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A HOME by Sasha Tandlich

Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me! She covers her face. There’s nobody there but the cat. The cat yells, jumps at something. See, it’s not just the cat. There are also the ants crawling in a line, stampeding through the too-big crack under the front door. She leans forward. Creak. The chair moves with her, rocking forward as rocking chairs do. This chair didn’t always live here. No. She didn’t always live here, either. There was the house with the porch. The house with the porch and the rocking chair being pushed forward and back by the wind. She wasn’t in the chair then. Not then in that house. When she was in that house, she buzzed around inside, carrying the children here and there, the way the ants are handling those crumbs that are a little too heavy but they won’t dare drop. There aren’t as many crumbs as there should be. The house is dirty, yes, but food is required to make crumbs. To get food there is the cooking of the food. To get the cooking of the food there is the shopping at the grocery store. To get the shopping at the grocery store there is the driving of the car, the leaving of the house, the standing out of the chair, the… 

In the other house, there was the view. The waves of green cornfields where the kids would get lost and call for her, frantic. She didn’t always take time to look at that view. There were vegetables to pickle, lunches to pack, a husband with needs she had signed up to meet. That husband lives in the photographs now. Sometimes his ghost talks to her, but she asks him politely to shut up. She is already haunted; she doesn’t need a single more ghost. She sits close to the TV when the people start jumping off the Titanic. She has an old VHS player and she only ever plays the second tape. She can’t go backwards, to that time of richness and hope. She pictures the waves are made not of ice, but of corn, that they land in a place of comfort. She hums along when the band comes back for one more song. 

She’s started scratching the faces off of her pictures. She takes her keys to them as she makes her way to the toilet once, maybe twice a day. There is no other use for the keys. She doesn’t lock the door. Nobody is coming, and the ants don’t need a key. They don’t need a welcome mat, either, but she leaves hers out there. Maybe one day the mail man will come up to her door and feel that he is welcome and drop off that piece of mail that got lost years ago. She waits for it. Surely, there is news for her. She’s not sure who the letter is from, just that it holds the key to something. Key—there’s a key again! It has to mean something, but nothing means anything anymore, and now she feels her sock slipping. It’s a prim thing, with a lace trim. She has dainty little feet to pull it off. Her husband loved holding her feet in his hands, rubbing them when she had a hard day which was always. She wears her socks and shoes inside in case he comes by with a good proposition and whisks her away. So far, all her ghost husband has brought up are stories from the past and the past is pointless because it is past. You can’t unsink the Titanic, and you can’t make your children forget the cat piss smell stuck to these rotting floorboards. 

Some of the ants might be termites. The ones making their way up the wall with wings they never use. “You’re not using your full potential” is something people used to say to her often. Now they say, “Get the fuck out of the house, Mother. If you choose to live like this we give up.” She doesn’t blame them. She gave up once, too. 

Sometimes she mistakes the painting on the wall for the TV. She watches it, and she’s not surprised by its lack of movement because everything in the painting moves exactly as much as everything on the TV. She doesn’t remember buying this painting, hanging it up. It’s there the same way the bad art is up at the Holiday Inn before she ever even arrives. It has a history without her, just as she has a history without this house. Is it even a house? It might be a townhouse, or an apartment, or maybe she lives on a ship. She can’t recall what it looks like because all she can recall is being inside. That other house she remembers only in flashes, like the flashes of light when the cat comes in and out. She doesn’t feed the cat, and she’s not sure if that’s why someone put in the cat door. It’s possible the door was already there and that’s how she acquired the cat. The cat doesn’t seem to care for her either way, but sometimes when she’s so still the chair doesn’t rock a single bit, it will jump into her lap and purr. She doesn’t pet the cat. She covers her face to hide it away.

It’s never silent inside. The TV is always on. When the power goes out, which it does sometimes, there’s still the sound of the ghosts, the wings of the moths fluttering inside the closets. There was a different kind of noise in the other house. Laughter, yes, screams, of course, but also that low constant hum of desperation, of a need to get out. It called to her in the droning of the Frigidaire inherited from her mother-in-law. Get out get out get out. Mostly, she stayed. Then one day she didn’t. 

When she gets out of the chair, for her trip once or twice to the toilet, her back never straightens out. It retains the same bent shape. That is her body type now. Bent as a spoon. Creak. The chair keeps rocking and the cat jumps in for a ride. She passes the wall of faceless photos. It looks like a horror movie, but it’s not, because no one is coming after her. On the TV, a body sinks into the water and another exclaims in a voice so quiet it might as well not exist. She wonders if she would sound like that, were she to speak. She never spoke then either. Her children cannot recall the sound of her voice. They remember the cornfields, though, and they are filled with a sense of comfort. That’s all she ever wanted. 

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