Celia rocked back and forth in the recliner, her toe tapping the floor with each heave forward, a deep amorphous feeling of absentness within her chest.
She stared blankly into space, her mind flitting and floating from topic to topic, the grasshopper that jumped on her when she was seven years old, the family trip to the mountains to stay at a ski lodge, her brother’s negligence when it came to calling and keeping her from worrying. She hadn’t heard from him in well over two months, and it was nearing the longest stretch of time in their lives to go without contact.
Her cell phone let out a long, jarring warning tone: a tornado touched down in her area and she needed to seek safety as soon as possible. She switched her volume off, and continued rocking, tapping the floor and tapping the floor.
The roar of the storm passed her by, and she still didn’t hear from her brother.
Teresa sang softly to herself as she dumped and stirred, dumped and stirred. Today was going to be the greatest day of her life: the day she won The Great Chili Cookoff. This was her year. She could practically taste it–or was that some chili powder that she’d inhaled trickling down the back of her throat? Never mind.
It was nearly four o’clock in the morning. So far, Teresa had managed to keep quiet enough in the kitchen that she remained undisturbed.
And then she dropped the lid to her pressure cooker.
It hit the floor with a solid bang, and then rolled around on its edge a few times, adding to the din. She cringed, and turned to look down the hall. Sure enough, she saw a thin sliver of light pop on beneath the master bedroom door. About three seconds after that, the baby let out a wail. Teresa sighed.
She scooped up the lid and set it gently on the dining room table on her way to the baby’s room. Halfway there, she remembered that she’d left the stove on, and crisp black bits would not win her the title at The Great Chili Cookoff. The baby let out a more piercing wail, and Teresa cringed anew at the sound of the master bedroom door creaking open. Don was not going to be happy.
She tried to fix it, lightheartedly smiling and waving him back into the bedroom. “I got him, honey, sorry for waking you up. Go finish sleeping. Love you!”
Don gave her the stinkeye and kept coming. “I’ll handle the baby, Terry, you go finish that damn chili that you’ve been obsessing over for the past six years. Jesus Christ, if I never eat another bowl of chili, I could die a happy man.” He continued mumbling to himself about chili this and chili that as he opened the door to the baby’s room and then closed it behind him.
Teresa’s face fell, but she returned to the kitchen and turned the stove back on. “This is my year, I just know it. That’ll show you, Don. That’ll show everyone!”
A quick stir moved the black burnt bits from the bottom of the pan to the top, and Teresa sank to the floor in tears.
This year wasn’t going to be her year, after all.
Don came out of the baby’s room and knelt next to his wife, tenderly wrapping his arms around her. “Don’t worry, hon, there’s always next year. You’ll win it yet. I know you will.”
In his room, the baby began his wail anew.
I hope each and every one of you had as lovely a day as I did, whether with friends or family or peacefully home alone.
Phil was an emotional wreck.
He peered out the window for a brief instant before twitching the blinds back into place. No one was going to show. He knew it in his heart. He put out a hand to catch himself on the arm of his favorite easy chair, but missed, and collapsed all the way to the floor. He curled up, hugged his knees to his chest, and began bawling his eyes out.
A knock on the door startled him, and he rose quickly, dashing the tears from his face with the heel of his right hand. When he opened the door, His lips moved, but no sound escaped to welcome his sister and her new husband to his home.
“Hey Phil!” cried his sister Lynette. she took a step into his domain and dropped her purse on the table next to the door before squeezing his ribs ever so tightly. “This is Robert, I’m sure you remember that.” She gestured Robert to come inside as she sidled Phil gently out of the way and softly closed the door.
Robert stuck out a hand. “Nice to finally meet you, buddy.” He smiled broadly, a smile that began to wilt when Phil failed to grasp his hand or even speak at an audible volume.
“Don’t worry, hon,” Lynette patted her husband on his upper arm. “Phil gets a little freaked out when he has company. Why don’t we all go sit down in the living room?” She led the two men into the adjacent room and settled Phil on his easy chair before ushering Robert to one end of the couch. She took the other end.
Phil teased a stray bit of string from the upholstery with his forefinger and thumb, refusing to look up at the invaders on his couch. He suddenly regretted ever buying that couch. If he hadn’t gotten a couch, there would be nowhere for them to sit, and then perhaps they wouldn’t have come at all. They wouldn’t be invading his sanctuary.
When he finally looked up, the couch was gone, and the floor was dusty in the spot where it never was. A single tear followed in the tracks already left on Phil’s face as he realized that he’d done it again.
He’d forgotten that he was an only child.
My stepmother’s hobby is genealogy. My father hates it; the last time I talked to him, he complained of their last road trip, of the visits to small town city halls and libraries where she pored for hours over moldy records and microfilm while he waited in the car with the dogs. When I was a kid we would stop at places while traveling between their house and my mother’s house so that she could research someone or other.
I respect her dedication to the pursuit. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always clean. I never knew that it was because she’s Mormon that she worked so hard at it. I didn’t know that was just another thing that she did, like keeping a year’s worth of food on hand. I mean, lots of people study their genealogy.
I think it’s interesting in itself, although not enough to go out and research my own family as actively as she does; that’s mostly because I’d have to leave the country to find out about my father’s side.
I haven’t thought about it in a long time, about researching for myself, that is. It seems more interesting now that I’m older than it used to. I think I’ll see what I can find online.
How much do you know about your family? Have you ever studied genealogy? Do you have any site recommendations?
Karla looked across her former workspace at the scattering of dried and once-fresh flowers and assorted scraps of paper. Everything in the tiny closet of a room was exactly as she’d left it eighteen years ago, as far as she could tell. She reached out a hand and caressed a petal as it crumbled to dust, and a tear slid down her cheek.
Running away had been her best choice, her only choice, but that didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. That didn’t mean she didn’t grieve for the family that might have been. The fairy tale that everyone else had.
She was thirty-two now, and happily pursuing art two states away, but of course there was no one else to come clean up the mess when her grandmother died. Karla didn’t know her parents’ names; she’d lived with her grandmother and her uncle until she was fifteen and couldn’t take it anymore.
The years of agonizing psychological torture seeped from the walls like a greasy stain. She hadn’t been surprised when her uncle shot himself when she was nine, and she hadn’t been surprised when her grandmother forced her to clean up what was left of him after the body was gone. There was no funeral. Grandmother scoffed at the unnecessary expense.
Even now, after so many years of therapy, Karla was amazed that the younger version of herself had enough personality left over to spend collecting wildflowers, carefully pressing them, and gently decoupaging them into beautifully individual greeting cards. The box still waited patiently under a single folded bath towel.
Grandmother must have deemed cleaning out this room another unnecessary expense. She probably never set foot in it again when Karla never came home from school that Friday afternoon.
Karla knew on the drive here that opening any other doors in the house would be an unnecessary expense from her bank of emotional stability. Without touching anything else in her room, she closed the door behind her and retraced her steps back to the front porch. She sat down down the stairs and pulled out her smartphone to begin googling local liquidators to clean the entire house out. Anyone who would accept the contents as a fee would be acceptable. Karla didn’t need a single thing.
Her second phone call was profitable enough; he promised to be there within the hour. Karla reminded him that she would be leaving in exactly one hour, and he reiterated his promise. She hung up, and prepared to watch the sun set as she waited.
It was only twenty minutes before he arrived, and Karla walked to the street and handed him the set of keys. He stuttered, holding his hands up in refusal. “Don’t you want to do a walkthrough with me so I can give you an estimate?”
She met his confusion with a shake of her head. “No, thank you, it’s fine. I don’t need any money, I just want to be done with everything here.”
He was even more taken aback at that, and rifled through his pockets to offer her the $481 cash he found. She took it.
“The house is yours too. If you need me to sign anything, you have my number, but the deed should be in one of her filing cabinets, along with the receipt for every single item in there. Good luck.” Karla began to walk away, but paused to ask one more question. “Where’s the nearest bar?”
He pointed down the street. “There’s one about a mile down there. Just take a left on Third Street.”
“Thanks,” she nodded.