“I don’t even care anymore. They can go kill each other. I swear I won’t even care. I won’t even cry.”
I put my phone beside me on my bed and breathed out slowly. They were duking it out in the kitchen again. It didn’t seem to matter that we lived in a three-floor house, the kitchen being the furthest from the stairs leading to the upper landing. The shouting during their “discussions” permeated the floorboards and traveled up the heating ducts. Closing doors and covering your ears with a pillowdoesn’t help. I should know.
And so my room became my refuge, a place free from whatever storm was raging outside of its walls. No matter how angry they got, I always knew that I could walk into my room, sit on my bed, and forget they existed. And I always knew that Rhea would be there, ready to help me with my homework, watch a movie, or just talk.
Without her, my room was beginning to feel more like a prison. An empty silence had taken over the house. No Backstreet Boys blaring from the stereo, Rhea singing along. The space above her bed was bare, clear of the posters that now hung in her dorm at the university. Our walk-in closet was now three quarters empty; she always had more clothes, and I used to borrow from her instead of buying my own. Now the closet was too big; a lot like everything else in my life. Her bed was across from mine, and some nights I would stare at the empty space, wishing for her so that I could have someone to talk to.
“….how bad is it this time?” Rhea texted back. I shrugged, but then remembered that she couldn’t see me. The truth was I had no idea what they were fighting about. I had lost track of who-did-what after Rhea left. I walked to the door and stuck my head out into the hall. I could hear Dad’s deep voice, his words slow and measured. That always pissed Mom off; she felt like he was treating her like a child. I strained to make out his words.
“…….and we’re not getting anywhere. Nowhere. So we can keep yelling or we can do something.” I heard a snort. Mom.
“You know what? Do something. Get up, get out of this house, do something. Nothing’s ever good enough for you, so why don’t you change it?” Her voice went up at the end, and I could imagine her, standing at the opposite end of the kitchen counter, one hand on her hip, eyes blazing. Dad would have his head in his hands, leaning his elbows on the counter. He would still be in one of his two work uniforms; both were faded from spending too much time in the washer.
It was always like that with them; Mom would be angry, Dad would be patronizing, which would make her even angrier, which would lead to further patronizing, until Mom stomped off to her room or Dad left. When we were kids, I would always cry when he left. I was afraid that he would never come back, and Rhea would stand with me at the door until he did. My dad wasn’t perfect; I knew that now. But as a kid, he was the one who came home with ice cream as a surprise, the one who taught me how to rollerblade. And the idea of him walking out of my life forever was enough to make me stop eating for a week. That was when I still cared. Now, if either of them decided to leave, I would feel relief; maybe they would remember I existed.
I shut the door and locked it. I tossed my phone onto the bed and looked around the room for some sort of distraction. Staring at the bare walls, twin beds, and the black writing desk that was never used for writing, I realized that the room was beginning to resemble a prison cell. I walked to the window and pulled up the blinds. As I did, I noticed a thin layer of dust had formed on it and the writing desk.
Opening the window, I took a deep breath. A musty odour had taken over my room, and the windows were beginning to look more translucent than transparent. It had been a cloudy day, and the clouds cast a dark shadow on the houses. A sea of yellow dandelions had taken over the backyard, the only thing that had bothered to grow. Year after year. Mom had a gardening phase at once. She tried to grow pansies, tulips and any other seed she got her hands on. The third week into summer vacation, she joined the community book club, leaving the flowers in the care of an eight year old. The plants didn’t make it out of the ground.
The phone on my bed vibrated. Reluctantly, I left the window. Picking up the phone, I felt an unfamiliar openness in my chest.
“That bad?” she texted. I forgot that I hadn’t replied. I immediately punched back a reply, knowing that if I didn’t, she would call me to hear if I was still alive. Rhea was all about honest feelings and talking things out. They never used to fight as much as they have been, now that she’s gone. She used to play the mediator, trying to understand what they were going on about.
“No, sorry, they’re fine……or not.” I paused. “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” I wasn’t their mediator. Let them fight it out. When they were done, I would grab something to eat and go to sleep. Some nights lasted hours and I would go to bed on an empty stomach.
It took me a few seconds to hear it, but then the yelling got louder and I could make out their words clearly. Their quarrels had become the soundtrack of my life, but this wasn’t arguing anymore. My dad rarely yelled, but now I could hear him over my mom. I felt something prickling my stomach. I heard the scrape of a chair on the ground, and his heavy footsteps on the stairs. I was barely aware of my phone vibrating in my hand.
Someone was fumbling with the doorknob.I remembered locking the door, and was dimly aware that I should go open it. But my body remained rooted to the bed. I heard my dad’s voice on the other side, but I couldn’t make out his words anymore. I don’t know how long he stood there. Then I heard his slow steps moving away, back down the stairs. I heard the sound of the front door opening, and then shutting. The sound of the car engine coming to life drifted through the open window. The crunch of the wheels on the gravel, growing distant. And then silence. Inside and out.
My phone was ringing. I didn’t move to answer it. For once, I just sat there, staring at the white walls, wondering why I didn’t paint it another colour after Rhea left. I leaned back on the wall, the open window letting a light breeze into the room. The sky had turned a darker shade of grey, hinting at a storm on its way. The phone went dead. I closed my eyes and, breathing out slowly. And then it began to ring. Again. This time, I answered.
“Hello? Hello? Hey, Taryn? You there?” I felt my throat constrict. Breathe, I told myself. Breathe. Everything’s fine. “Tary, you’re really scaring me. Are you okay?” I opened my mouth to tell her I was fine. I was just overreacting. I knew he would be back. And even if he didn’t, I wouldn’t care.
But this time, I knew he was gone. Gone forever. And so I opened my mouth.