Most people begin home metaphors with the foundation. How life is similar to the house you live in, with the foundation being the trials throughout childhood, walls the facades one puts up to protect from insidious intentions. The internal furnishings being the mass amounts of information collected to become fragments of your personality, a glimpse into your psyche. Plush leather furniture a lighthouse signaling riches and diamond rings, so you surround yourself with snobs. Or a couch infested with patches of torn fabric, and the rusted mechanisms of a pull out bed that fails to pull out. You don’t care whether it works or not, as long as you have something, you have everything. But the foundation is only one of the latter steps. Minute materials form, forced to create the foundation, which could be considered parents, having an idea of who they want you to be, consciously and subconsciously grooming you to be a synthetic memory, like newlyweds fighting over the interior design of their first home.
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But the house I live in isn’t the epitome of who I am or depict how I am feeling. Doesn’t force me to be anything that I do not wish. I leave that up to its inhabitants.
I have three rooms in my house, one on the first floor, two on the second. I don’t own the house, my Father and Mother, I mean, my Mother, Esellia, owns the home. She tells me I can’t say his name during the wake. Using my pocketknife, his last gift to me, I’d probably carve his name onto my door with despondent sprawled beneath it—just to spite her. That would be the reason my mother heard, the real motive being his remembrance. She couldn’t keep me from doing that. Behind that would be mutilated door lived a despondent child, forced by the universe to become a bastard. The closest I would ever get to speak with him again…writing his name, what he might have said, and then responding with my near illegible ramblings. Clenching that same pocketknife, I’d dig the blade into the glossy wood of my Mother’s door, and splinter insensitive sentinel onto the surface. But this was all in contemplation, and any action beyond that seemed doubtful and grotesque in the wake of sudden death. Why is it always sadness that is accepted as the ripple effect of death. While anger, hatred, and other soul consuming emotions are shunned. Sadness burns a hole in the heart just as clean as hate.
Having a wake while the sun retreated to die in peace behind the horizon seemed contrived. Darkness was irrevocably linked to evil, or the bad things that yearn to creep from beneath a child’s bed frame and snatch them up. This was all Esellia’s decision. The son had no choice in the matter. Her opinion was death; absolute, inescapable, a visage textured hurricane cloud of internal apathy looming above me. Then devour me, I muttered to my reflection. Snatch my eyes for marbles. Cast sticks and stones until light no longer resides within my eyes. Any physical pain to shift focus from emotional plight.
She told me too, “Keep your tie up, shoes clean, and chin up,” though not in that specific order and tone. She actually took her finger and lifted my head up. I had wanted to thwap her hand away, instead, I tenderly maneuvered her fingers between mine. Pleadingly, she asked for me break the cynical streak that captured my mind and tongue since he died. Agreeing with her became standard practice. I always smirked after turning my back to her.
I resigned to the back porch, hoping his grill would keep her from following me outside. The day he bought it, she screamed, he screamed, and none of it was about Hagen Das. Something about past bills, and how she was trying to convert us into vegetarians. The way our backyard slanted, I had a good view of the horizon. I saw a bloodied and bruised sun and sky. How grotesque it must look from Heaven.
I wasn’t going to listen to my mother. I’d tell whoever asked, what was on my mind. Not like I was going to cry or anything. Truthfulness was always blunt, though stung like knives pouring into flesh and organs.
There was a knock at the door. Could’ve been the second or fourth. Surprised I even heard it altogether. Mourners usually would rather stare at the face of the deceased. Thinking their resolve alone will summon rose-red back to pallid cheeks. If God answered prayers, that would be my first, but I just wanted these people to go home and love their families. Leave me to mourn. I stepped back inside, scuffing my shoes on the frame of the sliding glass door. Dirt, rubbed all across the black leather. I sighed, ignoring it.
My mother was rushing through the kitchen, iron in hand. “That’s the third time they’ve knocked Jay. Answer the door,” she said, vanishing into the downstairs hallway, which led to her room. She could’ve gotten it already.
As I was walking to the front door, I glanced at my smudged shoe. I tripped myself up as I tried to wipe it off on the rug. “Goddamn it.” I opened the door and unlocked the black metal security gate.
There was an Asian woman, with wrinkles bringing down her cheeks, forehead still a bit smooth. She was a “friend” from my mother’s job. And whenever I traveled to pick her up once in a black moon, when her engine nearly fell out, I had to go through the Asian woman first. I never liked her smile, though. It cut through you. You wanted to tell her something. Anything. Well, maybe today I liked that smile. She stood outside with her White husband, arm entangled in his. Her husband was younger. I never asked how many years exactly, but I expected at social gatherings she imagined overhearing snide, “Gold digger, and cradle robbing” anecdotes.
“Mrs. Lin. And, Mr, uhh…” He gave me a sour look. I wasn’t even doing this on purpose. “Mr. Normadale.”
They both came in—I hadn’t asked them too. I angled them to the dining room table. “Eat…” I thought of my Father’s crumb cake, and cheesecake. And that alcohol he kept in mom’s cabinet. That is from where I captured my first drink. Every word, object tends to remind you of the deceased’s accomplishments.
“We’re sorry about your Father, Joshua,” Mrs. Lin said, smiling.
“Thank you.” I smiled. I hadn’t meant to smile, and I didn’t feel it was right for me too.
“God thought it was his time.” She nodded, caressing the fabric of my suit sleeve. “And his clock works without regard for what we want.” Self satisfied, she nodded.
“Narcissistic then, isn’t it? That’s not what I mean. I mean, are you a religious woman, Mrs. Lin?” I asked.
“Well of course.” She gave another one of those ‘tell all truth’ smiles.
“Then you believe in a Heaven, and,” I lowered my voice,” a Hell.”
I got a slight nod from her.
I continued, “Then why do people say I am sorry when someone dies.”
“Well, Josh,” Mr. Normandale cut in, “when people die, it’s sad. You can’t touch them anymore. Can’t do what you could do if they were still…here…”
Mrs. Lin nodded in agreement.
“Well, I think there are three reasons,” I said. “One. Maybe because my father is gone, and I will never see him again, but I guess it’s all right to be selfish about another’s happiness. I mean…” This was making me slightly sad, but her smile made me continue anyway, “you wouldn’t tell me my Father’s in Hell? Right?”
Mrs. Lin stuttered, and blinking so rapidly, I was about to bet Mr. Normadale that her synthetic eyelashes would fall off. “Well, no.” She said, “No. Of course he’s in Heaven, dear. He was a good, good man.”
“Two. You say it for your own benefit. It makes you feel better that you relieved some of my grief. You feel closer to a Heaven your afraid of never entering. Or, maybe it isn’t like that. Could be the ‘thank you’ response. Makes you feel a bit happier.” I shrugged.
Mr. Normadale pushed me with his index finger. “We didn’t come here to get ripped apart by you.”
He pushed me a step back. “Fine,” I said. “Forget number three. I forgot it anyway. I think I hear someone knocking. My mom will be down soon to greet you.” I shook my head clear of the childhood memory of the upstairs still being my mom and dad’s room. She lived downstairs now.
I opened the front door and didn’t see anyone. A few cars were pulling up. I left the door open and sat on the steps. My little speech was flawed. Number three was I needed comfort from some source. But I didn’t know these people. How could I be sure their sentiment was genuine? Taking someone’s word lost its value too many years to count ago. I looked down at my scuffed shoe. “Damn it.” I furiously wiped the mark away.
Some people I didn’t recognized walked up carrying food, and grinning. Work stiffs, I guessed. We’d have small talk, with small responses. They saw me on the stairs. “Hey Joshua, how are you?”
I wondered how many of my pictures my father had posted on his desk. More than he should probably. I only had a wallet-sized photo. Kodak needed to put a box for people like me marked depressingly happy, so they’d know to print more pictures because we’d appreciate them afterwards, when it was too late. When I developed more photographs of him, I wouldn’t be able to look at them and not become depressed, and yet happy to see his smile, or the uncombed tangles of his hair.
The light clicked back on. “I’m doing like the normal grieving son. You?”
“Uhh, fine? Where can I put…”
I nodded. “Dinner table. Let me show you to the dining room.”
“Naw. Don’t get up. We know the way.” They walked beeline into the house.
I stood up. “You’ve been here before?”
They nodded. My Mother came out of the downstairs room, wearing a light blue dress with diamond earrings. Her blonde hair was fixed in a bun. I went to close the door the previous guests had left ajar, and turned around into another small crowd of visitors. I doubted I’d recognize anyone else.
I blocked out conversation between the my mother and guests, walking upstairs to my room. I looked across the hall to my father’s room. The door was open a sliver, seeping darkness into the illuminated hallway. There were open boxes in his room, cluttered with objects he never got to unpack. I despised memory at that moment. I’ve despised it since I heard word of his death.
“Joshua,” my mother said from the doorway, light pouring onto a disorganized record collection. The sudden brightness was an acidic energy eating at my corneas. “Come downstairs, right now. A lot more people are here. Some want to talk to you. Come on.” She left the door open. She stopped at the top of the stairs, foot dangling over the second step, eyes gazing at my father’s door. After a sniff and sweeping finger over her cheek, she closed his door, and then finally walked downstairs.
I climbed off my bed and hit the light on. I closed my door, and checked the mirror hanging on the back of it. My hair was ruffled, my tie messy, hanging loose. But those things were negligible. I stared intensely at my reflection, remembering a song my father attempted to sing on occasion. “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again. The life I love is makin’ music with my friends, I just can’t wait to get on the road again. And I can’t wait to get on the road again.” I shrugged, and began fixing my tie.
Downstairs, the attire was identity optional. I didn’t pay attention to who they were. I was listening to their words, smiling and sighing with impatience, but I wasn’t behind the wheel paying attention, and I figured the replacement was less interested than I.
But one thing this girl, Debbie Miller, someone I talked to occasionally at school, said caught my attention. Surprising, considering the cleavage her V-neck inappropriately exposed and the way she inattentively played with her tongue should’ve beckoned to a more feral part of me.
Debbie said, “After the…what are you doing after this? Wait, that came out wrong. Are you going to be at school?”
I squinted. “Tomorrow’s Saturday, so unless Vice P. Holland wants to make me go to Saturday detention, then my answer’d be no.”
Whenever Debbie shifted her gaze, her eyes would twinkle in a Big Bang of green and blue hues that I was sure held a universe all their own. “Do you and your Mom know what you’re going to do now?”
I thought about it. That in itself was a miracle; everyone else got small responses and robotic answers. “I…well, she spends time…she’s going to spend time, doing something on her own. Work, probably.”
“What about you?” She asked. It was hard answering her without stuttering.
“I’m…my mother told me to do something afterwards. Go out with some friends, dig a movie, tap dance up and down the promenade.” I ran a hand through my hair. “Okay, that’s not the truth.”
She smiled. There wasn’t any false emotion in it that I could tell. “Not going to tell me?”
“She told me to clean out my Father’s room.” I took her hand and brought her closer to the staircase. Everyone else was more in the dining room. “My parents were… getting a divorce. And…he was moving his stuff upstairs…and I don’t think it’s fair she’s making me hold it all.”
“I...” Debbie bit on her top lip.
We shifted our nervousness between absent gazes and touching random places of our faces. She didn’t have any thing to offer me. I was wrong. No one did right now. “I have to go talk to my Mom. Catch you at school.” I wandered. I was just moving my legs, not entirely searching for her. I found myself outside, again, sitting down on the brick steps. The sky had healed, looking like an inkblot. Or maybe that was a worse condition.
The sliding glass door scraped against its frame. “Hiding out, hmm?”
I turned around. “‘Course grandma.”
She was in good shape for a grandmother. She could probably move all my father’s stuff down the stairs and into a delivery truck by herself. There was a residual dampness to the flesh beneath her eyes. She sat down on a lawn chair. “Sky is black, tonight.”
I looked out at the stars again. “Very.”
“Probably a good thing. Makes it easier for emotion to show. People have a hard time seeing your face in the darkness.” I heard the ruffle of a cigarette pack. “No more,” she uttered. “You know I’m not one for crowds. You protest this wake?” Her southern drawl was hinted with New Orleans. N’awlins, she sometimes called it.
“Not protest. Said a few disagreements maybe. She’s hurting, so I try not to argue with her much.”
“She told me you were moving his things into a storage facility. You can bring them to my house ya know. I’ll pay you,” Grandma said.
I did not answer. Didn’t need too. It was a silent agreement.
“I’ve lost a son, you’ve lost a Father, and she’s lost a husband. She can’t deny whats happened, and neither can you. Everything needs atmosphere…something to hold it together. Grandpa isn’t there, so the house is lonelier. Talk to her, and see what she says.” My grandmother stood up, a bit slower since the last time I saw her, and walked back inside.
I smiled at the sky and belatedly followed her in.
My mother was showing a few guests out. I caught her before she hurried into her room for something. “Mom.”
She faced me. “Yes, you okay?”
“Yeah. But the house…”
She groaned. “Oh God, we’ve got termites again don’t we?”
“No, that’s not it. The house, it…feels weird now. You’d think you might want to move in with Grandma?”
“What? Repeat that. Wait, don’t, because it’s not going to happen.”
“…or I can for a while. Take Dad’s stuff and move it into her house…and maybe both of us can stay there. Just think about it for a moment. We could sell the house?”
She stared at me like she wound an epitaph. “I don’t have time for this right now.”
“Mom,” I said, wanting to reach out and grab her wrist, but didn’t, afraid her skin would secrete venom.
She sighed, speaking through pursed lips. “I will not sell this house. He left me. So it’s fitting you do too. Do what ever the hell you want.”
She went into her room, quietly shutting the door.
I hid my hands in my pockets. I didn’t recognize her anymore. After he died, I stopped drinking his alcohol. Maybe she picked up where I left off. I retreated, and rounded the corner, walking towards the staircase. Soft voices drew me back, and I discovered a some guests still remained. I took a few minutes to show them out.
Grandmother offer was the Einstein, Newton answer to solve my problem of relativity. It felt right, but closer to a guilty pleasure of hurting my mother…even just a bit. I climbed the stairs. I knocked on my Father’s door. Everything felt normal for a moment. The classical music he continuously played surged from the depths of my imagination to torture me in a masochistic hallucination. I wanted to smile and say, “C’mon Pop, answer the door.”
I went inside, and began packing his things.
Things that are done can be undone.