and was able to find a couple right away. He scrolled down to look at who their friends were. Some had their list of friends blocked; others didn’t. If he could, he searched the friend lists he could access. No Audrey.
The internet made it easy to find anyone, especially via Facebook, or at least he thought it did. Right now, playing private investigator and coming up with no leads seemed overwhelming. It made him eager to want to find her even more. He wanted to find out what had happened to her. Where had she gone? What life had she led? After all these years, how had she changed?
After high school, he’d moved away to college and only gone home for holidays and occasional breaks. His mother still lived in their old house. At some point, Audrey and her family had moved away. He did not know when or where. Their old house had caught fire and burned one night. There was just a vacant lot across the street from his mother’s house now. He knew his Mom probably wouldn’t know when the Lambes moved, but he made a mental note to ask her the next time he spoke to her.
That Saturday, the movers came as scheduled. It took most of the afternoon for them to unload Tucker's basement. It was two truckloads just as predicted. When they were gone, Tucker took a brief moment to enjoy vacant space that he had not seen since he first moved into the house many years ago.
The physical clutter from all those years was finally gone, but there was one small piece from his past he couldn’t stop thinking about. He turned on his front porch light—a yellow tawny light bulb—and took his old yearbook outside.
Sitting on the porch, he started to thumb through the book to look at all the photos. A few moths began to gather around his porch bulb. He paused to admire them and then he began to recite to himself, “Parrots are a pandemonium. Pigs are a sounder. A group of stingrays is a fever. A pride of lions. A labor of moles. A group of skunks is a stench. Moths are an eclipse…”