I walk through the glass doors –open in the south-east Asian heat– and the house smells the same. I haven’t smelled that smell in nearly fifteen years. Not since that afternoon my bedroom was empty –white tiles exposed to the world– and the living room was filled with cardboard boxes. Not since those days we sat at the dining table eating cookies and telling each other stories –the same recipe I use to this day. It’s all the same but the voices are different. All grown up. New ones too. But not yours. You’re gone. Somewhere in America. Ivy league.
They’ve moved the pool from the left side of the house to the front garden –the cat’s old hunting ground – our playground. But the kids sound just like we used to. They shout like we used to. They splash around and they have so much fun. The fun we used to share. It annoys me how loud they are now but I know how they feel and it makes me smile. It only lasts a second though because frankly I’m overwhelmed with how familiar all this is but I bend down to untie my shoelaces and no one can see the tears welling in my eyes. I wipe them away swiftly as I stand again. The same swift motion I performed on that plane fifteen years ago craning my neck to watch the lights fade slowly into the black of space. “Only leaving to return…” I told myself. I did return a couple times. Then no more. No more until today.
The tiles are cold under the soles of my feet and all the doors and windows are stretched wide open but there’s no wind. Still I feel a shiver run down my spine. I shudder and I hope no one noticed. They probably don’t. Too caught up in the preparations to notice me. Funny. We never celebrated Christmas aside from a plastic tree and some gifts. Each year the pile shrinking a bit more. But now they do. Mother and her new husband, her new kids, her new family. Her new me.
I tip toe through the living room. Such a big living room –bigger than the one we had after or the one I have now– but not as big as I remember. I push the white wood door to my old room. My step-sisters’ room now. It doesn’t smell the same. It doesn’t look the same. It’s a new bed and it’s under the window on the back wall. Not as cluttered as I kept it. But I feel like a child again. I feel scared and confused and happy like I did back when I couldn’t possibly imagine just how scared and confused I had to be.
What strikes me most is the curtains. They’re a sort of light mauve color. Makes me sick. So different from those I had. Those I had had pictures on them: horses and elephants and peacocks. Trees with birds perched in them. Deep red and ochre. I run my hand down the curtains. I don’t like how soft they are. I peer behind them through the window where the pool used to be –where now there’s a swing set. I’d always wanted a swing set. I would sneak into the neighbor’s garden and use theirs. It was old and rotten –creaked and threatened to drop you with each movement. And the garden was unkept so I would always come back with a web of mosquito bites. Mosquitoes loved me. I remember once we sat back to back on the front porch swatting at the mosquitoes that landed on our bare legs. It was your idea. I didn’t really see the point of the whole exercise but I went along with it because at the time I would’ve gone along with anything you proposed.
The ground sways under my feet. I press my palm against the wall to try to push it back but no matter how much weight I put on it I can feel it closing in. I can feel it pushing right back at me. It seems my head is slowly unscrewing from my neck and there is nothing anymore to keep my thoughts contained. It seems just like it did at the time. I try to swallow but I choke.
I shut the door behind me –gentle– only a soft clink echoes after me –I never liked making noise. And just as they did not notice me come in they do not notice me leave. Though the streets have changed and my eyes do not recognise the way my feet do and they take me to the old bus stop where my mother dropped me off every morning. My body feels too tall now. My shoes don’t fit in the cracks in the road that have since been fixed. My arms are too long and my hands are too wide and awkward. And when the bus comes –rattling to a halt– the dimensions aren’t right. The steps are too small and the ceiling too low and my legs are too long for the seat. The seats where we sat together. Made of the same rough fabric. I dig my nails into it. So many things I thought on that bus –things I would’ve liked to say to you. But my mouth just wouldn’t listen.
The bus still takes the same route it did when we were kids. Fifteen years ago. The city has changed so much –I’ve changed so much– and yet in many ways everything is the same. I can almost hear us laughing. I can hear the words I couldn’t say. I can hear the words you would’ve replied. I can hear our silence. I still feel an edge of the happiness I had. Sharp. I trace it with my finger even though it stings –I miss it. I miss who we were and what we didn’t know yet. I miss you. I miss when it was so easy to feel what I felt for you.
I press down my eyelids. On the other side of the glass the wind starts to whistle and the flat tree branches waver as if dancing to a muted song. Soon the rain begins to fall. Like water splashed on a mirror. I wish you were still here riding the bus with me and I could slip my hand into yours –our fingers welded together at the knuckles– and tell you what I didn’t know I had to tell you.
My head leans against the window –jerking my skull – giving me a migraine– but I stay because it’s what I would always do. The tears are rolling down my cheeks now. Like they always would. We drive past your street. It’s so fast but in a flash I see us running down that street again. I see you lying next to me. I see the back of your head as I read you a page of your book and you read me the next. I remember how my fingertips tingled so close to your skin. I remember how my heart swelled when my eyes slid into yours. You weren’t looking.
I step off the bus and I walk towards your house. I can feel the water seep through my shoes and run down the outside of my socks. Brushing against my skin. My hair sticks to my scalp. I try to remember what your hair smelled like in the rain. Then all of a sudden I’m there again. I’m where we used to stand together. And I remember how the inside of your house smelled. I only wonder if it still smells the same.
I think I hear an alarm ring. But I twist my body in the couch and my phone reads 6:47 AM. The leather is damp with my sweat. Cold. I don’t remember coming home –home– is this still home? When did it stop being home? I can’t recall the exact moment everything changed.
My heart is like an anvil pressing between my shoulder blades. Fixing my back to the cushions. I can’t move. Or I could but I don’t want to. I can taste the sick coming up my throat and it occurs to me I have never been drunk here. I feel as if I have broken some sort of promise. A promise of innocence. I feel as though I have disappointed you. And now it is too late –too late for what I’m not sure– but it’s too late.
The alarm was yours. In my dream we lay together –my ribs hugging yours– and your arms hung loosely over my chest. I would not sleep for I knew if I slept I would forget. And to forget would be sinful. Your sleeping body seemed lifeless. You were there. I had you. But you were not there.
–In dreams we are not aware of time– in my dream it felt like forever that we lay side by side in silence –the kind of silence you only find in cemeteries– but in reality it was probably hardly a few minutes –nothing really– and when your alarm rang –the gnarled hand of a corpse grabbing the scruff of my neck and pulling me from my slumber– I felt the weight of your limbs ebb away from me. Like an echo.
I want to lift myself from the discomfort of this god-awful couch. A lot like a coffin. I know I should get a drink of water or something to eat –there’s a bowl of apples on the kitchen counter. But I cannot bring myself to move.
My joints are stiff but I force them into movement through the main street. Sipping my coffee –I did not drink coffee when we lived here. Mother is mad at me. I knew it was a mistake to come here –too much too quick– in fact I have not forgiven her for coming back in the first place. And I am mad at myself for coming. After what happened last time I should not have.
Last time was the last time I saw you. You waved me goodbye with your soft hands not yet calloused or worn with living –still pure – still innocent. Not like mine. And in that moment watching you smile –lips curling over white teeth– I would have given anything to stay. Stay a little longer –with you – anything for you. My heart broke in that moment –and now I would give anything to leave.
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This was the prompt I was most intrigued by but didn't get many ideas. A very different take i should say, I would have imagined something funny. I loved that you took the pains to describe every scene.
Interesting that we interpreted the prompt differently! I'm glad you appreciated the descriptions, I had fun writing them :P
Loved the description of life by the narrator. You showed the protagonist's life very nicely. the plotline was also good. I have a new story out would love your feedback on it.
Thank you so much!! I will definitely go check out your story :)
Just submitted a new story would love your feedback on it.
I loved your attention to detail. I also enjoyed how the transitions were almost poetic. Like how each paragraph ended in a sulky/moody way. Well that's at least how I found it. The story read like it was being told in intervals (just like as if the narrator was seeing it) and the descriptions felt easy to understand but also deep. Those little painful/mood endings present in almost every paragraph were really nice. Loved the way you interpreted the prompt. Feel free to read my story (it's not for this weeks contest), would love some...
Thanks for your kind words! I did mean it to be poetic in a way. I'm so glad you liked it and understood it how I meant it :)
This was an amazing story! I loved all the detail!