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White Fences, Red Letters
Light footsteps fell against the worn road from scuffed shoes. Normally the shoes were dragged across the ground in a swagger, an act. But it was night now, and there was no one around to impress. Hiking up his shorts, yet again, he strolled past the house with the white picket fence. His face grew tight with disgust, and he immediately spat against the fence. Who did they think they were, anyway? Their unscratched, perfect fence didn’t mean nothing. It didn’t make them better than anyone else here. His brow furrowed in annoyance and his eyes fell to the ground, unaware of the girl watching him across the road from her porch steps. Two houses down, he bounded up the steps of his own home. Her eyes left him and returned to the white picket fence.
Just like him, she found the fence to be unnecessary. It set boundaries. It said, “Yeah, so what if we live in the same part of town. So what if we all struggle to make enough to put food on the table. We have a picket fence, you don’t.” It was as if they were a step closer to perfection, and wanted everyone else to know. Her gaze moved past the gate, snaking along the walkway and finally setting on the family inside, doing god knows what. They were crowded into a dimly lit room. It flickered—T.V., she guessed.
She heard a crash from her own house, and sighed, casting a glance over her shoulder. At least there weren’t any shouted complaints anymore. Ever since her father moved out, an eerie silence had fallen upon the house. It was why she had to get out at night, out under the vast clear sky. Silence was alright out here. Insects hummed, keeping away the eerie part that had suffocated her inside.
Her mother hadn’t kicked him out. He simply stopped coming home. Her mother didn’t seem devastated—she had seen the gathering clouds. He spent more time bar hopping and visiting “the houses” than scrambling to get food and finding time for family.
He wasn’t always that way though. It started with stress. Then he took to the bottle, and, well, one bad choice led to another, and soon he just surrendered himself to it all.
When she was fourteen she complained to her mother about him. She tried to encourage her to kick him out of the house. Her mother raised an eyebrow and looked at her sideways.
“Or if you don’t want to kick him out, we could always, you know, just leave,” she had urged.
Her mother’s shoulders dropped and she slumped into the chair, her hands running through her hair. She was fishing for the right words.
“Psyche…” Her mother had said her name with a sigh, “Do you not remember how he was? How we were?”
She had felt her face grow hot with shame, and let the subject drop.
Her memory was shattered with the sound of tumbles coming from inside, and a high pitched wail broke the air. She leapt inside quickly.
Her mother lay at the bottom of the stairs. Shards of beer glass were scattered underneath her, mixed with broken mirror glass, piercing her skin like claws. She was panting in pain, both physical and mental. She curled into a tight ball, her fist clenched around a crumpled letter. Tears streaked down her face, mixing with the blood, and her teeth were gritted together.
The daughter gasped and rushed over, her beat up Converse crunching noisily against the debris. Her eyes dropped down to the gathering pool of blood. She choked on a sob and scrambled for the phone, quickly dialing for help, her eyes never leaving her mother’s desolate face. She held onto her, trying to calm the tremors. Tears sprung themselves from her own eyes for the first time in years.
She saw the flashing lights and the door opened before she knew it. They unclasped her from her mother hurriedly with effort, and then checked her over for injury. Her mother’s blood had soaked onto her so much that it looked like she too had fallen.
The paramedic bent over her mother shook his head slightly with a grimace after checking her pulse. He carried her into the ambulance nevertheless. They insisted on the daughter coming with them, but she shook her head, her eyes growing into solemn deep pools of amber. After useless persistence, they finally let her be. The ambulance snaked its way up the road slowly, the sirens off.
She was still standing at the bottom of the stairs. Her hands had stopped shaking, and now they held the crumpled letter. The blood splotches were small, as if this was the one thing her mother had wanted to save in the house.
She had read it so many times now she’d lost count. She just couldn’t understand it. The message was easy—it was a report of her father’s death. But she kept looking for something more, something that would send her mother spiraling into throwing his old beer bottles at the mirror. Something that would make her knees buckle from beneath her, collapsing down the stairs into the shards of glass, into her death.
Finally she couldn’t take it. The air was suffocating again. She stepped outside, glaring at that white picket fence.
She understood. She just didn’t want to believe.