The House on Fairway Road
I sit in the opening of the garage. My hands burn as I press them into the scalding pavement in front of me. Everything seems to vibrate in the heat of the day. Everything reeks, and I am sullen. I hold them there for as long as I can stand, staring resolutely above at the white-scalloped eaves of the house on Fairway Road. I quickly lift my fingers to my face, shoving them firmly under my nostrils and inhaling the sweet scent of warm concrete. When those few moments of bliss have faded, I wipe them across my bare legs and repeat the process until my palms are red and sore and broiled. A horse fly buzzes slowly around my ankles, landing on my face-down palm. We do not acknowledge each other. We are too fatigued.
The house on Fairway Road rests a half block away from KS 169 on one end of the road, but most of the time we do not notice; we are too preoccupied. Here the trees grow precariously taller than the houses, and the pristine white golf balls from the country club on the other end of the road clump together in the gutters. June is a particularly bad month for lightning storms and humidity, the month where breathing is heavy and sometimes the wind whines through the oak trees so loudly that we do not hear the tornado sirens. There is no respite until July. When we speak to each other, it is as though we are underwater. It is the season of broken tree limbs and broken spirits.
“Excuse me, but has this rug been washed?” a woman in sunny tennis whites calls out from inside the garage. She points at the circular orange and green rag rug on the floor with some distaste and looks over my shoulder. I notice one of the “free water bottles” in her hand, and I am silent.
My father heaves himself out of his chair near the entrance to the house and walks past me with a wink and a smile. His eyes wander from mine to each of my two brothers, taking attendance. I take my leave, wandering through the haphazard knick knacks, the bureau and the matching nightstand, the plastic tubs full of mugs and newly-polished silverware. I wrap my hands around my father’s chilled Diet Coke can, take a handful of sunflower seeds. I plop down on the steps leading into the house and I bask in the brief hint of cool air from within as I listen to the muffled bartering in the corner.
My brothers, having given up on their card game, lounge listlessly in an especially green patch of grass next to the trunk of our tall tree. A woodpecker drones endlessly into our tall oak tree, and I think you are a little late my friend. The two boys are taking turns pretending to sneeze dramatically. Our dog, Dizzy, whips his head in the direction of the noise, flopping from one prone body to the next trying to catch someone in the act. He has overexerted himself, and drool collects on the corners of his mouth as his left ear droops slightly out like an airplane wing. They call me over, but I shake my head no, bringing my palm up to my nose.
“Hey,” they say, “what’s the matter?” they say, “You scared?” They raise their eyebrows. They keep their insults brief. No reason to waste energy, we all think. They call me:
a whiny baby
a whiny bitch (just quiet enough so that my father doesn’t hear)
“Hi, how much for the Mark Haddon?” a man asks as he leafs through my mother’s worn copies.
My mother scrambles. “I could have sworn I put a label on it.” She rushes over to the man at the end of the table and timidly pokes at the label maker in her hand.
My mother sits closest to the partially packed U-Haul. After the customer is gone, she settles back into a chair behind a folding table in the shade of the tree near the road, next to the drooping For Sale sign. Our other dog, Georgia, has retired to the underbelly of the table, her head resting against its plastic leg. On the table is a slew of mystery novels with mysterious names, creased spines and bright white labels that read dollar amounts. Directly in front of my mother is a cleared space and in it sits her label maker. It is also labeled. It reads: NOT FOR SALE. She does not look at my father. She faces the U-Haul and glances occasionally into the far back corner.
My mother’s chair sits in the far back corner of the U-Haul. The leather, once the color of a slightly burned caramel, has warped into a mild and tender brindle, white scratches and dings covering the sides. The ottoman is hiding somewhere in there, too. Maybe under some photo albums, or perhaps under the set of iron stove tools. She looks into the compartment as though she wants nothing more than to wriggle through the littered items to her chair, as it is, underneath the stiff and bulky white and blue furniture pads, placed beside our wooden blanket chest. I think that if she does, I will too. It would be cool in there.
I gather the sunflower seed husks in a makeshift shirt pocket of my white tank top, letting them drop slowly to the ground as I make my way toward her. I glance at her profile, her mouth is tight, her jaw moves slightly back and forth like a metronome. Her hair, the color of dark chocolate, resting firmly at ear level, is tucked behind her ear each time she glances into the compartment.
At the end of the street, the side near the highway, an ambulance, or maybe a police siren blares past. My mother and I cringe. My jaw has not yet started to click the way hers does, but sometimes if I squeeze my eyes shut too forcefully...
A drop of blood lands and marks the collar of my tank top. I think that the ruddy color is somewhat pleasant, kind of like the amber color that marks the sky before a tornado. I tilt my head down, and hear my father’s panicky voice ring from behind the bureau:
“Oh, Jesus,” he groans as he forcefully grabs my chin and points it toward the sky.
He clutches my nose coarsely as the blood begins to run through the spaces in his fingers and onto the pavement. I think I hear it sizzle. The sharp perfume of sunflower seeds and musty sheets from the attic fills my mouth, but then the metallic taste of blood coats my tongue. The sky begins to twist. My father is holding me too tightly and I cannot breathe. I try relentlessly to push his arms away; the more panicked I get, the tighter his grasp is, I can feel bruises forming where the fingers of his left hand are pressing into my upper arm.
A woman with wispy white hair rushes forward with a blue and white gingham tea towel.
“You have to hold it,” my father nervously instructs me, in a loud voice that rings in my ears, “I can’t help you if you keep fighting me like this.”
With my left hand I clutch the tea towel against my chin as I dig my nails into his arm in silent protest. I glance past my father’s large frame and scowl at the woman with my teeth bared. In my head, I hear growling noises gurgling up my throat, uncontrolled. But in reality I am silent, and she watches on concerned.
“No!” I yelp as I try to wrench my face out of my father’s hold. Georgia ambles over to me and laps at the drops of blood on my ankles. My screaming turns to laughing as tears trickle into my open mouth. Her tongue transitions to teeth as she nips at the backs of my heels, pushing me, and consequently my father, further down the driveway.
My mother stands patiently beside the folding table. When we have been herded into her territory, she silently takes the towel from me, removes my father’s blood stained hands, and places her slender fingers firmly at the bridge of my nose.
“If this doesn’t stop in 20 minutes, I’m taking her to the emergency room,” he announces.
She turns me toward the road.
“Take deep breaths,” she whispers into my ear, as my father hovers above, trying to fan us with a small book. She places her other hand on the small of my back and we stumble onto Fairway Road and sort of effortlessly up the ramp of the U-Haul. She leads me into the compartment. It is dark and cool, and I feel the condensation drip from the corrugated metal of the ceiling onto my forehead. We make our way slowly to the far back corner, through the littered boxes. She pulls the furniture pad slightly off her chair and we collapse into it with sighs of relief. In the dark, the she brushes her fingers lightly over my bare arms as she paints deserts onto the blank metal canvases of the compartment.
“In the Painted Deserts,” she tells me, “the air is hot and dry and the limestone smells like clay.”
We stay in her chair longer than it takes for the caked blood to dry on our skin like red dirt. We stay in the U-Haul on Fairway road until the veins of the sky glow like the neon orange hue of an old, canvas umbrella tent.
When we retire to the ice cold house, her smile fades slowly, almost imperceptibly, as she crosses the threshold. She glances into the living room, but her chair is not there and so she does not linger, but climbs the stairs slowly, and silently. In the kitchenette, there is a large air mattress that smells like the attic. My brothers are spread across the surface with their boxy gameboys held close to their faces. When I step into the room, they look warily at me, but they do not make space. I am too late, I think as I squeeze myself onto a sliver of mattress and ruminate on the white walls of the house on Fairway Road.