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Fiction Sad

The car was idling on the curb next to the small, dilapidated house, creating a low-level hum that was both heard and felt by Dennis, who was, after years of practicing what it means to feel connected to one’s body, much more aware of the signals his inner being sent him, both physically and emotionally.

              “This is it right?” spoke Robert, the young man who was occupying the driver’s seat of the vehicle.

              Dennis looked to his friend from the passenger seat and nodded. “This is it. I’ll try my best to not be too long in there.”

              “Look.” Robert faced his friend with a heartfelt intensity. “I know this is important to you. I’ve got plenty of calls and emails and a world of other things to keep me busy on my phone, so take the time you need, alright? Seriously, don’t rush yourself.”

              Dennis smiled and nodded his head as he continued to soak in the reality of how amazing his friend was, and he thought about all of the people he knew who wouldn’t have a close enough friend to help them in a similar scenario. “Thank you. I’ll be back soon.”

              Dennis pulled the handle of the door and began exiting the vehicle, fighting slightly against the cool, early morning wind that was attempting to blow his door back into him. As he made contact with the dew-covered earth, the leaves below him made a crumpling sound as they were crushed between his feet and the grass below. Absorbing the chill air, Dennis pulled his hands into his sweater and crossed his arms, beginning his long-anticipated walk to the sidewalk leading up to the front door of the house. Dennis never expected to return to this home and would have fought tooth and nail to avoid doing so up until this last year. His eyes were caught by a sign protruding from the earth near the curb, the word FORECLOSED appearing to him as if it were a tombstone marking the death of a home, a home that, in his youth, seldom felt like one.

              Dennis made his way onto the sidewalk, moving forward a few meters before stopping, now only a few strides away from the front porch, frozen. Being even this close to the house felt surreal to him, almost otherworldly. Then, unannounced, he suddenly heard the sound of a child’s footsteps running behind him, towards him, soft but having determination. Dennis could barely turn his head around before the small boy came running past him with a smile on his face, heading straight towards the front door, not slowing down before vanishing, seemingly moving through the door as if he were a ghost. Dennis remained still for only a moment before following the boy’s path and heading to the front door, prepared to break it in if he needed to, but to his relief the door was unlocked. Dennis took the deepest breath of his life before entering the home.

              The entryway was dark, holding in it a scent that, while not repulsive, was uninviting and strange, though not debilitating, a scented amalgamation of every family and their contribution to the decay of the home, a home that was already past its prime when Dennis had lived there as a child. He flipped on the light switch to the left of the door and paused a moment to take in the entirety of the now empty space. Despite having abhorred the house, he did always find joy in the main area’s open floor plan. The kitchen and laundry area hugged the corner directly to his right, and from there the dining room blended into the living room along the back wall; it always offered him and his sister copious room to run and play. To complete the main area, the bathroom and hallway were fixed to his left, and they felt the least inviting, the hallway itself gave him chills.

              The sound of a child laughing came from the kitchen, inviting Dennis to turn back towards that corner of the home. Entering the kitchen, he could still hear the child laughing, Dennis now remembering how fun it had been for him and his sister to bake muffins with their mother, even though the experience only happened once. He could see his four-year-old self occupying the kitchen space, his clothes messy with an assortment of muffin ingredients, his three-year-old sister looking the same and smiling all the while. The room had smelled like blueberries and sugar, almost completely masking the scent of cigarettes that permeated near endlessly from his mother’s breath and fingertips.

              When the kitchen timer went off, Dennis’ mom was actively cleaning a dish in the sink. “Dennis! Grab the mitt and get the tray out of the oven.” Dennis had been so excited to help, to do something he’d never been allowed to do before, that he didn’t think twice before jumping to attention. He grabbed the oven mitt, putting it on backwards, and letting it occupy his non-dominant left hand as he opened the oven, marveling at the volcanic heat and lava-looking red glow that shined onto his face. He quickly grabbed the tray and tried to move it up onto the counter while simultaneously shutting the oven, blissfully being caught up in his own excitement. Dennis’ movements, mixed with his four-year-old body were simply too chaotic, causing him to start dropping the tray before it had made it fully onto the counter. Panicked, Dennis grabbed the tray with his exposed right hand, searing himself immediately. Now frightened and in pain, he pulled away from the counter and fell backwards, accidently pulling the tray with him before fully letting go. He fell to the floor, the muffin tray landing on his stomach which had become slightly exposed while falling. It burned him, causing a pain like nothing he had ever felt. Screaming in agony, he knocked the tray off of him, scattering the muffins across the floor. Dennis was now in tears. “Mom!?”

              The event had happened so fast that his mother was only just now seeing the aftermath. “Dennis! What did you do?!” She was shouting at him with pent up anger, having been ready to explode at any moment, Dennis now being the unfortunate target. “Oh, you idiot! You ruined the muffins! What were you thinking?! That’s all I bought!” Fumes oozed out of her contorted face as the anger escaped her body. “You can tell your dad why we don’t get treats today, Dennis! Clean this up!” She stormed out of the kitchen, leaving the children alone.

              Still in tears, Dennis got up and ran to the small bathroom by the front door where his tiny stature could reach the sink and produce its cold water, he was actively trying not to let his hand or stomach make contact with anything. His sister stayed in the kitchen, seemingly frozen and shutdown after the event. Dennis sat in the bathroom for two hours with tears on his face before exiting and cleaning up the kitchen floor. No one ever came to check on him.

              “I hate this bathroom.” Dennis told himself as he flipped the bathroom light off and returned to the desolate space that was his old home. He walked over to where his dining room table used to be, remembering that his family had rarely spent their time actually having dinner there, outside of the occasional holiday where guests were present. He saw the ghost-like child again, sitting in Dennis’ seat, a five-year-old.

              “Mommy’s pregnant!” The mother shouted. The look on both of his parent’s faces was pure happiness. Dennis and his sister looked at each other and immediately began to shout in excitement, arguing over whether it would be a baby brother or baby sister. The family was truly happy in that moment, not knowing that mom would eventually give birth to a healthy boy, giving both siblings a baby brother to love. The memory faded.

              The home was small, and there were only three more rooms for Dennis to visit, but he knew that they would easily be the hardest and most emotional. He entered the hallway, coming to the only full bathroom in the house, a bathroom that everyone shared in the mornings to get ready, and in the evenings to wind down. The door was ajar, allowing Dennis to walk right in, his eyes locking immediately to the bathtub.

He saw a small girl in front of him. “Mom!” Dennis’ sister shouted from the bathroom, the kind of shout that was rooted in pure horror, a sound that could be felt far more than it could be heard. Dennis was six at the time, his sister was four, and his brother would have been one. The family had gone out for dinner that night, Dennis’ dad staying home to rest, having stated that he wasn’t feeling too well. His mother ran into the bathroom and, upon seeing the image in front of her, immediately had her spirit torn from her body, screaming and pushing the little girl out of the bathroom. The event was catastrophic for Dennis’ sister, and it would be seven years before she spoke again, and even more before she would claim any semblance of being okay.

Dennis never saw what was in the bathroom, and he’s debated ever since whether he would have preferred to see it or not. He was told that his dad had sat down in the bathtub and shot himself in the head. It was probably best for his young mind to not see that image, but the lack of it left him feeling weirdly incomplete, and that incompleteness felt gross to him, like rejecting something he loved and hated at the same time. The bullet hole was now gone from the wall, and it was like nothing had ever happened in the bathroom. He walked out of the space and re-entered the empty hallway, feeling less emotion than he thought he should.

The next room was his room, the one he shared with his sister and would have eventually shared with his brother as well. It was empty and quiet, giving no indication that two rambunctious children used to use the space to escape to their imaginations. The child from the lawn and kitchen came running down the hall, capturing Dennis’ attention. He watched the child run into the bedroom, now fully lit with white Christmas lights and blanketed with numerous sheets, creating the greatest fort he’d ever made. He entered through the fort’s main gate; a chair that had to be crawled through. Waiting for him on the inside was his sister. “I’ve got them over here.” She said, inviting Dennis to crawl under the bed next to the two of them.

Once they were under the bed, Dennis’ sister turned on a flashlight and emptied the contents of a pillowcase in front of their faces. The floor was magically adorned with a wide range of snacks that the two of them had been secretly collecting for weeks. That was the night their brother was born, and the babysitter in the living room was doing who knows what, letting the young children enjoy their fort, their treats, and a full night of television.

Dennis watched as the room faded back to its current, dismal state. He remembered that night with his sister being the best night of his childhood, one that proved to him that his sister was his best friend, and that his imagination and creativity was all he needed to be happy as a kid. There was now only one more room to see before he could leave: his parents’ room. Dennis turned to face the closed door that stood directly across from his old bedroom. He inhaled and let out a slow and controlled breath, before moving to open the final door.

The door creaked open to reveal an empty room, just like the rest of the house, only this time no child came to lighten up the space. Dennis had never spent much time in the master bedroom, if you could even really call it that, his parents being the type that viewed their room as a mostly private and child free space. “What happened?” A voice asked to his side.

Surprised at the unexpected encounter, Dennis looked down to see the now familiar child, a five-year-old again. He gazed into the child’s eyes, knowing full well that he was looking into his own eyes, that the child was him, and he had known that fact since the front lawn, but why where they now speaking with each other. He replied. “What do you mean what happened?”

The younger Dennis pointed back into the room where a crib now sat at the center. There were shadowy figures around the crib, forming the shapes of his mother and father and sister, but they were faded and hard to make out, motionless and eerie. Dennis quickly remembered what was happening, and he knew what his younger self was asking. Dennis spoke to his younger self. “It’s your brother, Dennis. He died.”

The younger Dennis looked at his older self in disbelief, his eyes furrowing. “No. He’s sleeping, he sleeps there every night, he’s a good sleeper and doesn’t wake up mommy very much.”

There was a plethora of pain breaking free in Dennis’ body, seeping through every vein and making it hard to even breath. He got down on the floor to look at his younger self, his eyes now welling up. “He died in his sleep, but they told you he was only sleeping.”

The boy’s body started to shake ever so slightly. “He’s just sleeping too long. They said sometimes babies sleep too long and then they have to go to the hospital for a while to get better rest, but he’ll be back when he wakes up. When he’s done resting, he’ll be back.”

Dennis felt all of the pain of his childhood return like a wave, and with it the pain of losing his infant brother, and with that wave there was now no pain in him left untouched by this encounter. “They should have told you the truth Dennis, you could’ve heard it, you needed to hear it.”

“NO!” The younger Dennis was now crying uncontrollably, struggling to push words through his quivering lips. “That’s my brother, he has to be sleeping! I love him, and we’re supposed to play when he starts walking!”

Dennis hugged his younger self, pulling him in tightly, and his younger self fell into his arms, both of them sobbing. “I’m sorry they lied, I’m sorry you had to wait months to learn, I’m sorry that Mommy’s friend was the one to tell you. Your brother is gone and it hurts so bad. I know.” He closed his eyes and held his younger self, having no intention of ever letting go.

After what felt like an eternity, Dennis opened his eyes to see no one in his arms, the room was empty, and he was sitting on the floor by himself. He knew it was finished, he’d gone through all of the rooms, and he could return home now. Dennis stood up, and something inside him felt different, like he now weighed less, or at least his insides didn’t put as much pressure on him; they didn’t feel like they were trying to get out anymore. He exhaled again, letting out more air than normal, and began walking back down the hallway.

              Exiting the hallway, Dennis started to make his way out of the house, the pain and beauty of his former home making it somewhat difficult to breath, he wished there had been far less pain and much more beauty. As he got to the front door he stopped, feeling a pull from behind him and hearing laughter again. He turned to look at the living room. The room was full of lights and decorations, the Christmas tree glowing like a night light and filling the room with peace and joy. There were toys and wrapping paper littered across the floor and a holiday movie playing on the television. He saw all five of them, the only Christmas they ever shared together. Everyone was laughing, and nothing was wrong with the world. Dennis smiled, a single tear falling from his face. He let out a final breath before leaving the house, never to return.

July 17, 2021 03:47

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