The engine idling is a low growl as I stare at the building before me. I am not looking forward to reentering that place, but this is the last visit before the demolition – thankfully. I pull the keys from the ignition, still looking at the house as if it was an insult.
“Why am I here, again? Oh. That’s right. Senti-fucking-mental reasons.” I shake my head as I step out of the car and slam the door shut.
This house is weak, brittle and fragile, aged with lonely years and cracks of pain. The lock relents to the worn key. It’s nothing more than empty caves lined in silver dust now. I’m no stranger here. Many years have I paced these halls, gazed through these now soiled windows, stroked the brittle wood of these confines. Every touch is tearfully familiar, ripping some forgotten scent from beneath the layers of disregard. But this is not my home. No memories or family ties dwell here, only fantasies of what should have been.
The entry way has endured little change, age-old light fixture swinging in the draft. Regretfully I realize that this room was a mere passage way to quiet pain on the left, rage and fury on the right and burning sorrow above. Each room is wounded with the truth. But as I turn to the right and enter the kitchen, I relive the memory of a hopeful lie.
A bright, warm summer sun floods in through the open window. The sweet aroma of warm pastries lifts our spirits as my mother comforts me and listens as she should have.
However, the wound of this room is bleeding and my fantasy is stained red with reality.
“You miserable girl! Why can’t you do as you’re told?” My mother spits at me before she leaves, searching for my father to scream at him too.
But she doesn’t fail to let me hear her say, “God, you’re so pathetic. Useless little bitch….”
My arm catches on a splintered railing, slicing my skin, spilling red, bringing me back from the hurt. I retreat from the kitchen, remembering why I had left home so long ago, and stumble into the living room.
The room is now draped in ivory tarp and the windows, all bare but caked with age, sprinkle the room with threads of light. But that’s not what’s before me as I look in.
The TV is blaring, the couch is full, my family is silent. Each face holds its own story of contempt and resentment but we’ve mastered the façade of happiness. Anyone looking in could say, “Look at them, the perfect family, so content. So close,” when I know all too well the opposite is true.
I turn away. I hate these memories, these truths that I wish were lies. Suddenly I feel my chest burn and my legs go weak. The pain brings tears to my eyes as a pulse of panic drowns me. Now is not the time for a medical emergency, God damnit! I tell my body as I brace myself against the wall. The pressure behind my eyes reaches its max and pushes a weak cry of pain from my lips.
In the silence of the house, it resonates unlike any other echo. I hear the sound from myself again in my memories and then again from upstairs. I think it must all be in my head, but the sound repeats, this time more human, more broken.
Fear of another memory holds me against the wall but the idea that maybe some squatter was the source of the noise allows me to move. I hear the fragile whimper again, now truly an echo, but if it’s in the house or in my head, I can’t tell.
Climbing the stairs proves to be a laborious task considering my burning chest and my labored breathing, but as I rise onto the second floor the cry sounds again, coming from a room to the left. I freeze in terror. This is definitely a memory, and it is luring me to my old bedroom, where the pain had once flourished. With my heart feeling as though it was collapsing on itself and my breathing running away from me, I turn to leave this place; but the pain-filled whisper of abandonment creeps forward and drives a hook under my skin.
The door is ajar, letting a sad kind of light slip into the hall. On my slow, anxiety-stricken walk to the door, I fret my fingers, noticing that they’re painted in the blood from the cut on my wrist. When I look up from my hands, the journey is over and the last barrier is before me. Now the whimpering is as real as the pain in my chest and it calls to me and repels me all at once. I find myself pushing the door open, ignoring the old familiar squeak of the hinges.
On the floor hunched over, I see a girl, her hair disheveled from anger and passionate misery. Her sobs are quiet and weak but still severe in their echoing call. The girl is broken, the soul lost to the world and battered for no one to see.
I remember this, this quiet suffering that I’d resign to so often. The cuts that would come of it. I step in, tears of mercifully forgotten agony returning in a flood. This is what I’d left behind; this is what was left. She pulls the blade down for the fourth time, savagely. The blood spills. It all feels real, too real. The girl moves to rip her flesh again and I pull my eyes away, suddenly feeling the biting pain as if it were my own.
My eyes focus on my red shirt. I don’t remember wearing this, I think to myself. Then I realized in horror that it’s my blood soaking the fabric as cuts burst open in my arms. The girl uses the blade a seventh time and a matching cut opens my skin.
“No…” The word spills out of my mouth as she begins to utter the words of my past, spitting on all the cruelty she’d endured, I’d endured. But I’m not about to let the memory finish the way it had in the past.
Clenching my teeth and bearing the agony behind my heart, I lunge at the girl. That was stupid. Just as my body appears to make contact with her frail form, she disappears and I’m falling. The ground seems to devour me as I crash through the termite-eaten wood floor. My hand catches the edge but it breaks with my weight. Dust rises and snakes into my nose as I plummet into the kitchen below.
There’s no pain. Just a light as I numbly gaze at the hole in the ceiling. I’m standing at the edge with the blade still in my hand and blood sliding from my wrists. I don’t remember that, I think as a haze falls over my eyes. My mother appears after I try to blink away the fog. She’s just the same as always: cold, beautifully untouchable. She drops a document onto my heaving chest; I can’t read it, but I know it’s the will that she wrote leaving me the house. A satisfied smile flickers on her face as realization edges on my consciousness. I had run away. She hadn’t forgotten.
“Welcome home, Scarlette,” she mutters as my eyes slide shut and death betrays me.