The first thing you notice is the sun's rays, peeking through the dusty white shutters. They don’t close all the way, and by the time the light rises into the morning, thick bars of brightness shine onto your ceiling. Your eyelids fail to block out the bright colours of the room, and when you’ve tossed and turned for half an hour in bed, you begrudgingly get up.
It’s only eight-thirty-one, your clock chimes in. You think with how bright it is it must be closer to ten. The thought of getting up early on a Sunday morning makes your body sag with fatigue, though you are the one who chose to awake. There is no going back to bed once you stand, and traipse across the long browned carpet lining the floor of your bedroom.
The rest of the house is already flooded with light, with your forgetting to close the shutters before bed. It highlights the dust floating through the air, though everything was still as water at midnight before you came down.
A glass of tap water soothes your dry throat, though you’re concerned about the air bubbles in the glass of water. Your mom used to tell you they were nothing to worry about, but your father's brother Fred would argue the white specks were chemicals used to clean the water. Mother would roll her eyes, and take out a plastic water bottle for him. Your mother’s mother would mutter something unintelligible under her breath, and ranted about Fred and his antics.
The kitchen where you stand was once filled with a bickering family, you think as you leave the glass on the counter. You thought it was all in good fun, but now you know the hatred ran deeper than distaste over white dots in a glass of tap water.
Yet you learned to swallow the bitterness long ago, embraced the isolation that came with being caught on the wrong side of a pivotal decision. When you lose a member too soon, you’re quick to blame those who had a part to play.
Your mother was always the kind one, or she was in your memories. The first to fold in on herself for others, changing her demeanour every which way if only to please others. Like origami, every time she shaped herself it left creases that would fade but never disappear. Every time another demand was made, another weight on her shoulders, an expression of defiance would flicker across her face. Despite your wish for it to remain, for her to say what she felt, her face folded back into one of a smiling, complacent housewife.
It was because of her inability to refuse that you took advantage of her. Even now, looking back from the cabin she left to you in her will, you benefit from her docility. Though it has been many years since you spoke, she left you the cabin you once loved. Back when it represented a break from the rush of school, when you were showered with gifts from family not seen since summertime. The cabin was a haven tucked away from the world, but as an adult, it is nothing more than a voluntary prison.
Why did you stay? You had a house in the explosion of suburbia exploding in and around Toronto. You had a stable job, made a friendly yet distant neighbour, never rude but not taking the time to learn their names.
Yet here you stand in an old, badly insulated house with a putrid-smelling bathroom and barely functioning gas fireplace. Cut off almost entirely from the outside world, the whole premise of a remote cabin smacking you directly in the face. No phone, electricity, internet, or people to talk to. It is as alone as isolation can be, and it’s thrilling.
You don’t need to fake smiles or get dressed into clothes that scream careless, unrefined. Two years as an interior designer and you already learned people judge you before you walk through the door. Your jacket, two-year-old somewhat-worn boots, frizzy straight hair that is not blow-dried speak unintentional volumes to them. Why? The world is unforgiving. They don’t care if you struggle to get up in the morning, that your family has universally cut you off and hung you to dry. No, they care about their rooms, and you are nothing more than a servant to them, who doesn’t seem to have the decency to look professional.
But those people don’t matter to you anymore. As you step out onto the snowy deck, your boots imprinting marks on the fresh white powder, you aren’t thinking about the people. Or what you left behind. You are not bitter about society’s inflictions, because you have peacefully detached from them and retreated.
You won’t stay here forever. You are not so withdrawn as to not need human interaction at all, no, you are just introverted enough to need a break from pretending to be an extrovert.
Your mother always allowed you to hide away in your bedroom during family reunions, but you were too kind to want to disappear. Instead, you took the burden off of your mother, listening to Fred but never fully agreeing with what he said. Yet, you reminisce, he was never the one to start the big arguments.
Echoes of words yelled long ago play relentlessly in the back of your mind. The cabin was an escape from one thing, but an invitation for another terror to be unearthed. Years of practice burying the bitter resentment from family were brushed away like the layer of dust on the countertops.
The small burn on the couch from Fred’s lighter.
Small shards of glass still stuck under the baseboard from shattered picture frames, hastily swept up.
A long-wilted pot of flowers mother never got to bring home.
A reminder around every corner of the pain and ear-splitting screams of memories clawing their way out.
You should let them out. Cry, throw something, uncork the glass bottle brimming with acid memories, bubbling up. You feel it, don’t you? If another were there to ask you simply if you were okay, you would likely shake your head no and collapse in a heap of tears.
But you refuse, clench your fist and stand up straight, wiping away the water brimming around your eyes. You will not cry, you will not let it out. You think it makes you strong, but you are weak from running from it for so long. You are so close to getting through this phase of your past, why do you now refuse to acknowledge it?
Your mother never cried in front of you. Her face would scrunch up ever so slightly, whenever emotions slammed into her at an overwhelming rate. She would just purse her lips, shake her head, and busy herself with a task. You used to admire that aspect of her, but now, as you hang your head between your arms, you wish she was there to tell you how she did it.
But she is gone, and you can't help but stop the memory from flooding back, clear as freshly cleaned glass.
That day the snow had piled up against the window, and we were debating staying an extra night. Everyone’s vehicles, except for Fred’s truck, were too snowed in and cold to be started. The then-working heater kept you warm inside, but after a week of already being in each other’s company, everybody was on their last leg.
“Put that down!” Grandma hissed at Fred, who was jokingly trying to light your clothes on fire, enjoying how you would lurch backwards in the cruel joke of it. He would light it, bring it just close enough to your shirt to discolour it before you would turn around.
At grandma’s scolding, his mouth would turn up into a cruel smirk. “I wasn’t doing anything. Y’all shelter her too much.”
You moved further away from him, spying your mother leaning on the counter. “Mom?” You asked, immediately knowing something was wrong.
She didn’t look up, and you were the fastest to your feet, rushing over to her. “Are you okay?” you asked, already knowing the answer. When she shook her head lightly, a feeling of dread crept up your spine.
“Mom!” You turn to your family, who were watching silently, emotionless. “Somebody help her!” You insist, fighting back hysteria. Your mother was not one for theatrics or extra attention.
“She’s probably fine, just a little sick of this cabin, like the rest of us.” Fred took a sip of his beer.
You stared at him for a moment, in shock at his nonchalance. “No, Em’ is right, Jenn isn’t okay.” Aunt Beatrice stands. “She needs to-”
She was cut off by your mother slumping against the counter, and your diving to try and catch her before she hit the floor. Her skin pale and fingers twitching, you finally began to panic.
“She needs to get to the hospital!” You cried, struggling to drag her toward the door before Beatrice began to help you.
Grandma chimed in. “Fred’s truck is the best chance you got.”
“Whatever, I think she’s fine. She’ll wake up in a minute and you will feel stupid for overthinking it.”
Ignoring that statement, Beatrice continued your grandmother’s train of thought. “I’ve got the keys, Emily and I will go.”
Fred stood, swaying slightly as he did. Pointing his finger at Beatrice, he glared. “You are not driving my truck.”
“You’re drunk. You’re more likely to crash into one of the trees on the way than get Jenn help.”
“You’re not driving my truck!” Fred walked up to Beatrice, staring her in the eye.
“She needs help!” You cry, and Fred turns his glare to you. His breath smells of beer and tobacco.
Grandma’s voice chimed in from her spot on the couch. “Fred is right, you guys are overthinking this.”
You look around at their faces, and Beatrice looks defeated. “No!” you yell, “Fred how goddamn selfish are you to not-”
You never get to finish the sentence before the air rushes out of your lungs. A heavy arm shoves you against the wall, and the whole room erupts in protest.
The shattering of glass pierces your ears, as Fred stumbles away from you. Beatrice drops an old picture frame, shards of glass sticking out, and rushes over to ensure you are okay.
“She’s not breathing.”
Your heart stops at the soft sound of your grandmother’s voice, and when you turn around you no longer see the rising and falling of your mother’s chest.
It is now that you slump against the wood siding of the house, that you sink to your knees, ignoring the wet discomfort of the snow. You cry salty tears and don’t wipe them away. The memories clawed their way out, and now fully consume you.
You’re not sure how long you sit there, wallowing in your pain and self-pity, the snow soaking through your sweatpants and tears freezing on your face. The wind whistles past your ears, and eventually self-preservation wins out, and you pick yourself up. Not bothering to dust yourself off, you sprinkle snow on the already water-warped floor.
But with the feeble warmth from the gas fireplace, the cold, icy part of you that kept you emotionless and detached slowly melted away. The knot in your chest untangles. Without it, you finally felt like you could breathe.
You grab the broom from the closet, the worn handle fitting nicely in your palm. The flooring groans under your feet as you approach the remains of a shattered picture frame. You sweep the glass, the splintered frame, and the faded picture across the living room floor. When it gets outside, the glass falls through the cracks in the deck, leaving only the frame. With one final push off the deck, the wood falls gently down into the snowbank below. The picture is snatched by the wind, and carried off across the yard, still moving when you go back inside.
The pot of flowers is heavy in your hands, the soil making your nose wrinkle in disgust. You walk quickly with it, and with great satisfaction, throw it off the side of the deck. Softly landing on the thick layer of snow, the once unwanted life feeding the garden you will eventually grow.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
When you are satisfied, you sit down on the weathered sofa and close your eyes. Because it’s over. Not because your family has made-up again, but because you chose it to be. You chose to not care anymore and to acknowledge the past without succumbing to it. Your mother never cared much for family gatherings, and she would prefer your shirts don’t have burn marks.
And the cottage, once coffin-like and cold, has the aura of a new beginning.