***This is a short story I wrote in my creative writing group, which I intend on finishing at some point. In the spirit of the Halloween season, I decided to make it a spooky one.
The grass had grown over the stone steps, an observation I made in mild disbelief when I remembered how meticulously my dad had kept this lawn. I remembered the roar of the lawn mower every Sunday, and the stench lingering from the monthly application of pesticide. His front lawn was his pride and joy, which I now realize as an adult was his way of portraying to the world that everything was fine.
Everything was not fine.
Everything was never….fine.
Beyond this lawn, up the stone steps and into the house one would see – if a stranger ever got that far, which rarely happened – another, much darker reality. The denial on my father’s face. The desperation in my mother’s eyes. My often fearful expression.
Today I made the ascent up those overgrown steps and pushed my way into the battered, weakened door of my childhood home. No one had lived here in at least a decade, and the neighbors had declared it a nuisance.
For me, it was far more than a nuisance. It was the source of many sleepless nights lingering well into my adulthood.
I gingerly climbed the slightly rotted wooden stairs up to where my brother’s old bedroom was, my footsteps creaking loudly as the weakened oak gave slightly from years of neglect. The floors were caked in dust and grime, and I noticed even pidgeon shit thanks to the broken windows caused by neighborhood vandals over the years. Graffiti and gang symbols decorated the halls, scrawled over my mother’s carefully-picked wallpaper.
I shut my eyes just for a moment before I stepped into the room that once belonged to my brother. As much as I had to know if it was still there, I felt as if I couldn’t bear to see it.
But no, I had come this far already. I forced my eyes open and aimed them at the back wall in search for it.
And there it was.
Those four words scrawled on the wall in my mothers devastated, helpless handwriting, just above where the headboard of my brother’s bed used to be.
Her final words to us. To the world.
I can’t do this.
My blood ran as it did the day I found them. Familiar emotions washed over me as I remembered the sight of my mother’s lifeless body slumped and bleeding over my brother’s, the bullet hole still fresh and square in the middle of his forehead.
The emotional cocktail continued to pulse through my body – Shock. Devastation. Anger.
It was over. It was really over and my mother had sacrificed herself to make sure it would be, too horrified with herself for what she had done to allow herself to live.
For 20 years I had repeatedly explained – pleaded – with the ghost of her, my memories of her, that my brother would have killed her anyway. Just as he had tried to kill me.
The script of what could have been replayed in my mind everyday, each time with a different outcome, each time ending with her still being with us.