The only memory I have of that house is the crescent view I had from inside it. Fluorescent neighbours had smiles plastered to their faces as they jogged, walked, and strolled down the lane. I could never forget that house across the street and to the left. It, too, was white and pale blue, lacking in fervour just as the town did. A grimed fence jutted out from what was supposed to be a lawn. That day, a boy who had slipped and impaled himself hung from it.
Crimson drained from him and washed over the wooden slats, and I could hear a girl screaming. She ran from that house and tried to lift him from the fence, her tears and hysteria drenching him. In her fumbling, I saw his face, eyes unfocused and swollen. A rusted car pulled into the drive and a woman stepped out. She came to the girl’s side and together they lifted him, and then laid him out on the grass, his body limp and disjointed. My dad bolted across the street and offered to call an ambulance, but the woman calmed him and took the boy inside.
I was 17 when we started unloading our burdens into that house with no promises; dad was already putting away pots in cabinets while my mother drove back to get something we hadn’t forgotten at a house that wasn’t ours.
“There isn’t even a hospital for miles, Clark,” my mother said the month before, filling her fourth glass of wine.
“They have a clinic.” My dad watched her sip.
“That’s only open three days of the week. Not to mention—”
“I want you to tell him it’s over, Darlene.”
Mother sucked in some air and pinched the bridge of her nose for a long moment.
“If any of this matters to you, you will tell him it’s over,” he said quietly, trying to be tender but firm.
I answered the door in a mass of layers. I had contracted a fever—the kind that, as a child, I would tell my dad felt like my eyes were cooking in my skull. Many a time I was sick after changes in my life. I still struggle with this even as an adult. Upon opening the mahogany door, a cold gust hitched in my throat, and my eyes watered as they settled on him. The boy stood transfixed next to the scarecrow of a woman who had pulled into the driveway of that house the day before.
“Hi, is your dad home?” she said, bending to me slightly with sincerity in her gaze.
I glanced up at her, shivering, but still faced him, my hands going cold.
She sighed and held out a clunky tin that was covered in tulips and green. “Morgan and I wanted to thank your dad for helping us yesterday. Elena was new and didn’t know about his illness…”
His skin was pale and warmed around his eyes and lips, but not in a way that was irritated. My vision was clearing and I could see the mother’s knuckles whiten from her grasp on him, while he held her hand gently, as if holding a precious object. The other hand hung from his side, abandoned. He wore a maroon shirt underneath a jean jacket and matching pants, one side of his collar flipped up. It was his shoes that redeemed my sanity. They were once grey but had been bleached vigorously to no avail. A brownish red coated the lining where fabric met plastic.
I was suddenly able to breathe through my nose—a function I hadn’t had for the past day—and I could take in the chemicals and fresh conditioner of his clothes. My body felt hot, not from the sweat of a cold, but as if the sun were on me. Aching joints and muscles could now stretch freely without throbbing. A ringing began in my ears and I could feel myself being lifted—
“They’re chocolate chip oatmeal,” the woman coaxed.
When I did nothing but stare at the tin, he pulled at my pant leg. I met his eyes, and they widened earnestly. Please.
The next time I saw him die was on my way home from school. Most of the neighbourhood kids took the same dirt path. It was often suctioned to shoes and unforgiving from the number of rainstorms we had. I only noticed him by the wisps of white that escaped his dark hoodie. He strode alone, not quite briskly but not lazily either. A group of boys and girls flitted in between us, kicking at debris and leaves that stuck in the hardening ground. One boy came across a particularly stubborn rock. Digging his foot in deep behind it, he practically fell over as it shot free from its muddy prison. There was a dull crack and Morgan slumped to his knees. The children became silent and took off up the path, careful not to trip over him.
I was able to catch him before he hit the ground, his head flopping back on my shoulder and the rock popping out. His eyes locked with mine as I watched the light drain and them slowly roll into the back of his skull. I dropped him in shock as I realized: I had lived in the city but never seen a body. Staring at his limp frame, I wondered if it was truly over this time, and even slightly wished it was. But I gathered myself, threw his arm over my shoulder, and began the longest walk I have ever taken in my life.
It wasn’t long before I reached the opening to the neighbourhood and I could’ve sworn he was warming up again. I let his head hang forward, covered by the hood. Then, I slipped my tuque over the wound, checking now and again to see if blood was seeping out. As I started along the sidewalk, the rusted car pulled up, almost mounting the curb in front of me. Morgan’s mother opened the back door and helped me load him into a back seat that was covered with towels. When she offered me the front seat, I declined and cradled his face in my lap. I could feel heat coming from his cheek, almost searing to the touch.
“He’s burning up,” I told her. She jumped.
“Yeah, he gets back to normal after about an hour, but it really depends on how bad it is.”
“Someone kicked a rock and it hit him in the head.”
“I doubt they meant it.” She glanced at me in the rear-view mirror.
My parents were bickering as I walked in the door, but they tried to hide it. Mother was drinking wine again and dad was attempting to hide the glass from his vision with a newspaper. I sat down at the table, picked at a piece of bread, and read the side of the paper:
“Ellen M. Green was born in London, England, October 12, 1915 and passed away October 13, 2016 at her residence after a long and satisfying life.”
As their discussion got heated, my dad let the paper drop and it floated down to my toes:
“Robert Lee…died peacefully surrounded by family…”
“Christy Elms…at the age of 101…”
“Lois Kesey… died in his sleep…”
Not one of them were below the age of ninety. There was no mention of a child or even a remotely brutal death. Icy eyes and the sensation of warmth floated through my mind. I rested my head as a weight slowly placed itself on my shoulders and a cumbersome theory floated through my mind.
My parents divorced two months later, and we moved in a frenzy to abandon our assumptions of being a family. Mother claimed we moved because of the town.
“It’s so closed off from the world a person could drown here.”
At the time, I thought it was the wine that she was drowning in, but as I got older I too drowned in materials and people.
I never did tell my dad about the tin. It sits in my cupboard in my apartment, in a bustling city with too many faces.
Phoebe Strike is a 21-year-old snarky college student with a strong love of comics, good beer, dry humour, and old movies. She’s an aspiring fiction and content writer who enjoys writing humour pieces as well as slice of life. Her plan is to hone her skills in whatever writing industry she can get her hands on.