Today I am sharing an excerpt from my work in progress, The Month of June . . .
The roads became more and more familiar the closer I drove my small sedan to the house that was now mine. Or the house that could be mine, if I wanted to keep it.
I tried to keep the overwhelming amount of questions and emotions dancing through my head and chest in check as I maneuvered through the outskirts of Pittsburgh, coasting to the suburb just south of the city where I had grown up. Where my parents had grown up. Where my grandparents had grown up.
My heart started to pound when I realized I was a mere five minutes from the red brick ranch on five acres. I forced myself to take deep breaths and simultaneously cranked up the AC and opened my window. This neighborhood could be any suburb in the US, I thought, taking in the green lawns, the decorative flags blowing in the June breeze. One-story and two-story houses were spaced evenly apart. Driveways curved and sloped. Bikes lay on spacious porches, dogs dozed in the hot sun. I turned left at the family-owned gas station at the top of the hill and hit my brakes as I maneuvered the windy road with woods on one side and large, older houses on the other. The houses here, built in the early nineteen hundreds, were more spread out, boasting long driveways and lots of untouched land. Just before the Y in the road, there was an almost unnoticeable gravel path that led to Homestead Lane (Private), and the slightly secluded house that my grandparents had built in the 1940s.
The gravel crunched under my tires and the tree-lined drive provided a few moments of shade before the house appeared around a bend, just far enough from the main road that no one would ever really know it was there.
I pulled into the paved part of the driveway, turning my radio down and staring at the locked doors, dark windows, bricks, and mortar that had once been familiar to me as my own hands. This house, this grass, the sloping hill in the back, had been the setting to some of the best parts of my childhood, my teenage years, and even college years. Until, of course, all of that happiness had been chased away in one awful summer.
I nearly threw the car in reverse to escape to my parents’ house, which was a mere ten minutes away. I would be staying with them, after all. I could come back later with Mom and Dad, and maybe the place wouldn’t seem so imposing. Maybe the memories wouldn’t be so overwhelming.
But thoughts of my parents made me even more emotional, so I shook my head rapidly as if I were shedding the memories like a dog sheds water. I splashed warm bottled water on my face, and for some reason checked my reflection in the rearview mirror as if I were preparing to meet someone for the first time. My dirty-blonde hair was limp, as usual, and the circles under my eyes were even darker than normal. A cluster of zits had made themselves at home on the right side of my jawline, and my skin was pale and blotchy.
“Blech,” I said out loud, turning the mirror towards the ceiling and stepping out to stretch my legs.
I was shaking as I made my way up the concrete path and around the side to the back porch. No one in the family ever used the front door back then, so why use it now? The faded Astro-turf still carpeted the covered pad in the back, and I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head when I thought about my grandparents’ friendly bickering over whether or not to keep the stuff or replace it.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Pap insisted time after time.
“It’s gaudy and old fashioned,” Gram argued.
The old screen door opened and closed a few inches in the breeze. The lock had been broken for as long as I could remember, but those little things never mattered at Gram and Pap’s house. This was a safe haven, a piece of flawed perfection, somehow protected from the dangers of the real world a mere hundred yards away. Until that summer of course.
On instinct, I reached up into the rafters of the porch, feeling my way for the spare key that had always waited there since my mother was a little girl. Just as I began to think that it had been taken away with my grandparents’, I felt the warm metal brush my fingertips and I knocked it free into my palm.
The door opened easily, with barely a squeak, and I took in the darkened, slightly musty-smell as the kitchen came into view. The octagon-shaped table was pushed against the wall, the wheeled chairs just waiting to be sat in. The refrigerator to my right hummed, and the stove in the corner sat silent and empty for maybe the first time in my memory.
I moved through the kitchen, passing the old fashioned phone still snug against the wall, its six foot cord swaying against the cool air from the AC vent. The narrow bathroom beside the kitchen was dry and cool, its green tub and sink unused for nearly half a year.
The back bedroom was empty, save an old roll top desk, and the middle bedroom was packed with boxes and odds and ends of furniture – a treadmill, a chair and ottoman, a TV stand. The five collage photo frames still hung against the wall to the left, but it was too dark to see the details, and it was probably better that way for now.
Gram and Pap’s room was at the front of the house, and my emotions only allowed a quick glance at the big queen sized bed and modern furniture before moving on to the expansive living room, which stretched from one side of the house to the other. The old console TV still sat on the floor, and the sectional couch took up most of the back wall. Grandma’s recliner seemed faded and impossibly small, and the picture window that overlooked the apple tree in the front yard seemed even bigger than I remembered. I peeked through the curtains for only a moment before moving on, pausing in the dining room to glance at the china in the china cupboard before I found myself back in the kitchen.
I was proud of myself for getting this far, and now that I was here part of me wanted to go into the basement, explore the attic, but I felt a tightening in my chest as I thought about those last few months – the hushed conversation I’d accidentally heard from the doorway, the string of visitors stopping by to say . . .
Panic seized my body and I bolted out the back door. I hastily thrust the key back into its hiding spot in the rafters and ran back to my car like I was being chased.
Because in a way I was being chased. Chased by memories, good turned into bad. Chased by childhood, ended abruptly in a matter of weeks.
I peeled out of the driveway, spraying gravel behind me as I went, speeding towards my parents’ house, desperate to get away.