June 15, 2012 by The Citron Review
by Jennifer Moffett
I didn’t know you were still in there when I opened the front door. I just wanted to measure rooms and windows. Peek under the stained carpet. I was banking on solid hardwood and a fresh start when I tagged a dining room wall for demolition, black-Sharpie words on faded wallpaper:
THIS ONE CAN GO.
I felt you watching me that day. I was alone, except for the fat black spider with a brilliant hourglass on its back. The perfect color, I thought. Hourglass Red. I would not acknowledge anything negative. Eighty-foot pine trees swayed knowingly outside the window. I gripped my notebook of the house’s penciled-in dimensions and smashed the Black Widow against the wall.
Now a dark splotch.
The week after we moved, we had to call your father — the man who sold us the house. Our alarm blared through the connection as I asked for the code to stop the chaos. Were you watching us when it happened? Did you see us sitting on the couch when our dog perked up and the cat scrambled out of the room, just before the ADT panel — untouched — started chiming? By the time I reached it, my finger hesitating midair, the button lit up with a final cheerful beep:
Hey. Could you see us eating dinner? Or hanging our pictures? Hosting parties on the brick patio? Finishing off bottles of wine? Yelling and shoving each other in the hallway? Fucking in half-anger on the perfectly finished hardwood floors? Did you see me throw the phone at him when it exploded into plastic debris against the red wall? He told me I was crazy but I knew what it meant, all the hang-ups from an unknown caller–
I thought I heard laughing. Was that you? Did you see me a year later planting red Spider Lilies in the flowerbed out front under our slanted pine trees? It was the day a white-haired widower stopped to talk. He handed me bulbs from his yard, while his Lincoln Town Car idled on the curb. He told me where to plant them. He invited me to his Garden Club. Then he told me what had happened to you in our house. What you had done. Before I could stop him, before he noticed my reaction, limited facts were released: Seventeen. Great kid. Football scholarship. 1987. Drugs.
The only son.
So, was it you who touched me during the big incident? It was the time in the bathtub when I was half-submerged on my side, pregnant belly in the tepid water. The baby was kicking, pushing the shape of its foot up into my skin. I turned over onto my back, my stomach arcing out of the water like a sea mammal trapped in a tank that’s too small.
Then I felt you.
An intense layer of dread passed over my face — only my face. When I leaned back to rinse my hair, I felt the weight of your despair pulling me under. I tried to shake it, pretend it wasn’t happening, scrub it away with my fingertips, but you wouldn’t stop. Were you still with me when I crawled out of the tub and across the floor? I was wrapped in a towel, teeth chattering, hair still soapy, grasping the corner of a blanket. I tried to breathe, but the air was too thick. I couldn’t understand why everything looked distorted and why my hands were too big, why they didn’t even look like my hands at all.
I am not in control of myself.
I guess you heard all the screaming a few months later. Colic, they called it, although no one could ever tell me the exact definition of that word. I would stay up all night singing to him, rocking him, talking to him, my precious baby. I pretended like my presence made him feel better, even though he was miserable, writhing and screaming in agony.
I don’t know how to do this.
At the time, I didn’t know what had happened right across the hall in the room I’d painted red. I didn’t know exactly where the incident had occurred until after we moved out. I wouldn’t let anyone talk about it. I didn’t even want to know your name. All I know is when I painted that room — our guest room — it needed another coat to cover all the streaks, but something told me not to. Something said this exact thing, as clear and direct as a voicemail message in my head:
Leave it alone. Just go.
That same night I had a dream. A man who looked like Jackson Pollock was in our guest room. A freshly lit cigarette hung from his mouth. He faced a wall framed with a giant rectangle of blue painting tape, different shades of red splattered inside. The cigarette smoke thickened and swirled around him until he disappeared. I woke up to my son screaming. I grabbed his blanket and wrapped him up tight — the baby burrito, we called it. I rocked him and whispered soothing things into his ear, my hand carefully protecting his head. Didn’t you hear me? I said,
It’s okay. It’s okay.
Jennifer Moffett completed her master’s degree at The University of Mississippi, where she studied short fiction. Her novel-in-progress was a short-listed finalist in the Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. Her short stories will appear in forthcoming issues of the New Orleans Review and Marco Polo Arts Mag. She teaches creative writing and literature at a community college.