This is my piece for this week's Indie Ink writing challenge. The way it works is that you sign up for the challenge weekly, and you'll be paired with another participant who will create a writing prompt for you, and you have a few days to write and submit your piece. (Click HERE if you'd like to participate next week.
This week, I challenged Gregory with the prompt, "Do they think I'm stupid or something?"
I was challenged by Greg to write:
You buy an old house in the country, knowing nothing of the previous residents. You discover a small, secret room attached to the cellar. Describe the contents.
Here's my response.
"There's no need for you to actually go there," my dad told me. "It's worth money. We can sell it without going there."
My mother was dead, and she left me her house.
"I think that I should at least look at it," I said. "I want to get an idea for myself about how much it's worth."
He was unhappy with my decision. I didn't tell him that I wanted to go there because I needed to occupy her space. She had slept in this house, lived in it and died there. After a lifetime of never knowing who she was, how could I let this piece of her go without even seeing it?
She was an artist, from a family with money. My father told me she was crazy.
"She tried to kill you," he said. "I found her standing on the rim of the bathtub, holding you above her head to the open window, telling you to climb, climb. It was a second story window! You would have died."
"But why?" I asked.
He never had an answer.
"She was delusional and paranoid," he said.
She must have had a reason for trying to throw me out of a window.
Her home was a big, formidable farm house in the middle of the Sonoma Valley. Grape trellises stood all around it for miles. The fruit were fat and rotting on the vines. The house was grey, but the door was painted bright red, and the ceiling on the overhang above the porch was blue.
I ripped open the envelope that contained the keys and some paperwork, my mother's dying wishes listed neatly into fat paragraphs of incomprehensible lawyer jargon. The steps of the porch were freshly painted, the yard manicured and well cared for. I wondered who had been keeping things up since my mother passed. "I only met her during her last days," the lawyer had told me, "but I felt close to her. She loved you, you know."
"She didn't' know me," I said. There was nothing between us, nothing for her to love. She was admitted to a mental hospital when I was a baby and, for my safety, my father took me away. She never tried to find me. I knew where she lived, at least that she was in California, but I never tried to find her, either. My father was remarried. My stepmother was a soccer player, she was tan and funny and she gave me a good childhood. I didn't love her, though. I didn't really love anybody.
I pushed open the heavy front door and was greeted with a sweet, exotic smell, like cloves and honey. I stood for a moment in the doorway, just breathing my mother's air. Where were all of her things? The living room was empty, the wooden floor painted in a pattern of pastel stripes. The kitchen was marble with a heavy brass vent system hanging over the stove. I touched the gleaming golden surface and the ghost of my fingertips lingered there for a moment and evaporated.
There were circle shaped imprints on the carpet in the dining room where a heavy table and chairs had been. I reached into them with my fingers and felt the fibers that had been pressed down by my mother's weight. I imagined that I could feel the heft of her, her substance pushing down on me, tethering me to the earth. I couldn't remember her, maybe I did love her.
I walked past a door in the hallway that I assumed to be a pantry on my way up the stairs. In all of the rooms, I found the same things. Carpet indentations and bare walls, nothing but emptiness. I wanted to cry. I wanted so desperately to find her in this silent space. I wanted there to be boxes of pictures and old love letters from my father tied together with twine. I didn't know everything would already be gone. I sat down in the middle of a bedroom that I decided was hers and held my head in my hands, the smell of sweet spices making me dizzy.
What about the closets? I jumped to my feet and began searching behind every door I could find. I probed the corners of the shelves in every crevice of every storage space, finding nothing. I remembered the pantry downstairs and ran to it, throwing open the door. What I found wasn't a series of neat shelves where she had once kept her soup and rice and pasta. I found a set of wooden stairs descending in a cement hallway and everything, the walls and the ceiling included, was painted pink.
The pink hallway was dark and warm, the painted surfaces of the walls was smooth and inviting. I pressed my palm to the concrete and I felt something. A vibration, a hint of life. At the bottom of the stairs was a child's bedroom. The curtains and furniture were white. There was a plush pink rug resting on the molding basement floor. The windows were tucked up against the exposed beams of the ceiling, and dangling from the network of pipes were little paper birds, every color imaginable. Some of them were damp and their wings were crumpled. They twisted lazily in the dust and the watery sun beams coming through the tiny windows.
"What is this?" I thought.
There was a crib with lacy white bedding and a ragged little blanket that looked as thought it had been well used, dragged along dusty floorboards and into the flower beds. A little white rocker sat in the corner with upholstered cushions that were squashed and threadbare, as though someone had spent a great deal of time sitting here.
There was a little pink dresser next to the crib. I expected to find it empty, but its drawers were full of yellowing baby clothes, tiny dresses and bonnets and a little purple t-shirt with letters printed across it. I unfolded it and stood staring, my heart beating into my throat and all the air suddenly leaving the room. "Julia," it said, in glittering purple letters. My name.