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I sit in mom's leather recliner with the wooden arms, laptop on my lap, Microsoft Word open, a blank document at my fingertips. Right next to me, off to the right sits dad's Sony stereo, a mix of old and new; the newest iPod nano sits in the dock, playing Willie Nelson's ྞ album, Teatro.
My eyes stray to the floor, covered in a hand-knotted, wool rug made in India. I remember when the rug wasn't there – when the antique-looking bureau sitting on it, wasn't there. When this stereo of dad's used to play the radio instead of variations of my sister's pop rock and scream-o. I can close my eyes, push back in the recliner and pretend that I'm still eight years old, pretend I just moved here, and that the big, blue denim chair the dog loved to curl up in is the only furniture in the front room. I can pretend that Prairie Home Companion is trickling out of the stereo instead. I can pretend that dad is slumped in the blue chair with a nameless magazine instead of casually sprawled on a leather sofa with The New Yorker.
With my eyes closed, I can see myself, a small child, casually stretched out on the bare wooden floor, a bin of carved rail-road tracks sitting next to me. My hand dips in, fishes out a piece of track – straight, wooden, grooved on either side for the train wheels to settle in. There isn't enough track to make anything more interesting than a figure eight and dead-end ways. But the figure eight, dead-end ways – they provide the building block for stories of a different sort.
Prairie Home Companion echoes in the background, and Dad turns pages. The dog is curled up by his feet, occasionally lifting its head to stare morosely at the chair, as if begrudging my father the seat. My younger self is entirely unaware, casting train cars across the floor, and scrambling after each in turn. The pieces stick together, courtesy of magnets on either end, forming an eight-car train, pushed across the track over and over and over.
Somehow my younger self does not tire of such repetitive antics, and again the train cars go around the tracks. Sometimes they fall off, taking up precious time in the endless loop as I pick them up and replace them carefully in the line. Sometimes the cars won't fit together – same poles repel one another. My younger self makes a game of it, trying to force the magnets as close as possible. The magnets are not that strong; they can be forcibly connected.
But then the train is circling the tracks again, and everything seems right once more.
A voice drifts down the stairs, calling from the parents' bedroom. My younger self curls up with the train tracks, ignoring, but Dad stands up, a sigh escaping his lips. The magazine takes up residence in the denim chair, and he walks through the hallway, towards the stairs. The dog stares after him, then jumps up, nestling on the vacated seat cushion. He's not supposed to be up there.
The radio is still on, still playing the end to Prairie Home Companion. I'm still on the floor, still listening, still playing with the railroad tracks and trains and magnets.
Raised voices filter through the air. My younger self plays on, unconcerned. Something crashes upstairs. I might be deaf for all the notice I show. Commonplace, commonplace…
My sister is crying in the room upstairs, across from my parents' room, now. Her voice is high-pitched voice, squalling after having been awoken. The voices escalate, though the words are unclear. My younger self is still playing, still curled up. My younger self seems to not hear the growing screaming. My younger self is crying.
Open my eyes, and the vision of myself isn't there. Little details are gone. The blue denim chair has been replaced with a red, plush velvet one. The floor is mostly covered in carpeting. A leather couch takes up space on one wall; a fireplace commandeers another. The cast iron set for the fireplace sits next to my chair, resting on the left. It's black, and wires hang all over it, some strange science experiment. My iPod connector, the cords for my laptop and cell phone, my headphones.
Black flowers from my swim team mingle with white ones, a senior gift. Senior…
Has it really been that long?
Microsoft Word is still blank, still waiting for something to bloom on its pages. My essay for AP English doesn't want to rewrite itself. I guess I'm stuck doing that then. Later, though. Always later. After I build a fire, maybe. The room's too cold, otherwise.
The fireplace fights with me. It's smoky, choking up old ashes to throw in my face when I pull the door open and begin to stock it with chunks of firewood in the wood-bin off to the side. I remember dad doing this when I was younger. The matches set fire to crumpled newspaper stuffed into every available nook and cranny. It flares up. Heat rushes out, making my skin feel dry and raw. The wood begins to crackle, complaining at being broken down into its basic elements.
Comfortably lit up now, it burns softly, gently –
The wood is flat, with dimpled edges. My fingers brush across it, pick up a splinter. I dump it and others like it into the fire, and slam the door shut behind them. Through the glass, I watch, as my childhood memories go up in flames.