She was fighting a war against herself from the moment the heel of her stiletto landed on the pavement. She was a fully grown woman with the curves and assets to prove it. Her manicured nails were filed to perfection. Tendrils of raven curls blended in with the black of her dress. From the outside, she appeared unaffected and stoic; the perfect and elegant woman she’d managed to grow into through her own merits. But with every unwavering step she took towards the house, she found herself resisting the urge to turn around, get into her car and drive as far away from the watchful eyes of her relatives as she possibly could.
The confidence she radiated filled the entirety of the cobblestoned driveway. She made sure to stand in the centre of the largest, most central circle and pretended not to notice the shaky eyes of her many cousins nearby. The muscles in her neck turned her head to the right, where a group of her most distant and infamous gossiping aunts had congregated due to her arrival. The corner of her mouth lifted into a sneer before she scoffed at them and passed them by. Not for the first time, she was thankful for the lesson she’d learnt many years ago: it was easiest to pretend to be unaffected when you hid your eyes behind darkened shades.
If the eyes were the window to the soul, she would never allow them to get even a glimpse of hers.
As if they were operating against her will, her eyes lifted to the large upstairs windows. The blinds were tightly drawn across them--they had been for as long as she remembered.
Why can’t we open them?
Because we don’t want the bad guys to see into our house.
But daddy, what if there’s a bad guy inside our house? What do we do then?
That won’t happen.
The words of that night rang in her ears. She tore her eyes away from the ghostly figures constructed by an unbidden memory and spotted her mother and sister at the foot of the staircase leading to the house’s main entrance. Even through the wrinkles accumulated throughout the years between then and now, her mother’s face still managed to maintain the same unforgiving arrogance--the same unrelenting sternness--that had irked her as a child. She smirked in the hopes that her face would irritate them both enough to distract from the rapid beating of the drum in her chest.
“I must say,” she drawled, “I’m a little disappointed. Between you and dad, I hoped you’d be the first to go.”
For the briefest of moments, her mother’s eyes flashed at her insolence. She felt a thrill go through her at the sight--just as it always had during her adolescence. It was almost easy to believe that nothing had changed; that she hadn’t left all those years ago. Almost.
“And that is why you will forever be your father’s daughter,” was the hag’s reply. “Just as selfish and empty as he is.”
Her mother’s words are stoic and calmly delivered. She isn’t sure whether it’s because of her mother’s delivery, or the words that fell from her lips, but a liquid fire ignites in the void in her chest. Before that fire can travel through her veins and exact its vengeance, her sister places a gentle hand on their mother’s shoulder.
From her limited memories of her sister, she hardly drew any attention to herself. Car rides with their father saw the two of them sitting in the front while her sister played the role of a third wheel. Playing in the garden always led to her sister being injured and taking the fall for injuries that she’d unintentionally created. But it was clear to anyone with eyes that the little girl from memory has become a beautiful teenager. Her soft heart is reflected in the angelic features that contrast her sister’s sharp cheekbones and pointed chin. The only thing identifying them as twins is the shared length, curl and colour of their hair.
“You know that isn’t true,” her sister was saying. “Rosanna isn’t anything like dad. And you know that she doesn’t mean what she said about you. She’s just as upset as we are.”
She’d almost forgotten how considerate her sister was. Even when dad was thrown out of his own house, even when the police arrested him in this very driveway because of the restraining order arranged by their mother, her sister had always mediated any arguments between an insolent daughter and a seemingly unloving mother. Her sister never failed to understand her twin; to be considerate of her twin’s feelings.
But not this time. This time she was determined to prove her sister wrong. It was time to exact her revenge on the events of the past.
“Your strategy of persuasion is amusing,” she said. “It almost makes me feel bad for what I'm about to do. But your little strategy failed the second I saw the faces of the people I hate on my driveway.”
Then she turned to the crowd of spectators and cupped her hands around her mouth. “You all have three minutes to leave, or else I’m calling the police to arrest you for trespassing on my private property!”
There was an explosion of indignant cries, but she could care less. She turned away from them and flashed her dumbfounded mother and twin sister a sickly sweet smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
“It seems mother is right. I am my father’s daughter after all.”
She then proceeded to shove past her mother on the way to the door. “You have until tomorrow to move out. If you stay any longer, I’ll tear his house down brick by brick.”
As soon as the door slammed shut behind her, she twisted the lock and collapsed her weight against it. With her back pressed against the door, she shut her eyes and took a moment to let the hardened layers melt away from her exterior and onto the cold tiles at her feet. As soon as her eyes fluttered open, she saw the faded image of a girl she thought she’d forgotten: a girl with frizzy, shoulder length curls and a broad smile plastered across her lips. The top of the girl’s head barely reached Rosanna’s waistline. The girl twirled in the front passageway, her white nightgown billowing at her feet as a song played from her lips.
He’s gonna watch me grow. He’s gonna watch me shine. He’s gonna paint a sign so that I always know as long as one and one is two, there will never be a daddy who loves his daughter more than my daddy loves me.
As if sensing she was being watched, the little girl halted her song. Her eyes slowly rose to Rosanna’s and lingered there. Rosanna saw the memories of her past--and the memories of the little girl’s future that had yet to come--in those eyes. She felt it in every void and heartache that forged the fragments of her soul. Standing across from the youthful, more hopeful version of herself, Rosanna wished to erase the naive little girl from existence.
The little girl beckoned her deeper into the house before disappearing from view. Following the siren’s call of her inner child’s curiosity, she let her feet guide her down passages that were vividly familiar after all these years. She was a grown woman with the height and scars of a lifetime of experience to prove it, so why was she feeling smaller and smaller the closer she got to the room at the end of the hall?
The hallway was darker than the rest of the passages in the seemingly timeless house. With no windows and all the doors sealed at their frames, the light from the outside world didn’t reach this part of the house. But she could clearly see the stickers she’d stuck onto the door in her adolescence. If the outside was still the same, did that mean the inside remained unchanged too?
She reached a shaky hand and grasped the icy metal. A single twist was all it took for the door to creak open. She stood in the doorway, too afraid to venture further but knowing that this needs to be done in order to move on--and knowing that this was the last chance she’d get to do so.
Maroon curtains. A checkered pale pink and white bedspread. Golden butterflies stuck to the far wall. A cherry blossom tree covering the opposite wall. Posters of bands she’d grown to hate in her adulthood. The small bookshelf with every one of her old books in the same positions she’d left them. A desk she’d somehow managed to squeeze into the small bedroom. Drawings and paintings covering every inch of her walls.
Her mother and sister hadn’t torn anything down. They hadn’t changed a thing. They’d left it exactly the same.
And yet she could still see it for what it was before she’d moved into and redecorated it.
A bed in the middle of the room instead of to the far right of it, covered in tones of ugly green and maroon. The same maroon curtains. The same yellow walls, except bare of any drawings. The same white cupboards, but with nothing in them. Two empty wooden drawers on each side of the bed. A spare room.
Her father’s room.
She saw the same little girl from before, but this time attentive under the covers of the duvet as her father reads a bedtime story from the Bible. The little girl is awake with her twin, covering the latter’s ears in an attempt to block out the arguing in the next room. The light overhead glows against the yellow walls as her mother breaks the news of a divorce to the girls in the dead of night; of a father who won’t be coming back for the remainder of the night. The room where the little girl would sneak lemon cream biscuits into the bedside drawers--the only gifts she’d receive from her father post-divorce until one day, there would be no more biscuits to receive at all.
This is the very same room where an adolescent who learnt the truth of her father’s abuse towards a loving wife and started to plaster the walls with drawings to mask the horrors etched into the walls. This is the room that deepened a rift between mother and daughter when despite everything she knows, the daughter is resolved to stay in the one room that ties her to the man who tore her family apart. This is the room where the last memory the house has of the remainder of the family together under its roof is of her packing a bag when the relational wounds were too deep to mend between mother and daughter.
Tears flow past the rim of her sunglasses and down her cheeks as the memories of her childhood cave in on her. There is only so much that her shades can hide. There is only so much history that she can cover up with a pretty drawing. No matter how much she tries to change or redecorate this room or herself, she can never run away from any of it. No matter how much she pretends she is a grown up, the heartbroken little girl she used to be hasn’t grown up at all.
In a war against herself, her past would win.
She knows that now.
There’s only one way to make sure that that doesn’t happen. There’s only one way to put an end this war forever.
She scrolls through her recent calls until she finds the number she’s looking for.
“This is Rosanna Stone. I want you to reschedule the demolition of the tallest house on Lowther Street for me. I want the house to disappear by tonight.”