We were late for church, left the breakfast dishes, slippers, the Sunday paper everywhere. The house was a mess but shut and locked up. At least we were out the door.
It’s a small town and compact, so we’d walk there. The walk, the service, and a little fellowship before and after took around two hours of each Sunday morning. We’d go because we felt better when we left. Anyway, that’s what Dad always said.
Today we got home and found everything back in its place. And perfectly so. Breakfast cleaned away, dishes done and neatly stacked in the cupboard, the big Sunday newspaper folded back together like it had never been read. Every window in the house had been thrown open. Beds were made, towels were folded on their racks, floors were swept. Mom had that bug eyed look like she wore when all the white hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up. She would tell us whenever this happened—when the old house gave up little noises in the night, or something scary was building up on a TV show. Like he always did when this happened, Dad put a finger to his lips to shush us. “Let it be,” he mouthed. Maybe he was in on this, somehow.
Tonight, there wasn’t much talk. We are not a jabbery family anyway, but this was different. My sister and I were usually in our rooms after dinner, but tonight we were all in the living room, the silence palpable, the TV dark. You could feel fear around us, like a kitchen aroma filling the house becomes foul when a nice meal is burning. There was a lot of glancing into the next room or looking up at the front door. Even Dad was not Dad as usual. He was reading the paper, but the pages weren’t turning. You got the feeling he was staring into it, blankly. Just like I was at my book. Nope. Dad wasn’t in on this.
A loud shudder and boom from the water pipes broke the quiet and every faucet in the house came on at the same time, full blast. Kitchen, both bathrooms, even the laundry tub in the basement. It stayed on long enough for us to run to each room with Mom’s idea that we should turn them off, but we didn’t since they shut off by themselves as instantly as they came on. By the time we’d gotten to the faucets, there was just dripping. Then that stopped, too.
My sister asked, “Mom? Mom. What is going on?” She is so like Mom, mostly a tough cookie. But I could hear anxiousness in her voice, desperation making its way in.
“Go pack a suitcase, both of you, right now,” Mom said to us.
Dad pulled the station wagon out of the narrow garage so we could open the car doors wide enough to load our stuff and get in. He would usually leave it running and wait for us to come out if we were driving somewhere together, but tonight he shut the car off, locked it and put the key fob in his pocket before coming back to the house for his things.
We didn’t take much. The place was furnished, and really, we don’t have much but a lot of what we did have was left behind. We took some clothes. Some framed pictures. Schoolwork. A box of Mom’s work stuff. Dad’s laptop. When the luggage was all stowed there was still a lot of room in the back of the station wagon. Mom came out last, on tiptoes. She shut the front door as if trying to not wake a sleeping child.
As we drive, the night air pours into the car’s open windows, and I wonder why Dad wants them open. “I knew there was a reason the rent was so cheap for that place,” Dad says to Mom. His voice doesn’t sound right at all. From the back seat we don’t dare ask where we are headed. We know they don’t know either.
“Just drive,” Mom says to Dad. “I will think of somewhere.”
The car lurches suddenly when the engine misses. Dad hunches over the steering wheel like he’d been tasered and cocks his head to listen to the car. Mom turns to look at him, raises a hand to rub her neck as if she has a furious tickle there. “Shut the windows!” Dad kind of hollers this at us in a strange, hoarse voice, like he is trying to whisper but can’t manage it. We shut them. Nobody says a word for what seems like a long time.
I have lost track of where we are. It makes me think we have left something important behind. There is not another car on whatever road this is. At least right now it is a smooth road, and the night is not so thick that we can’t tunnel through it. I look straight ahead, trying silently for deep breaths. I look straight ahead over Mom’s shoulder, but my eyes want to close so badly. It’s so easy to shut them for a moment. I swear I can hear one of the suitcases moving around back there.
R.H. Alexander is a poet and writer living in Minnesota. As a 4th generation Chicago Cubs fan, he is still basking in their 2016 World Championship season. His chapbook Confessions From Eden published by Raw Earth Ink is now available worldwide at all major internet retailer websites.
© 2022, R.H. Alexander