by Tennant Ross

The car door slammed shut on my finger, drawing blood, but the air was so thick with the darkness that Mom didn’t notice. I didn’t dare wince.

It was late July; the middle-end of one of those summers that makes the inside of your skin feel just as hot as the outside. The movers had left in the morning, but we had stayed – Mom and me, sitting in our empty home full of heat.

The new owners had bought some furniture from us, mostly things we knew they didn’t need but would take out of rich-pity. Almost all of it was expensive custom furniture Mom had commissioned just for the house; it was her dream house, with skylights, a screened in porch with hanging ferns, and so many trees you could hear the summer tree frogs even with the windows closed.

My room was bright yellow, headache-inducing and relentless when the sun would set through the huge windows on every wall. She’d built the house when I was two, her and Dad just beginning to fall apart while it came together. She’d let two-year-old me pick the color of my room, and told the story at every dinner party, glowing -how she pulled out her Sherwin-Williams binder of thousands of color swatches and told me to rip out my favorite.

There were custom dark red tiles in the kitchen she’d had made in Mexico, one with a tiny paw-print from some anonymous dog that was likely now dead. There were giant, wall-swallowing windows wherever she could fit them, no curtains, always letting the light in.

The outside was gray with black shutters, but a terrible gray, one Mom always insisted looked pink when the sun set on it. I used to argue with her to hell and back about that, always for no reason. How did gray look pink if it was already gray?

The only furniture left that I cared about was the piano. It had a million scratches on it from my tiny grubby hands as they grew up on it, and the keys had long lost their white sheen. It hadn’t been tuned since things turned bad, and middle C only worked if I jammed it with all I had. The last thing I did in that house was play her lullaby on it; the one she’d written for me and woken me up with a hundred times, crying over the keys early in the morning.

We’d sat in the piano room to say goodbye. I’d never been in that house when it wasn’t full of her, her boots pacing on the hardwoods, her wine cabinet. The living room was barely recognizable without a 9-foot Christmas tree and The Beach Boys dancing off the walls.

I’d never realized how badly it all echoed, how loud her crying sounded when there was nothing to soften it.

After we said goodbye, we loaded the car with my suitcase, stuffed animals, and paintings she couldn’t bear to see the movers ruin. We couldn’t see out of any of the windows, and it was so dark, her mirrors were useless too.

I wrapped my finger in the hem of my shirt as she climbed into the driver’s seat, trying to make sure she wouldn’t see the blood. My head felt like it was in a pressure cooker from how long I’d cried, but I knew I couldn’t anymore. Not while we were driving.

I don’t remember how the outside of the house looked the last time I saw it, the azaleas in full bloom, the giant oaks sleeping lazily over the driveway. I know I didn’t look behind me on purpose–but I do remember wondering if the red of her taillights through my windows still made my yellow walls look like they were on fire.