A Household

Sunlight flooded through the windows, coursing across the hardwood to crash against the molding. It was the afternoon in full riot, white clouds painfully bright against the sky’s crisp blue, birds swaying to the unspoken rhythm of the trees.

Brandon’s hand lingered on the doorknob, the key unfamiliar in his pocket. Puddles of new-born light foamed at their feet. These were home sights. He drew in a breath of warm wood, paint. These were home smells.

Karen had told him he was too old to carry her over the threshold. Her heels snapped across the lake of light to the window blinds. She drew them closed, and the sudden shadows drained the blond from her hair, softened the lines at her mouth.

“We’re here,” she sighed.

Brandon smiled, drifting toward her. “Three bedrooms. Two bathrooms. You, and me. And maybe not for long.” He took hold of her waist, drew her toward him.

Her lips were sharp, efficient. “When are the movers coming?”

“An hour or so. They stopped for lunch after we did.”

She left him for the kitchen, tickling her nails against the appliances’ steel. “Your mother will love this layout,” she called into the refrigerator.

“My mom’s not coming. You know that.”

“Oh. Well, I meant when she does come by.”

“She doesn’t want to ‘come by’.”

Karen’s eyes were tired. She fought off a yawn. “You told me honey. I’m sorry,” she said as she tried the light switches. “This one doesn’t work.”

Brandon moved to join her, but her hand stopped him.

“Do you hear that?” she asked.

“What?” He cocked his head. There was nothing.

“Something high pitched…like machinery?”

He slipped the blinds up, opened the window. There was a wave of meadow heat, buttercup, cut grass. But the day was still as a statue.

“I don’t hear anything.”

She squinted again into the afternoon sun, lines of annoyance at her eyes. The blind cord swung against the wall. “You don’t hear anything?”

“No. Karen…”

“What?”

“Mom would change her mind for a special occasion,” he said, then turned down the hall.

There was a bathroom, a closet, a mirror before the end bedroom. The room was painted a blue that challenged the sky. A boy’s room, for sure. Walls aching for posters, drawings, trophies. There was a closet for thinking, and a window for dreaming. A boy’s room.

He shut the door carefully, as if someone was sleeping, then spread his arms to touch both walls of the hallway. This was their house. He pushed against the drywall, remembering Sunday school tales of Samson and the pillars. His palms flattened, shoulders shook. His mother would never see this hallway. The trip was expensive, and she was too old to wait forever.

Then it passed, and he dropped his hands. The paint was untouched.

He found Karen at the window again, staring into the closed blinds. She’d balled her fists, and stood with her eyes closed. Her heels had pricked the soft floors with the tiniest of dents, a trail from door to window to kitchen and back.

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “We moved to get away from all that…”

“Brandon, it’s giving me a headache. You don’t hear it?”

“You wanted to move here too.”

“Stop!” A shrill note in the empty room. “Just listen.  Tell me if you hear it.”

He stared at the mute blinds, at the shadows pooling at their feet. Then closed his eyes and listened. But there was nothing. He strained his ears, fighting to clear his mind.

There was no sound. A wave of dimples in the hardwood washed around his mind’s eye. Pressure rose in his chest. He opened his eyes, fighting a surge of disorientation.

He took Karen’s hand. Her fingers stayed shut

“No. No I don’t,” he said, and felt the tide slacken, begin to slip away.

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