When I back into the driveway dust flies up and I grimace as the underside of my car scrapes on a mound of dirt. Mom’s old black jeep was suited for this, but my new silver car, which I bought with my first paycheck after the raise, is used to city life. I walk up the green steps, pull open the screen door, and step into the empty mud room. As soon as I enter my breath catches and I reach for the doorframe to steady myself. It’s not just the lack of old cookbooks and Martha’s old rocking horse, though that’s striking, what throws me is the utter lack of life that made this house what is was, made my childhood what it was. There’s no laughter that echoes through the hallways, no one to interrupt my journey with a call of my name. Instead I’m left alone to stroll around the edges of the room until I reach my corner. It was always filled with shoes, lined up and organized. Martha’s shoes, on the other hand, were never organized. She would toss them off as she rushed inside, probably after her curfew. She never untied her sneakers either, just shoved them on as she rushed out the door, probably late for something. People made fun of her for her constant movement and incessant tardiness but at least she had places to be. They made fun of me for the hours I spent in the backyard poring over my fantasy novels and the careful moments I spent arranging each shoe by color or by type depending on my mood. Now I slip off my loafers, taking a moment to line them neatly so they make a ninety-degree angle with the wall, a practice of mine ever since Ms. Jasetti taught us right angles in the third grade. They look strange, too professional and too grown-up to be here. But that’s life, dress shoes replace sneakers.
Nostalgia crowds this house like dust but it’s not until the kitchen that it slams me in the chest. The stove is off, pans are sitting in boxes on the counter, even the smell is fading. In my mind that smell is always the same, fresh bread and chicken soup and my mother’s perfume. But in reality it was always changing, a reflection of what was for dinner that week and which family members had helped cook on Friday night.
I leave that room as quickly as I can and find myself in the dining room. Great- Aunt Esther’s mahogany table is gone, along with the sideboard that got picked up at a tag sale. The radiator looks strange without the other furniture and the omnipresent flowers. When I close my eyes I can see the blue vase filled with pansies but they’re wilting. For a moment I am shocked because Mom would never let the flowers wilt. Then I remember why I am standing here, then I remember that the flowers aren’t even there anymore, Martha must have taken them. I’m glad she did, I would have given them fresh water and left them for the next family. That’s what Mom would’ve wanted me to do.
My room is right at the top of the stairs on the left. It got sealed off after I went to college and it always made me uncomfortable when I came back to visit. The layer of dust made me feel old and out of place, so I would dump my stuff and go downstairs- to people who made me feel young and right. Now the old bed, desk, lamp, are gone. The green paint I picked out at seven is still there though, I wonder if it will still be here in another twenty-five years or if the new owners will paint over it.
When I place my hand on the wall I can feel my heartbeat pound back at me like a recording. I open the closet and see my teenage years locked away, the worst parts stuffed in corners. I am tempted to root around. Re-read Tolkien and re-watch Bill Hienk beating me up in front of the multiplex. Instead I slam the door then lean against it. Breathe in, breathe out, some things are better left alone. I head back down the hallway.
The hospice bed is still in Mom’s room. Martha wants it out but when she called Jones’s Hospice Supplies all she got were automated tellers who tried to explain how to raise and lower the seat. Martha hadn’t wanted her to come home, if it were up to Martha she would still be on life support at St. George’s Hospital. If it were up to Martha she would still be alive. I think Martha blames me sometimes for her not being here. I know Martha blames me sometimes for her not being here. I won’t try to tell her how much I wish she were still alive too. I won’t try to tell her how much I blame myself too. But I know this is what she would have wanted. She wasn’t the kind of person who would’ve wanted to be kept alive by machines. She wasn’t even the kind of person who would’ve wanted to sleep in a moving bed.
The bed is the only thing left in the room except for the hatbox. I’ve never seen inside the box. I didn’t even know the box existed for years. I’m not sure how much she looked at it, or how much she thought about my dad. The box is still here because no one wanted to take it. No one even wanted to look inside it. I could look inside it now, I wouldn’t even have to tell anyone. But I honored what she would’ve wanted to the point that it caused her death, I will honor it now.
I pick up the box, bring it downstairs, out to my car. It goes under the seat, the keys go in the ignition and I pull out of the driveway.
I’ll probably never go back to that house. Martha say’s it’s going on the market as soon as that bed is gone. Martha’s the one who’s taken over the project. She’s the one who talked to the realtor. I just showed up, signed some papers, and took the box no one wanted. Just like always Martha is the one with the plan, with the drive; that’s okay I have a well-paying job and some spare time.
I make it halfway down the highway before the road begins to blur. I pull over at the McDonald’s, the same branch Mom used to take us to when work was bad. I loved those days because she gave me the money, finally an acknowledgment that I was the older one, the more responsible one. For a moment I could lead Martha by the hand and feel like an adult while she made both of our Happy Meal toys run in circles. Of course she was the one who stood up and pulled me out of the linoleum booth and back to the car. Of course Martha always won the power struggle in the end. If she was here right now she would be the one taking charge, telling me whatever I’m doing isn’t healthy. I almost wish she was here to make me get a salad and go home but she’s somewhere outside of Boston with her numbers-minded husband and their kids who think I’m vaguely interesting.
I think about Martha and her nice suburban home for a long time. I wonder if she is happy with her life, I wonder if my mom was happy with her life. I wonder if I should try harder to be happy with mine or if I should leave well enough alone and settle for content. I sit in silence for a long time watching commuters and tired families rush in and out of the restaurant until the tears start to fall. I’ll miss that house, it holds the last vestiges of my childhood. But the tears are for my mom.
Ellanora Lerner is an eighth grader who loves books and feminism and poetic things like sunsets.She hopes to write a novel that is both chillingly dark as well as enjoyable and direct a gender swapped Broadway revival. She has been previously published in Stone Soup and Teen Ink and her work can be found at: sometimesithinkimpoetic.tumblr.com