Going back there, the road is narrow and twisty. I’m not sure I want to be going but I don’t stop for anything. No snacks, got enough gas. The birds flying low over the road are enough to keep me on my way. You’d think I had a date. You’d think someone had sent me a text saying, Come quick, before it’s too late. But it’s been too late for a long time now. All the dying has been done.
This house will be the death of me, my mother used to say, which was about the upkeep, the housework, all the things she kept doing although she said she was too old to do them. But in fact it was the death of her, meaning that she died there. There was a phone call which I missed. And a voice message that I didn’t listen to. So I didn’t hear the details until later, and even then I tried not to listen. But in our family there’s no way you can’t listen if your uncle comes up to you and takes you by the elbow and drags you into a bar where you’ll sit for an hour while he tells you every last bit of what you didn’t want to know.
She wanted to see you.
You’re her son after all, he said, and he’s not the only one to say it.
You were the only one she wanted to see in those last days.
She died looking out the window, he said, setting the scene as if he were a screenwriter for the kind of movies she always liked, sentimental and weepy. She had your picture out to look at, he said, if you can believe him.
She wanted. She said. She seemed to be – I had to stop listening, so I put money in the jukebox and pretended I was going to the men’s. Thank god for back doors. Thank god for alleys with dumpsters stinking of beer and stale pizza where if you slip on a bit of garbage you can get up and run until your breath hurts like you’re being stabbed in the chest.
Now though, going back, I don’t have that kind of energy, that drive. It’s a duty, I told my boss. I mentioned closure, getting the house ready to sell. Selling that house seems too tame though. Having another family live there. All the things of my life and hers – it’s as if they would still be there even though we weren’t. The times she hit me (oh, yes, she did that), the times I made her breakfast when I still had hope, the times we sat on either end of the couch in the dark with the hate we had for each other filling up the space between while something played on the tv. It would be closure if I could burn it down, but I guess I won’t.
In my ordinary life, I’m a quiet guy. My marriage wasn’t the best, but there was no yelling, no hitting. Sometimes you hardly seem to be here, my wife said when she was my wife. It’s like you’re a ghost. Did she mean I haunted her? Did I seem transparent? Did she think of me as dead, as part of the past, even before she left? My mother predicted this: No one will ever love you, she said. No one will ever love you like I do.
I picture myself taking everything and throwing it into the yard. Throwing it out of the windows. I’d like that. All the cloths and clothes and pillows and towels and sheets and tablecloths, the things that covered other things, that smoothed things over. I picture myself leaving them there in the long grass. No sorting out, no giving to Goodwill. No one else should have to touch those things.
But that’s just a dream. There will be boxes that my uncle got for me. I’ll fill them and someone will take them away. Someone will take the furniture, the chairs that we sat on, the beds we lay on, suffering in our own rooms, dreaming through nightmares, sweating in the dark coming through the windows. Someone will clean the inside until it’s hollow and scoured.
My uncle has got a realtor on tap. But I like the idea of it empty. I like the idea that if she comes back there won’t be anything familiar, nothing that she can hold on to, nothing that reminds her of me. If she comes back looking, there won’t be a thing to remember or love, if she even wants to or knows how.
Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection) – both by Random House. Currently, she is working on a dystopian novel about oldsters. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.