This piece was an assignment written for the inimitable Amy Weldon in her fiction writing workshop in September, 2010. The challenge was to write about a place in stress.
Her father shooed her toward the car like someone with a broom, trying to sweep the last bit of crumbs and debris into the dust bin. She had forgotten nothing, but she couldn’t leave yet.
“Hold on, Dad. I have to go check on something.” She ran back in the house before his weary sigh of impatience could stop her.
She opened the front door and started up the steps. Leaning forward, she climbed the stairs the same way she did when she was a little girl, using both her hands and feet to propel herself forward. At the top of the stairs, she straightened and headed across the open sitting room to the door. Its paint was scratched from signs that used to hang there; homemade proclamations to Keep Out, Girls Only and Amy’s Room.
Pushing open the door, she took a few shy steps inside and stared. There was nothing left. No furniture. No books or albums or dresser drawers filled with t-shirts and blue jeans. Only dusty impressions of posters and pictures lined the flowered wallpaper. The cork letters that spelled out her name were gone, and so was the framed picture of Scottish cows her friend Jennifer gave her in 10th grade.
Her desk with its notebooks of poetry and love letters and small metal buttons and ticket stubs from concerts had been packed away. The closet, once so full it seemed close to exploding, stretched out endlessly. Everything, every trace of her had all been wrapped, packed, boxed and carted down to the waiting U-Haul trailer. A few cobwebs along the baseboards in the corners waved slightly when the door opened. But there was nothing else left to catch even the gentlest breeze.
Except for the ghosts. She hadn’t found a packing box big enough to fit them. Their shadowy figures choked the room. One ghost sat on the floor, burning incense, thinking it covered the reek of cigarettes. A younger shade rearranged furniture in her dollhouse. One lay across the bed, lost in a book, unperturbed by the ghost who sat next to her crying over a boy who’d promised to love her forever. Forever came quicker than expected. She saw a ghost in braces, and one in hot rollers practicing painting her mouth in red lipstick. The ghosts choked the room. She saw them all. For a moment they looked back at her. Each one said, “Stay. Wait. A few more days. A few more minutes. Don’t go just yet.”
She tried to smile, tilting her head to the side. Then with a small, sad shake, she said, “I have to.” She turned and stiffened her neck so she wouldn’t look back.