So, I just finished my draft for my Fiction class. Not too excited about it, hoping to get some feedback in class tomorrow. Maybe y’all here can give me some suggestions as well. Otherwise, enjoy!
Interior Design by Liz Van Buren
Morning peeked its head through the yellow cotton curtains. The reflection it created enhanced the sun’s rays against the stark white walls of my bedroom. But what woke me is the low drone of the television, left on from the previous night, now playing a rerun of I Love Lucy. In bed, I tumbled over myself, curling into an inhuman ball of limbs. At seven a.m., I was not yet ready to face the day.
A soft breeze filtered through the propped window and underneath the golden cloth, so that the yellow illumination danced across the wall with each small gust. My deep shadow seemed abrasive against the egg yolk wallpaper, cracking and peeling from years of unattended water damage. With a prolonged stretch of stiff muscles and tired bones, I finally rose to greet the morning. An impression of Pete’s slumber lay next to me on my right. He never cared to sleep on the other side. In the beginning, Pete would rather I be awake when he wakes up, but now he would leave me sleeping as he crept out to go to work.
I worked from home, so I had a lot of alone time, most of which was consumed by weekly chores. When I was recovering from my injury three years ago, I was unable to go to work. Pete wouldn’t allow for it anyway. It’s not like I was handicapped or anything, but he worried about me going out in my condition. He really cared. Now, even though I was fully recovered and cleared to get any job I could, I still worked from home as Pete’s secretary of his furniture company. At this point, I was just used to it. At first, I would stay home and answer the phones all day, but these days Pete and I did a lot of shopping in town for lumber and fabrics.
I changed out of my pajamas – one of Pete’s once-white T-shirts, now discolored by time and sweat – and began excavating our neglected house in search of empty beer cans and overflowing ashtrays. I then washed the sun-dust off the windows with the tired cotton rags. Mopping the tiled kitchen floor involved several attempts, for our footprints were conserved with dirt; you could trace our journeys over the week through the house. The last task was always to vacuum the combination of a week’s worth of food crumbs, wood chips from the bottom of Pete’s boots, and the dust that collected on our raspberry carpets during my cleaning.
The tedium of cleaning often seemed to be of no use, because our deserted flat was five miles outside the nearest town. There was nothing to see, and nobody with whom to bask in this nothingness, except for Pete of course. But even still, he was never happy if the house was messy, and since I owed him my life, a little cleaning was insignificant in the grander scheme of things.
After wiping the remaining streak marks from the high windows, my gaze fell upon the outside world. I almost forgot what it looked like out there. In spring, the irises swallowed our home, opening themselves to the world and consequently closing us in from it. But now, in the winter, the naked branches stood like corpses, mummified by the snow.
Pete and I had been together for about four years, but I moved in with him right after my accident. When I met him I knew that there would be nothing to separate us, except for a five-year age difference. Though the accident and my consequential shock left me with only vague flashes of unpolished memories, I did know that a negligent driver hit me during one of the town’s heaviest hurricanes. Authorities told Pete that my car must have swerved sharply off the road, driving through the guardrail and down the steep shoulder, wrapping itself around a thick redwood trunk, an unfortunately common occurrence for teenagers. When I saw Pete in the waiting room the morning I was discharged, I knew I just had to stay with him.
Just like clockwork, he returned home every Friday at six p.m. Weekends were our time to spend together, free of his labors of running a business. For the first few years we were together, his need for relaxation resulted in us staying inside most weekends. I didn’t have many friends, and Pete was always happier to have me around the house when he came home. But just recently, we started driving into town every Friday for a walk around the block and lunch in his favorite café. I had to admit, it was nice to be outside.
It was the first weekend of January, so the streets were still sprinkled with the remnants of the New Year festivities – crumpled noisemakers under sidewalk benches, streamers imprinted with the bottom of snow boots, broken novelty sunglasses and crowns. As we walked, Pete’s hand gripping my hip towards his, I remembered hearing faint cheering from behind the full forest of empty trees at that stroke of midnight. When Pete shook me out of my memory, I couldn’t help but see a teenage boy – only a few years younger than I was – staring at me from across the street, like my eyes were drawn to him. He was sitting on a bench, legs and arms akimbo. He looked purposeful, like a watchman. Though his stare was not menacing, it was obvious he was thinking about something, which was still unnerving. As Pete and I continued on the slushy path, he followed us with his eyes, still thinking. He watched and watched until we turned the corner and he was out of sight. In my last moments in his line of vision, I looked back. I realized at that moment that he was looking at me like he knew me. Only he didn’t know how, so he was trying to figure it out. I never mentioned it to Pete. He was always a little territorial of me because he cared so much. I squished my body tighter against Pete’s for protection.
I forgot all about that incident until our next walk the following week.
Pete had to buy more cigarettes, so we stopped in the gas station two stores down from the café. He didn’t want me standing alone outside, though I never liked the awkward looks I got from the clerks. My eyes were focused on a pile of crumbling snow outside while he searched for his favorite brand. So I didn’t notice her approaching from across the street, and I wasn’t aware of the nervous look in her eye.
“Abby?” Her head was cocked to the right and her brows were pinching the top of her nose as though forced together with a needle. She stood there like a tree stump, frozen, beneath layers of winter garb. Her eyes bulged with delirium. She was standing in the doorjamb.
“Abby!” She called to me again. I had no choice but to respond, as she was now right in front of me.
“No ma’am I think you have the wrong per– ”
“But…oh but it has to be you, Abbs. It just has to be!” She was processing my body with her eyes – down to my toes, up to my hair, and back down again. It was as if she were trying to make sense of me. She went to touch my hand but Pete made sure that didn’t happen.
“No seriously, lady! You’ve got the wrong girl. ‘Scuse me.” He ignored the insistent expression on her face and pulled me out of the store, pushing across the strange woman’s body angrily.
But she didn’t stop. She followed us outside and though I wasn’t looking at her, I could hear that her voice was several steps behind us. She must have stopped.
“I would recognize her face anywhere,” she called out. This piqued my interest, so in spite of Pete, I turned around. “Don’t you remember? You’re my daughter!”
The bright spotlights shining through the translucent curtains gave the illusion of midday at midnight. I nudged my face against the front door window but all I remember is a white orb of light stinging my eyes all the way into my brain. I was blind to everything in front of me. I heard the cocking of weapons so I imagined the SWAT team raised their arms to their faces when they saw mine through the filthy window. I hadn’t cleaned the house at all that week.
In an instant, even through the light of emergency vehicles and blinding spotlights, I started to see everything clearly. I knew I recognized the boy on the bench. He had my eyes, and it was like I was staring at myself. It was Michael. But most importantly, I saw my mother. Not as she was that night, standing outside my once-home anxious to have me on the other side of the door; nor as she was that day outside the gas station, jittery, disoriented. No, I saw her as she was on my sixteenth birthday, calm, performing spatula arts in the kitchen as she prepared my favorite meal. She greeted me with a smile that morning, and a gift – a hand-decorated journal. Of course, it was the day I disappeared.
Yes, I saw it now. There was no accident. Flashing, cryptic images were slowly fitting themselves together. I walked to school that morning. I turned the corner. It was the path leading to the back entrance of the building. My friends, they stood at that entrance just before homeroom everyday, sharing a pack of Newports stolen from Kim’s mother’s carton. Before I arrived, before I could smell the familiar hint of nicotine, I was pulled by my hair, my face forced into a napkin of a toxic liquid. The last thing I can recall – faintly, however – was my leg being broken in what I think was the backseat of a van.
Now though, Pete was behind me, tugging at the tattered flannel shirt he had me wear and muttering some helpless plea, crazed just as my mother was that afternoon last week. From his eyes, I gathered he was begging me to stay, but I couldn’t hear him over the booming sounds of a man’s voice projected into a megaphone, carefully instructing me to come outside.
Returning home after being kidnapped has been difficult. It’s been challenging putting the pieces altogether, readjusting to my family, and my bedroom. When Pete took me, we stayed relatively close by; he thought it would throw everyone off. But he kept me inside for so long that everything seemed unrecognizable. If my brother hadn’t seen me in the park that day I’d still be with Pete. To be honest, there are days when I miss him. He never allowed us to have pictures in the house, but I have a distinct memory of his face: the harsh curl of his eyebrows, his jowls like a bloodhound. It’s the only memory that’s truly been mine in the last five years.