-originally published on Crooked Lullabies, 9/11/14.
The early evening sun shone on the front living room window in such a way that the tiny handprint came into focus when Roger tilted his head slightly to the left. He reached through the foot-wide opening between the drapes, but stopped short of smearing the print and ruining the perfect fossil. His eyelids began quivering and he felt the tears surging through his ducts. “Lily,” he said, as he traced the handprint with his finger. Then he curled his fingers into a fist and lightly pounded the windowsill three times. He stared at the handprint until it dissolved into muddled focus, and Frank Turnhauer rushed into focus.
Ah, ol’ Frank Turnhauer– his slacks hiked to his bellybutton and his safety glasses that looked more like swim goggles — swinging his weed whacker back and forth and back and forth. This had been the Miller’s neighbor’s every-third-Sunday ritual for at least the last seven years. The weed whacker quieted, and Frank looked up from his front lawn. Roger backed away from the window and out of the sunbeam that split the drapes. The intruding breeze from the open dining room window behind him ruffled the hairs on the back of his head.
The soles of Roger’s loafers pressed into the freshly cleaned Berber carpet. He hated that the assorted marks left by Lily’s playtime, and the generous merlot stain, had been scrubbed. Slowly stepping backwards he bumped into the end table, which had been moved about two feet from its prior placement beside the heat register. Resisting the temptation to pull the chain on the table lamp, he leaned down and shuffled through the mail on the table. He read the labels: Sara Miller…Sara Miller…Sara Miller. A few of the names and addresses were handwritten; they were probably Hallmark cards or maybe even personal letters. Rachel always had a thing for snubbing emails and writing letters to friends. Wait! Here’s one addressed to Roger Miller — Get a new low fucking rate! Roger flicked the envelope onto the carpet, thought twice, and then picked up the envelope and replaced all the mail on the end table exactly as it had been.
A thud emanated upstairs. Roger gasped and pivoted toward the staircase. Jasper the cat darted down the stairs. “Jesus,” Roger said as his muscles relaxed. He walked over to the curio cabinet beside the open window in the dining room. Roger wiped his hand over the empty top shelf. No dust. He stared into the empty space and imagined the pictures that had adorned the shelf not long ago, and the happy family of three between the frames. He could still recall details in the pictures: The seagull flying over Lily’s shoulder, or the way Rachel’s faint suntan barely revealed the pale strip around her wrist where her Gucci watch was normally worn, or his own slightly crooked Kansas City Royal’s baseball cap. The breeze sneaking in the open dining room window felt cooler now.
The tears threatened to spill again. Roger began to alleviate an itch on the back of his neck, but then began to dig his fingernails into the skin when the memories became too harsh. Roger pressed down harder, and squeezed the skin on his neck. The pain scattered in all directions, but it didn’t relieve the anguish that had been brewing in his psyche. He’d once read that the brain only focuses on wherever the body feels the most pain; his neck stooped throbbing even though his nails punctured the skin and he twisted. “I’m sorry Rachel. I’m fucking sorry,” he yelled. “I fucked up.”
A women’s voice was approaching the front door. A rush of nervous excitement overcame Roger as he pried his fingertips out of his neck. He quickly tiptoed back over the too-clean Berber carpet and toward the front living room window. He peeked through the gap in the curtains again, beyond the tiny handprint. A slender brunette dressed in a tight-fitting skirt and suit coat moved toward the porch. Her wavy hair bounced about her shoulders with each oncoming step. Her overtly white teeth were framed by her puffy smiling lips. The early evening sun beamed off the gold badge pinned to her dress coat. “Oh shit,” Roger whispered as his heartbeat quickened even more. He hurried through the living room and dining room. Then he sucked in his stomach and squeezed back through the open window — the same window he’d snuck through after too many last calls and Rachel had already locked the front door.
As the knob on the front door began to turn, Roger slammed the window shut and made his getaway through the back yard. The lady in the skirt and dress coat entered the home, a young couple in tow. “The house is in move-in condition,” the lady told the couple. “The owner is highly motivated to sell. She and her daughter are moving to Dallas in a week.”