– Non-Fiction by Rebecca Wickens – March 7, 2019
Runner-up in the Dreamers Creative Writing Contest: Stories of Migration, Sense of Place and Home
Early December 2018
Tucked into the soft cushions of the couch, I look out through the branches of the Christmas tree at the front lawn. Flakes of snow twirl idly down from the soft grey sky and cling to the frost-blue blades of grass.
My hands emerge from the sleeves of my robe and encircle my coffee mug. I relish the slight sting from the hot sides as I bring the mug to my lips. Pausing a moment to blow on the coffee, I watch the steam curl up from the rippling surface, softening my view of the world outside.
How different this Christmas feels! It was a bit of a struggle to gather the will to decorate, and I am not yet done the shopping, wrapping or baking, but this year still feels easier. This year, I don’t have to wonder where to place the Christmas tree or decorations. This year, I don’t have to dig through cupboard after cupboard to find the cookie cutters and rolling pin. This year, I know where our splintered family will be and what to expect on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
Late August 2017
Wedged between the screen and exterior doors, I slide the tarnished key into the deadbolt. Using no small amount of force, I turn the key in the lock, finally hearing a rasp and a click as the lock gives way. I push down on the brass door handle, which is also a bit stiff. In a moment of rebellion, I swing the door open wide. All at once, the stale smell of someone else’s life envelopes me. In the pallid light, bits of them in the form of dust, swirl around me.
Still propping the screen door open, I turn for the grocery bags on the porch. With two armloads of cleaning supplies, I start to squeeze my way into the hall. The screen door delivers a swift rebuke for my boldness, snapping closed on my ankle and tearing off my shoe. Hissing at the sudden sting, I drop the bags, push the screen door off my injured ankle and turn on my good foot to grab my shoe.
My ankle reflects an angry colour palette – purpled with rapid bruising, and weeping deep red blood. In all of these bags of cleaning supplies, there is not one bandage. I was not expecting to be attacked on the first afternoon in my new house…by my new house! With a sigh, I dab at and then apply strips of paper towel to the wound. It has a macabre paper mâché effect, but it stops the bleeding.
I lug the bags into the kitchen and take stock as I unpack. Paper towel, spray cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, toilet bowl brush, broom, mop, dusters – the tools necessary to wipe, sweep and scrub the previous occupants from the premises. Moving around the rooms corner by corner and through the rooms one by one, the scent of my usual cleaning supplies does battle with stale, unfamiliar odors.
All of a sudden, it is evening. The houses and trees outside the picture window in the dining room darken as the sky turns pink and gold. I lock up the empty, silent box that is my new house, and walk one block east and one block north to the old house. From under the big maple tree in the front yard, I can see my soon-to-be-ex at the sink and the kids at the table. The fixture over the table casts a warm glow. Smiles light their faces and I imagine the happy chatter as the kids clear the dishes to the counter.
I pause at the front door, suddenly unsure whether to knock or use my key. My son swings the door open wide and jumps into my arms, “Mommy!”
I pick at a plate of food that was left warming in the oven, listening to my spouse and kids giggling and crashing around in the family room below. Orange cat in tow, I head upstairs and, with each step, the happy sounds recede. Cat and I sit in the arm chair in the master bedroom. We close our eyes as I scratch his bony forehead.
I stay at the old house that night. My son and I lie upside down in the big master bed; only one of us is able to sleep. Staring blankly out the window, I cannot banish the gnawing anxiety that I don’t belong here or anywhere. I listen to the rhythm of my son’s whistling breath, hoping the sound will lull me into dreaming. The gentle light of the moon stretches across and touches our faces. His is pale and full, as if he is a child of the moon herself. I am sure mine is lined with worry and wears a grimace from the acrid odors of new carpet and fresh paint – a necessary evil when trying to entice another family to buy your home.
The next morning after an awkward coffee, I head to the new house. The air in the new house smells fresher after yesterday’s cleaning, and this makes me a bit more confident about taking that first step over the threshold. I quickly fall into walking softly, however, half-expecting someone to spring out and demand to know what I am doing there.
The mattresses are delivered on schedule by a middle-aged man and his younger partner. The older man’s cheerful monologue crashes into the impassive, beige walls, as he and his partner stomp up and down the stairs to the empty rooms that will become bedrooms. His voice seems to get louder with each step, as if he feels the need to push through the heavy curtain of silence.
I take a deep breath after they leave, and then head upstairs to air out the new mattresses. I make a mental note to bring scissors on my next trip between houses as I tear at the thick plastic with tired fingers. My son will be arriving for our sleep-