Inside the House Inside
She sits safe on a grassy bank by the stream eating handfuls of stale raisins, watches the water flow by. Little ripples and currents carry twigs and leaves downstream. She hears the croak of a frog from the other side – might try and catch it, might not.
This is a place to be away from the house – the grind and spit of what goes on in there. It’s a small wooden house – on the outskirts of town – looks normal enough – but what goes on inside that house skewed way off normal long ago. And though she doesn’t have much to compare her days with, she knows her days don’t go right – no no – what goes on in that house is not what goes on in other houses, surely?
Curtains drawn, bedroom light off until 2:00 in the afternoon, her mother coffined up in her bed and refusing to rise up out of it – shrouded up in the white sheets and shivering set to quake the foundations of the house and shake the teeth out of her head. Sick sick sick.
Her father: pacing in the kitchen and yelling senseless at the cat – screaming at it to get out of his kitchen. Her father – belly-blown and unshaven and unwashed for days, screaming up the stairs at her mother:
“Get that cat out of the house – if you don’t, I’ll wring its fucking neck – where’s my breakfast?” And then, turning to his daughter, “What’re you doing here, you stupid monkey? You’re no good for anything.” This last bit yelled at her – the small child, child alone, waifish thing, tangled hair and weak, thin with the neglect of years – and so –
This morning like every other summer morning she runs out the back door barefoot across the yard and over the back fence to sit by this little ragged stream and listen to the frogs. To watch twigs float, slow turning down slow currents, and to build a boat out of tree bark and stone it with pebbles to sink it down.
There’s no reckoning this. She can’t hold in her mind the palish, deadish mother quaking under the sheets, the father stamping down the kitchen floor and yelling – once flinging the cat out the window – the child screaming and running after the furball of fear to pick it up, to clutch it close to her chest, to calm it down, to save it save it save its life, and carry it to the stream to sit with her – but the cat clawed her neck and ran off.
At 2:00 the mother will stumble up into the dim afternoon and creep down the stairs, hooked over the banister, clutching on to it, and shuffle into the kitchen to make coffee. Doesn’t eat though. This thing she has won’t let her eat. Sick sick sick and dead pale with it, all pale and all shivers.
And the daughter doesn’t know what that thing is that is destroying the mother. She sees the flat eyes, the jutted bones, the cast of deep shadow, but can’t ask the why of those bones, those shadows.
And she doesn’t know the thing that is destroying the father either – she sees him in his rage, but can’t imagine the cause or even ask if there is one. It’s who he is – this rage – it’s all of him – who he’s always been and how she’s always known him.
And so she makes do for herself, lives on bread and peanut butter that she folds into her pocket, and in the summer, lives the long long day outside and settles in by the old straggle of a stream to watch twigs and bugs float by on the murk, and sit quiet on the grass – removed from that house of hate.
She crouches by the stream and waits with a terror in her belly until she has to go back. To eat. To sleep.
Sundown. Knows the mother will stare at her like she’s an urchin come in off the street – those flat deadish eyes under eyelids sunk down, raggish hair, face white. Knows the father might pick her out for his next target – if not the cat, if not the mother, then her.
The willow on the other side grazes the bank. The sun now throwing tree shadows all over, that old fallen tree about a mile up, where it bridges the stream, could cross it and go on through the night, through trees, knock on doors and get taken in somewhere. But can’t – the father would get mad. She stands and turns and forces the flats of her feet to drag her back to the house. She looks like the mother now.
And down the years, first scant then fleet, she’ll carry all of this with her: sick mother, raging father, and the old wooden house structured up inside her. She’ll never get rid of it – every event, every moment of her life will step and shift inside the walls of that house, built up rotten board by rotten board by rotten board within her.
One morning in her thirty-fifth year – in a tiny apartment, no job, no money, the father of her child long gone – she will scream at her own small daughter who’s opening the fridge and taking out a plastic cup of peaches – to get the hell out of the kitchen and what does she think she’s doing here, and “Get out or I’ll throw you out, you stupid monkey – I’ll…” she stops there. Stops and stares at her child, sits at the kitchen table, staring at her child, seeing God knows what or who.
She’s held hostage in the house. In her memory it is long gone, but inside of herself it will always stand, rotten boards piled up and hoarded up and roofed over within. And she’ll always be there inside, standing in the kitchen, small child, child alone, waifish thing, tangled hair and weak, thin with the neglect of years.
Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival. She began writing short fiction six years ago, and since then her stories have appeared in journals in Canada, the UK and the USA, including Burningword Literary Journal, Litro UK and USA, Fairlight Books, the Chiron Review, Into the Void and Fiction International.
© Variant Literature Inc 2021