Fiction: If I Could Speak

 

A few weeks later they opened my doors again. The ad said:

Two story home, three bedrooms, one and a half baths, brick, good neighborhood, great schools, fixer-upper, cheap!!!!

This is how the Betz family met me. The draw to a home where they could start a family was apparent on the open house day when they came in through the front door and both of them lit up. Harry walked around from room to room, an intrigued smile on his face as he tapped on the walls with his ear pressed against them, looked at the cabinets and floors for detail and knots, pretending to understand the things that every homeowner is supposed to know.

Susan was much less analytical and interested in the logistics. She walked from room-to-room, creating scenarios. This backyard is where our kids can play. I can read in this nook. This is where we can give our children their first haircut. This is the master bedroom where me and Harry can grow old together.

The two newly weds swelled with joy and fell in love with me, when they moved in. I thought nothing could ever come between those two. The perfect, powerhouse, best-friend couple. Harry came home a little haggard every night after he had finished a long day and made love to Susan, never the same, but they were always happy.

Susan decorated me with white carpets, filling the drawers with knickknacks and the newest appliances she could find. She painted me a beautiful, pristine beige that made everything look so clean and immaculate. In a world where everybody gets so tired of everything so quickly, where we throw it away if it doesn’t match up to our expectations. When a marriage stops working, get a divorce. Don’t like your job? Don’t work harder, quit. Don’t like the way you are? Take the shallow way out; make people accept you by the way you look. Get those new tits, put on make-up, wear nice clothes. Put a band-aid on the big issue.

The Betz’s weren’t like that though. They saw beauty in me even if they had to work at it.

One day Harry came home from work and Susan was sitting at the kitchen table crying and smiling. He went over and he hugged her as she whispered into his ear. He laughed and started sobbing too. ‘We’re going to have a baby?’ He kept saying.

This blessing came with a price though. Harry started working more to afford the new addition to the family. They had to be able to afford clothes, food, cribs, strollers, baby monitors, health insurance, money for a car when he got old enough to drive, doctor appointments at the OBGYN, college saving accounts, cell phones, bonds - everything. He didn’t mind though. He knew the work would pay off.

Susan was reading a new book every week in bed so they’d be ready for their first child. They were too tired to make love every day anymore, but the two were closer than ever.

Nine months later they home birthed a baby boy they named Hunter, and those years were the happiest I’ve ever seen a family. They took pictures as he ate spaghetti, took him to the park a few blocks away to play catch, and watch him run and jump in the leaves. He looked like a miniature version of his father. A two foot tall Harry. Green eyes and short, curly blonde hair. Things were going so well that when Susan said she was pregnant again, Harry’s face glowed and his pride showed.

Four days after Hunter’s fourth birthday, Susan gave birth to a baby girl they named Alice. She was met with a lot more struggles.

Harry was working fifty hours a week just so he could keep the house and feed the three others. Within just a few years Harry had completely changed. His face was weathered and old, large crow’s feet were growing around the dark bags under his eyes. He hardly looked at Susan. They stopped making love and arguments started becoming louder and nastier progressively after every disagreement.

Those years slowly passed. Slowest for Alice and Hunter, who every night had to listen to the loud, painful, bitter, banter between their mother and father. Alice would put her hands over her blonde hair to cover her ears tightly, and close her eyes as hard as she could, humming to herself to drown out the noise.

Hunter would listen.

Luckily for both of them, they were off to school everyday. Far away from the dismantled home they all used to love so much.

Susan’s loneliness grew into anger.

Harry’s hate for his work grew into hate for his wife. It was her fault for making him do this. He had to stay now. There was no turning back.

Susan’s anger turned to spite.

That spite turned into lust for a neighborhood Casanova named Brent. He would come over after Harry had dragged himself out of the house and the kids were on the bus. Susan and him would make love and he would sleep naked in Harry’s bed.

Defiling me. Taking away more of my innocence.

My insides began to rot and erode. They couldn’t afford the repairs, they had to make due however they could. Budget. Priorities. Lack of funds. Final notice. Eviction. These terms floated lightly around in conversations like they were nothing.

Hunter couldn’t listen anymore. He escaped. He drank beer he took from the garage, and bought weed with money he stole from his Dad’s wallet. While his parents were yelling at each other, he would drink and smoke with the shower on to fall asleep over all the white noise. The thirteen year old, confused about who he was, and where to go, started escaping in the middle of the day. Running the only way he could.

Susan’s glow was almost non-existent. She never smiled. Brent stopped his afternoon visits, but two other men, neither of whom I ever learned the name of, were seeing her. Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon.

Harry too tired to notice.

Hunter too gone to grasp.

Alice too young to understand.

Everyone was alone in their own way.

My white walls were turning brown and green from leaking pipes, water damage, neglect, and smeared handprints from the children or from Susan grasping for leverage, who would now see more than one man at the same time.

Hunter wasn’t going to school anymore. He would hide in the attic and shoot drugs he would melt on the bottom of a Coke can into his veins, and get lost in his own head. Even in summers he would wear the long sleeve shirts to cover the holes in his arm.

Harry’s work was coming home with him, and he was sleeping in the basement on the black, beer stained futon. He didn’t need proof to know that their bed was no longer a place for a marriage. The blankets covered in other men’s sweat and semen. The smell of another man on his wife when he came home from work. All he could see was men all over her. Abusing her. Using her. There was nothing he could do about it. He would drink whiskey, as he was surrounded in a sea of endless paperwork he didn’t want to do. Throwing up intermittently, in the early hours of the morning in a bucket so he wouldn’t wake anyone up.

Alice was alone upstairs. Sitting with headphones on, barely developing or maturing. Hiding stray cats she found in the park where they used to play in as a family in her closet. Helping animals because she couldn’t help herself. Sticking my carpet together. All those little pieces of fabric glued together with cat shit.

All hidden.

In the basement. The closet. The attic. Looking for freedom from each other and from me. Reclusive. Their liberation an illusion because all the things they thought made them escape confinement within me wasn’t in their control.

orgasms.

helping animals.

working.

drugs.

They governed none of these.

There was something that Susan and Harry could agree about. One day a letter came that said that Hunter was missing three out of five days of school every week for the last three months. Their problemed marriage, problemed lives, guilt, and crushed dreams of a happy family now had an outlet. There was a reason. They rummaged through his room and found stockpiles of white powder, rubber ties, and syringes.

This wasn’t the way their family was supposed to be. They were supposed to be happy. And it was all Hunter’s fault. The quiet dinners, the arguments, the misunderstandings, the compromises, the dismantled home, the money, all of it was his fault. Hunter fought back hard. The way he saw it, everyone was paralyzed by their fears.

Fear of heights.

Fear of poverty.

Fear of failure.

Fear that artificial sweetener, second hand smoke, and the microwave will give you cancer.

People let it freeze them. But not Hunter. He had the key. The release. Enlightenment and freedom.

Confined.

‘Tough love’ is a word he used, thrown in with ‘disappointment’ ‘problemed child’ ‘thief’ ‘addict’ and ‘terrible.’ I don’t think the order or precise usage is necessary. Hunter packed up a few T-shirts, a pair of shorts, and a pair of boxers in a grocery bag and left. At fifteen he wandered down the street like one of Alice’s lost cats with the lights illuminating him as he diligently, but aimlessly made his way to anywhere but here.

A week passed. Susan cried as she sat in the kitchen all day waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting for her nightmare to end. Waiting for her baby boy to come home.

But he wasn’t.

Harry would come home and hug her as she sat in her chair, and her demeanor wouldn’t change. She would shutter when he would touch her and just looking at him reminded her of that poor, young, homeless boy she saw who wanted nothing to do with them anymore.

The sixteenth day after Hunter left, she couldn’t take it anymore. After Harry had driven off she waited a few minutes and packed her things up with Alice, loaded up the car and drove off.

Harry came home to a small, empty building with all the lights on, no smell of dinner and no noise. He didn’t understand at first. He went from room to room just like the first time he had visited and it dawned on him. He was tired.

alone.

He drank the rest of his whiskey and cried in the garage. He cursed everything he could think of. His wife, his children, me, his job, money, the world, his father, his mother, whiskey, even himself. Each one as believable as the last.

He made a noose and kicked a chair. None of this made a difference though. He was still alone.

A few weeks later they opened my doors again. The ad said:

Two story home, three bedrooms, one and a half baths, brick, good neighborhood, great schools, fixer-upper, cheap!!!!

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About Troy Bernardo

My name is Troy Bernardo, I'm 23, and I'm a writer from a small beach town named Port Orange, Florida. After graduating from college in Miami, Florida, I moved to Alaska to do a volunteer program with Americorps. When that program finished I moved to South Korea for a year to teach English. I currently reside in Minneapolis, and am working on a novel that is nearing completion.