Trigger warning: Swearing and emotional abuse.
Erin is standing in the doorway, a small bag hastily filled with a few shirts and an extra pair of pants flung over her shoulder. Her hair, bright red, is wild and unkempt, and her face is so flush with anger that she seems to radiate heat. I can almost feel it from the kitchen island where I’m still sitting.
“Are you sure this is what you want,” she says, struggling to keep her voice low, so only I can hear it. “Because once I go, I’m not coming…”
“Just get the fuck out of here!” I scream, slamming my hands down on the island. “GET OUT!”
Her hair whips around, falling over her shoulder, and she’s gone, not slamming the door but pulling it closed gently behind her. She doesn’t look back. I sit at the island another moment, my hands balled into fists, fingernails still biting into the soft flesh of my palms. After a minute I realize I’ve been grinding my teeth, and with a huge effort I slacken my jaw. It’s sore now and it probably will be for days. My reactions are so predictable they are almost rehearsed. Another Sunday matinee of a show that’s gone on far too long. I unclench my hands and put my arms to my sides, shaking them out, trying to rid myself of the knots in my shoulders and neck. After a few stretches, I stand up and walk around the counter and slowly down the short hallway towards the door Erin had just used to vacate the premises. Very carefully I place a finger between two of the yellow slats of the blinds that hang crookedly in the narrow side window and gingerly pull them apart. I scan the driveway and the front yard. Both Erin and her car are gone.
“Shit,” I whisper to myself, letting the blinds spring back together as I turn to walk away.
Instead of walking back to the kitchen, I shuffle into the dark living room to my left, my feet barely leaving the floor, instead just sliding along the worn-out wall-to-wall carpet that was here when I bought the place. I’d been talking about pulling it up for ages, so naturally it was never going to happen. There are no ceiling lights in here, just two old lamps Erin had dragged home from a garage sale after weeks of me being paralyzed with indecision.
“They’ll do for now,” she had said, plugging one in next to the couch under the picture window. I put the other one next to my armchair, but I rarely used it and I looked at it even less. I hated it, but had agreed it would do. For now. I can never just say what I mean. In fact, quite often, I say the opposite.
I take a seat in my old leather chair and it groans beneath my weight, begging to be replaced, to be put out to pasture. It long predates the house—and even Erin—and would likely outlast her as well, the way this morning had turned out. Resisting the urge to throw the lamp across the room, I reach up under its shade and flick it on, bathing the room in its yellowy glow. It made everything look so old, no doubt doing the same to me. Instinctively I grab the television remote, but after a minute I rest it on the arm of my chair, choosing to stare at the doorway instead of at the old box in the corner of the room, another thing in dire need of replacing. As I had promised to do.
I sit here for a long time, watching that door. The sun rises and makes its way across the sky, shining in through the large window of the living room, but I don’t turn off the lamp, its warm glow comforting me somehow. Sometime around midday I turn on the tv, but I leave the volume low, waiting to hear a car door slam or a key in the door, but I never do. The house is still and very, very quiet, the soft clunk of the aluminum furnace expanding making my head turn involuntarily towards the hallway every time. We should get that checked. I should get that checked, I remind myself.
Sometime in the evening I drag myself off the couch and walk towards the kitchen, turning on the porch light as I go. Once there, I see a large stack of dishes in the sink, left over from the night before when our fight had started. Lord, how I hate dirty dishes.
“I will never do the dishes,” I had said to Erin when we first moved in together. “I hate doing dishes.” She had raised her eyebrows at this, but never said a thing. After that, we didn’t really talk about it. She washed and dried, and I…well I don’t do the dishes. I hate doing dishes.
I cross to the sink and turn on the water, getting it just about as hot as I can stand. Once it's steaming, I plug the basin and let it fill, spraying in a healthy amount of soap as I do. After it’s full and everything is submerged, I scrub, wipe, and rinse every plate, bowl, and piece of cutlery with expert care before putting them in the rack to dry. Then I drain the sink and spray it clean. I dry my hands on a towel and carefully hang it back over the handle of the oven. I feel a little sense of pride as I do, but it is short lived.
Suddenly, I hear a car engine roar just outside the house. Running down the hallway to the front door as fast as I can I reach it in seconds, and heart pounding in my chest I fling open the door.
But no one is there. Across the street a young woman, about 16 or 17 years old, runs down her driveway and jumps into the car parked by the curb. A red Toyota. The engine revs and the car tears off down the street, leaving the neighbourhood deathly quiet once again. The sun is just about set, and if Erin were planning on coming back, she would’ve done so by now. I guess she believed me this time. I close the door, taking a deep breath of the fresh air and the exhaust left behind by the Toyota as I do, and walk back towards the kitchen, leaving the porch light on. I pull a sheet of paper from the magnetic notepad stuck to the side of the fridge and sit down at the kitchen island. I take a ballpoint from the stained coffee mug-turned-pencil holder that sits in the middle of the table. The mug is white, with a small painting of a sleeping cat on it. A tiny mouse is dancing on the dozing feline. Below the cat it reads: “Everybody sucks at something.”
I lift the pen to my lip and ponder for a second before beginning to write. Dear Erin…
Slowly, but surely I fill the paper with everything that comes to mind. The old rugs and the thrifted lamps. The clunking furnace and the past-its-expiration date armchair. The crappy TV and the dishes. Oh, how I expound upon the dishes.
Finally, I finish and put the pen down, reading over my words. I frown a little as I read, saddened by how plainly my shortcomings come across, how good her reasons for leaving really were. I walk to the front door and grab my jacket from the closet. I slip into my running shoes and grab my keys. Erin will be staying with her mother, as she always does when this happens. I will leave my note in her mailbox and she will see it in the morning.
I walk back to the kitchen and look down again at my letter. I grab the pen and add a short postscript.
“I’m glad you’re gone. I’ll be happier without you.”
This, surely, she could not resist. Besides, just this morning I had begged her to stay. What more can I do?
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I really enjoyed this story, Matt. The imagery was strong and I could feel the author going through the various stages of anger, regret, and power.
Thank you Mazie, I’m so glad you like it.