burning the past

Up the stairs. Not here. Down the stairs again. Where did I leave it?

I toss cushions haphazardly to the living room floor. I rifle through kitchen drawers not really caring what disarray I leave things in. I won’t be coming back.

Up the stairs again. I rip the bedding from your bed and toss the mattress aside. I dump out dresser drawers on the floor.

“Shut up!” I shout at you.

You, who’s always reminding me of everything I’ve done wrong.

“You hid it on me, didn’t you?” I demand.

You’re silent, now, of course.

Angrily, I stomp into the bathroom. I tear apart the cabinets. I know it’s here somewhere.

“Where’d you put it?”

My pleas fall on deaf ears.

Down the stairs again. I throw the books from their shelves. Hunting. Searching.

Seeking but not finding.

“Damnit! Where did you put it?” I scream at you.

You maintain your silence. Pouting because I’ve told you to shut up, again.

Worthless. That’s what you’ve called me every day of my life. Every day. Even today.

I won’t be here to hear you call me worthless tomorrow. I won’t be here to hear you call me anything. I won’t be here to hear you.

I smile at that. The light at the end of the tunnel.

Back into the kitchen. I toss dishes from the cupboards and hear them shatter on the floor behind me. The sound of all your favorites crashing to pieces is satisfying. I toss the ones I find in the drainboard and clear the dishwasher, too.

I pull food from the pantry. I dump the open boxes and canisters. I stuff cookies in my mouth. Crumbs fall to my shirt. I really couldn’t care less. You aren’t talking to me, so you can’t remind me of all those manners you taught me. I stuff more cookies in my mouth.

“I will find it, you know,” I shout at you from my overstuffed mouth.

You don’t chastise me for my manners, and I am sure that I’ve won.

I throw open the refrigerator. I peek inside jars. I search through the leftovers in all your neatly stacked tupperware. I toss out the milk and the cream and am rewarded with a satisfying glug, glug sound as they pour out on the floor.

The freezer. Of course. Isn’t it always in the freezer? Frozen amongst the vegetables or hidden inside a box of ice cream bars?

I throw open the freezer door. I unwrap butchers cuts of meats. Disappointed to find they all contain the very meat they swore they bore.

I dump out your frozen bags of vegetables. I check your box of ice cream sandwiches. I eat one because you aren’t talking to me, so you can’t tell me not to. It’s disgusting, but I enjoy it anyway.

I discard those disgusting TV dinners I always had to eat when you went out. You don’t know I stopped eating them years ago. I learned to cook. I ate well when you weren’t home.

The fridge and freezer stand open and empty in front of me. Not there either.

Would you have hidden it in my room? Right under my nose? The last place I’d think to look?

Upstairs again. I yank the bedding from my own bed. I flip the mattress against the wall. I dump all of my drawers. I kick things about.

My toy box, full of toys of my childhood, still sits at the foot of my bed. I never play with them anymore. I left childhood things like playing behind me years ago. I just never bothered to get rid of them.

I turn it upside down and shake its contents out on the floor. Not here either.

The attic. Has to be in the attic.

Out to the hallway. I was never allowed up in the attic.

“Try to stop me now!”

You’re obnoxiously quiet now. I pull the cord that brings the ladder down from the ceiling in the hallway. The smell of death assaults me.

“What did you do?” I whisper, not wanting to hear you answer.

It is dark up there. I’ll need a flashlight. I think I saw one in the kitchen when I dumped out all the drawers.

Downstairs again. Tromping through the mess on the kitchen floor I search for the flashlight you’ve always kept in the drawer beside the backdoor.

There it is. Wedged itself up against the stove. The floor is sticky as I pick my way through the mess and retrieve it.

I turn it on. Dead. Of course. You always left the damned thing on when you tossed it in the drawer.

“Where are those damned batteries?” I mumble to myself, trying to remember where you keep them.

The cookie jar on top of the fridge! I stomp through the mess and retrieve the jar. An ugly owl you seem to adore so much. I smash it to the floor and retrieve the batteries from the mess.

I stuff them into the flashlight and turn it on. Nothing. I dump them into my hand. Check the connections. Make sure they’re in there right. I turn it on again. It works. I turn it off and stuff it in my pocket.

Back up the stairs to the attic ladder. There’s that smell again. I gag.

I run to my room and retrieve a handkerchief from the mess on the floor. I cover my nose and mouth with it and secure it with a quick knot behind my head. I return to the ladder.

I pull the flashlight from my pocket and ascend the steps. I turn it on and shine it around as I poke my head up through the hole. I don’t realize I’m holding my breath until I gasp for air.

The air that I inhale tastes like decay and rot. I gag on it. I struggle to catch my breath and consider retreating to the hallway below and abandoning the attic idea altogether.

In. Out. In. Out. My breathing has steadied. I can’t quit now. I have to find it. It has to be here somewhere. I know it is. You’ve hidden it from me, but I will find it. Failure is not an option.

I steel my nerves and crawl through the opening into the cavernous space above. I stand up, slouching slightly under the low roof beams. I shine my light ahead of me. I turn slowly casting my beam around the large, open space.

Boxes line most of the walls. There are discarded suitcases with old clothes falling from them. There are trunks of varying sizes. Some of the lids are propped open while others are closed up tight.

I only jump slightly at the startling sight of the rotting body slumped in the corner. It is way beyond recognition, but I assume it is the source of the smell.

Not gonna search it. Not unless I have to. Last resort. That’s the only way. I turn my back to it. It’s not going anywhere.

I search the suitcases and trunks. I dig through the boxes stacked so neatly against the walls. You were never so neat. Who stacked these boxes here for you? Was it the corpse in the corner?

It’s not here, either. I look at the corpse. You wouldn’t? I approach it. The smell has eased some. Or maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to it, now.

The closets. I haven’t searched the closets, yet. Relief washes over me. I won’t be searching the body after all. I descend the ladder carefully. I never have been very good at laddering.

I’m happy to feel my feet land firmly on the carpeted hall floor. I linger there a moment. Whose closet would you have hidden it in.

I go to my room first. No. It’s not because you’re in your room still. That’s where I left you. Slouched in your favorite armchair, watching your soaps and giving me the silent treatment. I snarl at your door as I pass it.

I throw the clothes on the bed. I don’t think it’s necessary to search all the pockets. I do empty out all the shoes on the floor. Mostly they’re just full of the expected amounts of dirt and debris. I find a cat toy in one. This is strange because we don’t have a cat.

I check inside boxes and bins. I look through the sweaters on the shelf. I return to the bed and check all of the pockets. It’s not here.

Resigned, I cross the hall to your doorway. I stand there watching you. You seem oblivious of me. Or maybe you’re still ignoring me. You can do that for days if you’re of the mind. I linger a while.

I slip quietly into your closet. You don’t move. I beg the gods that you leave me to search in peace.

I rifle through the hatboxes you keep stacked so neatly on the shelves of your closet. They’re full of old photographs and love letters. I don’t waste my time with that trivial nonsense.

I stick my hands into pockets as I search through all the clothes that hang in here. I dig around inside the countless purses and handbags you’ve stuffed into every available nook and cranny.

I find a pocket knife, an opened roll of breath mints –soft and disgusting, but I eat some anyway– and a few coins scattered throughout. Not much of a haul considering the number of bags you own.

I look around. Your closet had been so big when I was a kid. Now, it feels like the walls are closing in on me.

Struggling to breathe, I push the door open and stagger out to the hallway.

Down the stairs. Out the front door. I’m hyperventilating in the front yard. Gods please don’t let the neighbors see me, I beg to the skies and earth around me.

The shed. You always kept so much out in the shed. I hated it there. The smell of fertilizer still makes me nauseous. I walk around the house to the backyard.

The handkerchief is still around my neck. I pull it back up over my face and duck into the dark, damp space. I don’t have the flashlight. I’m not sure where I left it. I let my eyes adjust to the dim light coming through the grimy window.

I find a rag and wipe some of the layers of grime from the glass, and I can see a little bit more. I dig through the open bags of earth. I enjoy the feeling of it falling between my fingers. I check the shelves and cabinets without much hope. I know it’s not here.

Out in the yard I remove the handkerchief. I brush the dirt from my hands onto my thighs. I want desperately to destroy something. I look around, but there is nothing to destroy.

Back in the house. I ready myself for the inevitable. I search under the kitchen sink. You always kept a box of rubber gloves there for the “really messy jobs,” and I hope there’s some under there now because this is going to be a really messy job for sure.

Relieved to find a box, I drag it out from behind the cleaning supplies. There is only one glove left. I spend a few more minutes searching fruitlessly. One glove will have to be enough.

I return to the attic. To the unidentifiable corpse. I slip the glove on. I hold my breath. I rifle through the pockets.

I find a Swiss Army Knife in the front pocket. There’s a wallet, covered in slime and goo and barely recognizable but for its shape, which I retrieve from the back pocket. I don’t bother to search it. I don’t need to know who this person was.

From the jacket pocket I produce a photograph. It’s worn and well-loved. It’s been looked at often over the years. Well, it was for many years anyways. I toss the photograph on top of the wallet before it occurs to me whom was in that photo.

I pick it back up. I examine it closely. That’s me as a baby. Maybe six or seven months old. I’m smiling as I bounce on the knee of a most handsome man.

He’s big and burly and his grin matches mine. I know instantly that the man in the photograph is my father.

“Oh what did you do?” I whisper as a tear slips down my cheek.

I stuff the photograph in my pocket. I guess there is something from here I will be taking with me after all. I finish turning out the corpse’s pockets. There’s money in a money clip and a handful of coins. Nothing of any value.

It’s not here, in this attic. You’ve hidden it good. I return to the second floor landing. I return the ladder to the ceiling.

I tear my room apart one final time. I have to accept that it’s not here. If I can’t find it, they certainly won’t be able to.

I retrieve two canisters of gasoline from beside the front door. I carry them upstairs.

I splash just a little bit into the bathroom. Just enough to ensure it burns, but not enough to be wasteful. I saturate my bedroom. It takes almost the entire can. I hope I’ve brought enough.

I move on to your bedroom. You’re still not speaking to me. That’s okay. I work better in silence anyways.

I splash it on the clothes in your closet. I splash it on your curtains and carpet. I soak your bed with it. I pour it on your favorite chair.

You don’t say a word. You watch your soaps with those vacant, unseeing eyes. I douse you with what’s left in this can. I discard it on your lap.

I retrieve another can from the front door. I trickle a trail along the upstairs hallway and down the stairs. I drench the couch and leave it dripping from the entertainment center.

With another can, I cover the kitchen in gasoline. I use the last can to make sure no place has been missed.

I stop to see you one last time.

“Goodbye, Mother,” I whisper as I bend over to kiss your cheek.

That’s when I catch a glimpse of it tucked in the chair alongside the arm beside you. You’d kept it close, like an insurance policy. Hadn’t done you any good, had it? I retrieve it. Stuff it in my pocket. Bid you a last farewell as I close your bedroom door.

The sun is finally setting as I reassure myself that everything will burn. You will burn. What’s left of you anyways. Shut you up good I did, didn’t I?

I light a cigarette and place it in a matchbook like a fuse. I set it on a clean table I’ve placed just inside the door. I lock the door behind me as I leave for the last time.

I watch the house ignite in my rearview as I drive away.

You would never call me worthless again.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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