I call my dad from the car and ask him about his morning, tell him about mine.
‘What kind of hoarder was she?’ he asks.
‘Books and cats, mainly,’ I tell the man who loves his cats and who I know is now actively considering his extensive book collection.
‘What’s the difference between a private library and a book hoarder?’ he wonders.
We are both silent before we laugh and answer in unison: ‘Faeces.’
But the difference is this phone call. And the others like it I could make—and how strong we are when we are loved.
Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things- husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife…
But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.
A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his loungeroom. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.
Sarah Krasnostein has watched the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead – and the book she has written is equally extraordinary. Not just the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, but an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.
About the author
Sarah Krasnostein was born in America, studied in Melbourne and has lived and worked in both countries. Earning her doctorate in criminal law, she is a law lecturer and researcher. Her essay ‘The Secret Life of a Crime Scene Cleaner’ was published on Longreads and listed in Narratively’s Top 10 Stories for 2014. She lives in Melbourne and spends part of the year working in New York City.