“I love the color of these walls.” She leaned into her husband and he immediately put his arms around her to support her weight. “It’s the perfect color. The perfect shade of green. I think it complements the sky brilliantly.” She looked out of the huge window. She sighed. Her bottom lip quivered. “I’m so glad we went with the bigger window. It lets in so much light. That’s what this room needed; more light.” Her eyes began to brim with tears. “I’m glad we went with the sheer curtains so the light can shine into our beautiful new living room.” Her voice shook. “A remodel is exactly what this room needed,” she sobbed.
He pet her head.
“I know,” He whispered.
The living room was just one of many remodels they had been through together. It was like a family tradition. It was a way to forget. A way to heal. As if new paint, carpet, wall art and furniture could mend the scars left behind. It did a good job for the most part. Every time their lives were ravaged by their old friend, the room was made new again. All traces forgotten. When their friend visited and they weren’t home, it was the easiest to move on. A quick remodel and he was forgotten. But when he stopped by, unannounced, while they were home, it was devastating. The worst was when they were asleep. Or when their kids were young. The kids were teenagers now, and prepared. They had done it enough to follow out the plan smoothly. But this last visit… Oh, this last visit… They thought they had learned from their mistakes.
It had been eighteen months since the last time their friend came to call. He hadn’t been to see them in this new house. They thought they had finally broken free of the curse. They hung family photos on the wall, something they knew they should never do; Left out valuable items, items they knew should have been in a safe box; and bought expensive furniture for this new home. This curse free home. That’s why this time was the hardest blow yet. They weren’t prepared. They had gotten comfortable.
“It’s not you.”
“It is me and you know it. This was never a problem for you before you married me. What kind of a woman curses her family like this?”
“I don’t feel cursed.”
“I should have never married you. And our poor children. They don’t deserve this. There aren’t any photos of them as children besides the ones family members have.” Their homes are safe. Mine isn’t.
“This is not your fault. I still would have married you, knowing all I know. I’ll do it again too if you want.”
She walked away. She couldn’t let him support her anymore. “We need a divorce. This will kill us all. Take the children and run far away.”
“Come sit down. You look tired.”
“I am tired.”
“I can’t sit down. I have to start our divorce.”
“You can do that tomorrow. For now, come sit down.”
“This will kill us all. You have to be a safe distance from me. You had no idea what you were getting yourself into.”
“I didn’t get myself into anything I can’t handle. Come sit down.”
But she didn’t. She walked into the kitchen. What color would they paint the kitchen when she lost control of what she was cooking? Maybe they’d buy a new dining set because of a wiring problem with the chandelier.
Throughout the years they had learned to love the refreshing change of the remodel. They did up the girl’s bathroom in a spunky fuchsia because of a curling iron. The basement was turned into a game room with a pool table after an electrical incident with the big screen TV. They bought a beautiful sleigh bed because of a candle. They didn’t buy candles anymore. Or unnecessary electrical appliances. They had learned to live without TV and gaming devices. Their home was simple. Safe. Or so she thought. But there was no escaping her fate.
This wasn’t new to her. She had been plagued as a child. Her family believed it was a family curse and they began making modifications for their safety when she was young. But the curse was hers alone. It followed her to college and her family was released from its grasp. They became lazy and comfortable like every other house in America that wasn’t infected with this chronic illness. Her family had been free ever since. But she had not. And then she married. And he was not safe. Then she was foolish enough to have kids and allow them to be raised with this blight. She had to free them.
“I’m going to go see a lawyer. I’ll be back soon.”
“All right love, if that will make you feel better. We’ll have dinner waiting for you when you get home.”
“I won’t be home. I’m going to rent an apartment and stay there tonight. Please pack up my things and have them waiting outside for me. I’ll get them after I’m done with the lawyer.”
“I don’t like the way you’re talking. You need to stop this nonsense. You’re just upset. We’ll be more cautious.”
“Don’t you see it doesn’t matter what we do.” She was shouting. “This is the only way to keep you safe. I love you too much to live with you. I love you too much to make you share in my misfortune.” Her shouts instantly became a whisper, “I love you. So. Much.”
They stared at each other silently. Breathlessly. She picked up her purse and walked out of his life.
Her apartment was nice. She made a lot of money on her own so she spared no expense in finding a nice place she could call home and stuffed it with the most beautiful objects. Having lavish possessions would help her see that her life was so much better now. When she sat on her sofa she could tell that it was high quality. This couch was so much better than the one at her ex-husband’s home. The china in the cupboard was so much more elegant than the ceramic they had used in her old life. This apartment was better. Her life was better. She felt safe in this life. She got up. She went to work. She met with her book club on Mondays. She volunteered on Wednesdays. She drank a cup of tea in the evenings as she watched the news. Her life was clutter free. There was nothing to worry about here. Nothing to be concerned about. No one to protect. She was safe in this life. Weeks and months came with nothing to remodel and she ticked half a year away in mundane motions feeling perfectly adequate with her hollow existence.
She heard the sound during her tea and news routine one evening. This wasn’t that kind of neighborhood she though; it couldn’t have been a gun shot. But it was so loud. It was so close. She looked out the window that faced the street. The petulant resident of 4B was walking her equally unbearable poodle. All was calm. It must have been a car backfiring. Wasn’t that what everyone tells themselves the ominous sound was to abate their fear? She sat back down to finish her news but she knew. She just knew her old friend was lurking. She couldn’t relax or focus. She couldn’t let the sound pass. The gunshot sound wasn’t something usually associated with her old friend, but somehow she knew it, this time, it was connected. She just had to wait for It to accost her as it always did.
That’s when the first hint of the ever prominent evil made itself known. She ran through her house frantically searching for the source. She followed her intuition from the living room to the kitchen. Nothing. Her instincts lead her through her home searching high and low. Finally she followed her nose to a vent coming out of the floor in her bedroom. It was downstairs. She didn’t foresee that option in her master plan to stay away from her menacing destiny. She called the police. They were on their way. She grabbed her bag. THE bag. The bag she had kept at the ready since high school when she became weary of perpetually losing essential possessions.
She checked the front door handle. Cold. She ran out into the hall but stopped. At the stairs she was met face to face with her nemesis. She looked at him boldly and told him what she told him every time. “Today isn’t the day.” She ran back in to the momentary comfort of her home. A home she knew she would never see again. As she hoisted herself out of her bedroom window she turned around to see It chasing after her. Coming straight for her. This was getting personal and she knew it was only a matter of time. She won today, but she had a feeling that next time. Maybe next time, it would be his turn to win.
She stood on the street watching a sight she was intimately familiar with, huddling with the bystanders, rubberneckers and victims. As the details of the evening began to arise, fact and rumors mixed together to create a story for tomorrow’s news. It was concluded that after the beautiful, charismatic woman who lived below her in 3G moved out of the apartment three weeks ago. The man she left behind could not recover. His despondency took a turn this evening as he realized he could not endure his life without her. He wrote her a heartfelt goodbye that reeked of the desperation that caused her to leave in the first place. He placed it in a waterproof container, which he placed in a bowl of water that he left on the kitchen counter. He then went to his bedroom and set a match to his comforter. Once he was satisfied that his apartment was well on its way to rid his life of her existence, he sat down to a bottle of whiskey and his Walther PPK. That was she had heard from her apartment above. She had been wrong before; this just might be that kind of neighborhood.
Well into the night, after the commotion died down, she began to walk. She didn’t know where she was going but her feet did. They were taking her to the place she should never have left. As she came to an awareness of where she was headed she knew it was only right. She had time to think while her unconscious carried her the distance. She had time to realize that her fate was just that. The inevitability of it all put her priorities into perspective. Her head had cleared. The last twelve months had been the most worry free she had experienced in her existence, yet it was hollow, and still held the same outcome. She shook her head and cleared away the nonsense she had allowed to fill it. Whatever was in store for her, she needed to spend the interim with the people who mattered. She needed to live while she was alive.
She arrived home as the sun was rising. She stood on the porch staring at the front door. She didn’t know how to turn the knob. Would her family want to see her again? Would walking out on them for “their own good” be something they could overcome? What would be her reception on the other side? The door stared back at her without indication. It was keeping their secret and she would have to muster her courage to find out.
As she reached out her hand the knob turned beneath her fingers. Her husband clasped her hand and led her inside. It was nice to see these walls again. They were the perfect shade of green.
No one made reference to her absence. They all knew that she had to do it. She had to make a courageous effort to keep them safe and they knew she would return when she learned that safety wasn’t the most important essential in life.
Weeks and months came with nothing to remodel and she began to breathe again. She ticked time away in captivating motions and emotions, feeling perfectly adequate with her gratifying existence, happy once again to live and let the rest happen as it would. Her friend left her alone for the most part. He showed his ugly face in minor ways: a flare up while cooking dinner, a mishap with the water heater, and an incident with a careless man and his cigarette while waiting for the bus. These things were all manageable and she carried on with the well tuned skills she had acquired over the years of managing such events.
“Thank you for breakfast mom.”
“It’s really good, you outdid yourself.”
“Thank you, but it isn’t anything special.”
“I have to run or I’m going to be late for school. Don’t forget I have a softball game at 3:30. Coach is finally going to start me pitching so don’t be late.”
“There is nothing that could keep me away.”
“Dad! Hurry up.”
He ran down the step, kissed his wife on the cheek and followed behind his daughter. “I love you,” He called over his shoulder as he disappeared through the opening.
She watched them as they backed down the driveway, her daughter waving frantically from the front seat, holding up her mitt to say, Don’t forget mom, this is really important. She gave her daughter a thumbs up I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
She pushed the door closed but right before the click she opened it again. It was a beautiful morning and, although she knew too many bees would take advantage if she left it open, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to let the fresh smell of spring into her home. She began her morning task before she needed to head off to work. She cleaned up the breakfast table and did the dishes. Her intuition told her to look in the fridge; she took out her husband’s lunch and set it on the counter. She would have to stop by his office and drop it off on her way to work. She wasn’t sure if he was the most forgetful man on the planet or if more than twice a week he just wanted to steal extra time with her.
While she was upstairs starting the laundry she heard the neighbor’s dog in her living room. She knew that this might be a possibility when she left the door open this morning. It wouldn’t be the first time he had made himself comfortable in their home. As she stepped down the last stair someone grabbed her around her mouth and waist. That’s when she saw a hooded figure standing by the massive window that let more light into the room.
“What is she doing here?”
“I don’t know, I thought everyone had left.”
“What are we going to do with her now?”
“We don’t have to DO anything. Let’s just leave.”
“You’re an idiot, she’ll call the police.”
“Well, let’s tie her up. I really want that TV downstairs. We might as well finish.”
Through the whole conversation she was too stunned to move but after they dragged her and a chair into the living room they released her mouth. She began to plead. She begged for her life while they tied her arms behind her back. She promised not to call the cops as they tied her legs to the chair. She implored them to release her as they shoved her own sock in her mouth. Without the use of her voice she continued to plead with her eyes. Please let me make it through your plans safely.
She watched as they carted her possessions out of her front door. Item after item struck a chord in her heart; TVs, jewelry, electronics and any cash they had hidden, all disappeared into a white moving van parked in her driveway. She wouldn’t miss her belongings. She was used to replacing her possession, but she was angry that yet another evil was robbing her of her life. This wasn’t even her old friend coming to call, yet the result was a perfect resemblance.
As her house became more and more bare she knew that she would soon be out of valuable items and they would have to decide her fate. If only her husband would come home for his lunch or a nosy neighbor would stop by to inquire about the moving van in the driveway. But no one came. And she didn’t have many possessions left for them to take.
After removing the leather sofa from the den the thieves came back in and looked around, appraising the house for anything else that might be of value.
“What do we do with her?”
“Whatever just leave her.”
“She’s seen our faces.”
“She ain’t gonna say nothin’.”
“I don’t know.”
They walked out and she breathed a sigh of relief. She watched as they walked to the van but stopped on the lawn and began to argue. She knew the argument was about her. The ugly one grabbed the swaggering one by the shirt collar and punched him in the face, and then he got into the driver’s seat. After rubbing his jaw and cursing loudly he swaggered around to the back of the van. She couldn’t tell if it was over. She held her breath. If he didn’t emerge in another minute then he was getting into the van and she was safe. If he did then he was coming to kill her. It was a fact. She waited. Tears streamed down her face. As he reappeared with his weapons she broke down sobbing, choking on her sock. She would not see her daughter pitch in her first softball game.
He swaggered to her front door with something in his hand. She knew what it was. She steeled herself. It was fitting. He burst through the door, angry with her for making him do this. As if it were her fault he had to become a murderer today. Tears streamed down her face. She whimpered. He was unaffected. He didn’t look at her as he went about his business. She followed him with her eyes. He moved from the kitchen to the dining room dumping the contents of a red canister as he walked. He splashed some on the stairs. He circled her before setting down the container of her demise. Then, almost as an afterthought he picked the canister back up and splashed some on her as well. The smell was horrid and it stung her eyes. He looked around as if he didn’t know what to do next then flicked a match before swaggering out of her home.
They say in this moment there should be a flashing. Memories would have scrolled through her mind like a slide show. But she saw nothing. She saw the sprinklers watering the lawn at her neighbor’s house. She saw a dog running down the street. The dog that she had thought was in her home. And she waited.
Finally It came for her. It came at her with a ferociousness of pent up fury after all the years she had escaped Its grasp. It worked its way along the carpet devouring tables, the bookcase, her beautiful furniture; savoring the taste of everything in Its path. As it surrounded her she looked at it with dry eyes. She always knew this would be the way. Her old friend came to finish what it started; what it had always been trying to do.
There would be no remodel this time. Her family would move. It was a shame. She really liked the color of these walls.