The shades were closed. The house was dark. It had always struck me strange the way she’d keep all windows locked down, in order to keep the cold air inside. The manufactured cool would dry out her skin and the house would smell mechanical. She’d complain, blow the arid air through her deviated septum; then slather her age spots with some sort of bleaching cream.
She lived too close to the dessert; and only late at night, she’d give the house fans a rest. Their constant humming would finally die down, and suddenly the sounds of gentle quietness in nature would be overheard through an occasionally open window. The skin of my scalp would relax at the temples: I would forget to notice my constant frown during the 20-hour long humming. My face acquired new habits since living in this house, and I was beginning to forget the girl who had been asked to pay the price of her childhood — in an exchange for the better future.
But on that day, it was too early to allow the nature to come in, yet. And as I entered the empty house, I immediately noticed the hum. I had been gone for half a week: too short of a time to forget the climate of this house entirely — and most definitely not enough to forgive it! I took off my shoes, remembering the stare she’d give her visitors whenever they were too oblivious to obey. Slowly, I began to pass from room to room.
The light gray carpet that covered most of the house’s footage was immaculately clean. And if there was an occasional rug — under a chair or a coffee table — it usually marked an accidental spill of food or drink by a very rare house guest. I’d be the only one who knew that though: I’d witness all their hidden faults. And she would run the vacuum every night, pulling and yanking it in very specific directions. Those vacuum markings had to remain there undisturbed; and only those who didn’t know better were kindly permitted to destroy them with their footsteps.
I opened the bedroom’s double doors first but found no courage to come in. Instead, I stood on the cold titles, on the other side, and studied the footsteps by her bed. There was a cluster of them, right by the nightstand. Is that where she had been picked up by the paramedics? I looked for outlines of boots imprinted into the fur of the carpet. I thought I saw none.
The living room carpet seemed undisturbed. The markings of the vacuum, which she must’ve done the night before, were still perfectly parallel. The cold tiles of the kitchen floor had no residue of food. She’d wash those on her hands and knees with paper towels. And she would go over it until the wet towel would stop turning gray. No dishes in the sink. No evidence of an unfinished meal. No evidence of life at all. I began to wonder where she’d collapsed.
The door to my former bedroom was shut. Most likely, it had remained so since I’d departed. I made it to the office — the only space where some disarray was less prohibited. The bills where broken down by due dates and neatly piled perpendicularly, on top of one another. Her husband had a habit of resting his feet on the edge of the corner desk, as he played on the computer for hours, until she’d fall asleep. Then, he’d come into my bedroom.
My bedroom. Its door was closed. I turned the handle and expected for the usual catch of its bottom against the rug that she insisted on keeping on the other side. Strangely, it covered up no visible spots. I pushed it open.
It was a sight of madness. One woman’s rage had turned the place into a pile of shredded mementos, torn photos and broken tokens of forsaken love. The bedcovers were turned over. The sheets had been peeled off the mattress two-thirds down, as if by someone looking for the evidence of liquids near my sex. The stuffed toys which normally complete my line-up of pillows were now strewn all over the floor, by the wall opposite of my headrest.
On top of an overturned coffee table I saw my letters: My cards to her and hers — to me. She’d even found the letters in my parents’ hand, and she shredded them to piece. Nothing was off limits. No love was sacred after hers had been betrayed.
I stepped inside to see the other side of one torn photograph that flew the closest to the door. At first, I tried to catch my breath. A feeling on sickly heaviness got activated in the intestines. In murder mysteries that she adored to watch with me, I’d seen detectives scurry off into the corner furthest from the evidence, and they would throw up — or choke at least — at the atrocity of crimes against humanity. Apparently, my insides wanted to explode from the other end.
I paced myself. Carefully, that I, too, would not collapse, I bent down and picked up the shredded photo. It was my face, torn up diagonally across the forehead. On the day of my high school graduation, her husband had come over to the side of the fence where we were beginning to line up. I can see the faces of my classmates in the background. They smiling at his lens. They are supposed to, as he — was “supposed” to be my father.
He was not. And I’m not smiling. I’ve raised one eyebrow, and my lips are parted as if I’d just told him to fuck off. Not even there, he would allow for me to be without him. Not even there, I could be alone for long enough to remember the girl who’d been asked for her childhood in an exchange… for what?