She was only back for a short time. By this time, everyone she knew had moved to other cities and even other states. Her parents were up north in a retirement home. Her siblings were out east or out west. In fact, she had only decided to visit her hometown because she had a 24-hour layover in the big city, and she was reading an article on the plane about how “going home is never the same after a trip away.” She didn’t even bother telling her parents. There was not enough time for a visit.
She rented a car at the airport and drove down. She figured she could go visit, maybe take a picture, feel some nostalgia, then drive up in time for dinner and then settle in at the hotel. As she drove down the highway, she thought about how her family had made the reverse trip many times to go to a museum, see some family, or even just to “visit the big city.”
When her car reached the town limits, a rush of nostalgia overtook her. Here was the small-town diner she never ate at but always passed. Here was the car lot where she would cruise around and look at dream cars. Here was her old elementary school, looking much smaller than she remembered. She remembered her teachers. They must be retired now. Or even gone.
She decided to stop at the old grocery store and get some snacks that she could eat in lieu of lunch. The aisles in this store seemed so small compared to how she remembered them. As she drove out of the parking lot, she saw how the city had been renovated, and decorations were up all along the main street. This made her a little sad.
She was happy to see, however, that many of the houses hadn’t changed. Some had been repainted of course, but overall the same “feel” of her old neighborhood had stayed the same. This gave her a bit of comfort. She found a place along the street and parked her car. It wasn’t busy at all. She got out and walked the few meters it took to get to the front of her house. She took a picture. She could hear the birds and the insects. It sounded the same as before.
She looked up at the house and wondered if she could go in. She thought that this would give her childhood some sort of closure and help her to accept the reality of her adulthood. She walked up the sidewalk to the front door and rang the doorbell. Nobody answered. She waited. She turned around and was about to go down the stairs when she noticed someone was watching her from the window. A friendly face. It disappeared again behind the curtain. In a few seconds, the door opened.
It was a woman in her late 30s or early 40s. “I am so sorry, sometimes weirdos walk through our neighborhood. Can I… um what is the reason you rang the doorbell?” She explained about her layover and how this was her old house. She thought that maybe she could come back and see it for the sake of nostalgia. She apologized for bothering the woman and turned around to leave.
“No!” The woman responded, eyeing her in a way that made it seem she was trying to figure out if she could trust her, “of course, it makes sense. Would you like to… come in? You just want to see the inside of the house? If you like, feel free to have a look around.” The woman seemed like she would be a good neighbor.
She followed the woman inside. The front room was the same. The same small door to the right. The same place for a mat for boots during winter. She saw a man looking with a surprised smile from the kitchen. “Oh! Who is this?” “She used to live here.” “Came back to see the old digs eh? No problem. I hope it doesn’t look too different. You can see we kept the wood floors bare. We moved in a few years ago, but we made no major changes.”
She looked around at the bay windows, the small bathroom, the few rooms on the first floor. It was nice, but she felt like it still wasn’t enough. She had to be thorough. Like how she always kept taking her antibiotics after feeling better, because that is the prescription, and she wanted to do it right in order to not have to repeat it. It’s always better to do things right the first time.
“Would you mind if… I went upstairs?” The couple looked at eachother. “Sure, of course! No problem! I will take you up there.” The woman led her up the old wooden stairs to the second-floor room. It was hotter up there. The door to the attic was closed. The woman noticed her looking. “Oh, you don’t want to go in there, it’s all bats and boxes.” She felt an obsessive need to go through the door. She ignored the woman and went for the door. “Excuse me, what are you doing”? The woman asked.
She pushed the door open and went in. Something felt wrong. Off to the right, she thought saw something. It was a bit dark, and her eyes were still adjusting. It was a body. It looked like it had been there for no more than a few days. This is the first time she saw a corpse, and she wasn’t sure how to react. Her body backed away from it.
She turned around, and saw the door shutting behind her. She ran to the door and tried to push it open, but it was locked from the other side. She banged on the door. She pushed. She called out to the woman. There was no response. She started to feel desperate. She heard the woman walking down the stairs.
She took out her phone and dialed 911. It wouldn’t make a connection. She called again. Still nothing. Only one bar. She called again. “911, what’s your emergency?” Suddenly the door opened. The man was standing there. He was holding a gun. He pulled the trigger. The phone fell to the floor. So did she. She could feel wetness around her.She looked down at herself. Her blood was seeping into the cracks between the floorboards. She looked at the man.
He looked like he was scared and embarrassed. Like he knew that he had made a big mistake. “I am so sorry… I… you don’t understand we aren’t monsters… we aren’t… I’m so sorry! This… he…” he gestured to the body, “We didn’t have a choice. He was… and now you… now we … I am sorry it’s just… of course we can’t… it’s just not fair. I know.” He looked at her as if he really was sorry. With this expression, he slowly backed away to the door, opened it, backed through it, and shut it.
The wetness was growing. The phone… she tried to reach for it. She could hear the operator asking loudly if she was alright. She didn’t have the strength to pick it up. In her old attic, hot from the summer heat, she heard birds and insects outside, and the tree leaves rustling as the summer breeze blew through them, bringing her the sweet scent of summer flowers from her childhood.