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From across the vacant road, her eyes fixed on the emptied window frames and hazmat suits, a woman watches. She stands perfectly still, a raincoat-clad statue, gaze unblinking as muffled sounds of demolition ring from the hunched and sagging building.
“I spoke to a mission Youth Group from Ohio last Sunday…I think they’re working on your old house....”
She has resolved not to speak to the crew now smashing drywall in its depths. Even from here, she can catch, over the smell of rain, the acrid odors of mud and must, old wood and dust.
Paul bakes biscotti every Christmas Eve, and each Easter, she and the children await the tangy aroma of stuffed duck. A small, scuffed little table near the back serves all five of them, though just barely. Paul has always been the more capable chef.
She fills her lungs with chilled air, and she just wants to catch just a hint of those smells instead of the ones now filling her throat. The broad windows are empty eye sockets, beyond which hammers and crowbars bring down wall after wall without mercy, leaving only the bleached bones of construction.
The teens have sheared the drywall cleanly away from the house’s frame, and some have set to work with hammers and crowbars. She can’t see them wrenching at the crooked, bloody-rusted nails, but she can hear iron squealing against wood. Beyond, two of the adults deposit one of the pianos in the gargantuan scarlet dumpster, and its decaying strings yowl with tension, the plaintive groan of waterlogged wood creeping through moist air.
Some days, when her voice is not overly strained by teaching, she can sometimes cajole Paul into adding his soft, satiny bass to her own voice. Over the years, they’ve worn a groove in the words of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Johnny Cash. The antique Strauss piano has never needed tuning, and will hopefully remain that way for generations to follow.
The painfully crisp contrast is nearly too much, and her eyes sting and burn. When it becomes overwhelming, she will turn back to her temporary place in Indiana, taking up her son’s guest bedroom. She resents these teenagers, who will return to their true homes once their week here is exhausted.
Other children fill those rooms with chatter and laughter. Hourly flashes of sound from the doorbell punctuate Wednesdays and Fridays, and for eight hours a week, clumsy fingers stagger over ivory keys, picking out hesitant tunes. The days of music.
Shame seeps into her thoughts here, clinging to the bitterness—look at them, working so hard. See, there, the one who hauls the buckets of rubble out just for a snatch of fresh air. These children ought to be taking advantage their free schedules, but they’re not. They’re here, where a year ago the surface of the water would have been five feet above their heads.
A step forward. Tentative, unsure what she plans to say. Another step. Over the asphalt, hands trembling. An adult turns, eyes meeting hers. And despite the dust-powdered bandanna, the filter mask and goggles misted by breath, she sees the smile.
“…his heart eventually…” Pause. Swallow. “We’re sorry, Ma’am… Ma’am?”
She steps forward, to the front door that will someday be hers again.