Things We Might Say in the Night
Matt would kill her if he knew she came here, Bethann thinks, running her fingers over the dusty counters, the dry, splintered wood, the dirty glass. A year of sitting empty has not been good for the house – her house, but nothing’s selling in this market, not even at bank prices. The echoes of her footsteps make the building sound fragile, vulnerable, and she wonders how long it can wait for someone luckier to happen along and breathe life back into its walls.
He’d say it wasn’t safe or that people would talk, but she just comes to sit. It’s the only place left she can get a little space. Too many of them at Mom’s, and she knows Matt feels it too. He finally got rehired, but with no savings, they’re stuck for a good while. He stays out, stopping by the bar after work so as not to come home and face it. Face them, she thinks. Some nights it’s real late and Bethann is already asleep, or at least pretending. Mom’s great about everything and Bethann sees how she tries to be diplomatic and God knows she’s grateful, but it’s not the same when it’s not your own home. Like someone threw the galactic gears into reverse and they are all of them, her and Matt and the boys, all Mom’s kids again. Every teenage rebellion flares up in her, and it’s a bomb waiting to go off.
Hints of smoke and stale beer and mildew and something feral she doesn’t really want to know about rise up from what’s left of the carpet. Kids have finally discovered this place, found the back door that never quite locked. A can of dried-up paint has been repurposed as an ashtray and vulgar graffiti has been Sharpied on the door frame. Bethann recognizes one of names as a girl in her oldest boy’s class and supposes she comes with that skanky boyfriend of hers. In another life she’d say something to the parents. There’s a new stain in the corner, up near the roof. Shingles probably going. Not that any of it’s her problem now. In a way, she’s relieved.
Bethann doesn’t miss the house itself so much anymore, but what a waste. It would break Matt’s heart to see it and she would never tell him. He took pride in it, spending his weekends out here in the shop working on one project or another, the new floor in the living room or the shelves in her pantry or the playhouse for the boys when they were little. He doesn’t say so but Bethann knows by the careful way he slips into bed, and away again before the sun, that he blames himself. If only he’d look over and see she wasn’t sleeping. It’s not so bad, she would tell him. It’s not so bad.
* * *
My little story was inspired by a striking photo prompt over at Sundog Lit's Photogene #4 flash contest earlier this year. You can view the original photo and read "Red Paint," Rebecca Meacham's gorgeous winning entry, at the Sundog Lit website.
copyright/all rights reserved