The knocker is different.
“Raynard & Starla Jean,” the plaque previously read. Pap made it himself. Nana purchased a metal ring in town to attach for the knocker while I painted ridiculous trees all over the thing. It was hideous and endearing, in its own way. Not as hideous as the plain golden one that has taken its place on the vibrant green door though.
Already, I found something to fix.
Pressing my hand to said door, a breath catches in my throat. The air grows thin. How long has it been since I stepped inside? I was eleven the last time, so, fifteen years.
The door makes the same annoying screech as I’ve always remembered when swinging open, revealing a wide white kitchen. The space is bare, save for the long island sitting at the center. Directly to the left is an open archway leading into a spacious living room. On the far side of the room is another archway that leads into the dining room. Each room is a pristine white, easier to sell if it’s white, but takes away all the beauty of the home, if you ask me. Colors can speak when words fall short.
I hesitantly step through the threshold. My feet tingle, like they somehow remember the importance of the surface. Is it getting harder to breathe? My hands tremble. I’m happy to be here yet my head aches with sorrow and guilt; a strange combination, while memories from long ago flood my mind.
I smell Nana cooking deer gravy, mashed potatoes, and ham in the kitchen. Pap is singing old songs in his favorite lazy boy chair. Nimble fingers that never seemed to age plucked at guitar strings to create a soothing melody. My younger self, with unruly brown hair, is running across the mahogany patio that is visible through the glass windows; they reach from floor to ceiling across the entire wall of the living room. My own childish laughter echoes on the wind and, with a blink, the memories are gone.
There’s nothing. No warm chair with Pap in the corner. No guitar in his lap or record player at his side or TV mounted to the wall. No Nana in the kitchen or food in the dining room. Even the boat that once sat by the dock in the lake is gone. The shed remains, leaning to one side, and the once soft brown of the wood has darkened almost black.
“Edwin, sweetie, I don’t get why you’re doing this. Why...why don’t we put it back up on the market? You can find a place back in New York easily,” Mom whispers cautiously, standing behind me with a box in hand. Tabby is loud, moving back and forth in the kitchen, dropping one box after another.
“Why? You think I’m going to remember and have a mental breakdown?” I look at Mom with a raised brow that brings a frown to her face. I’m not scared, even if everyone says I should be.
Rolling my eyes, I turn my attention to the spiral iron staircase that leads upstairs. When I grasp the metal there’s a wave of shock; a hit of solid emotions that has tears brimming in my eyes. I blink them away.
“I’ll be fine, Mom, just...just give me a minute,” I mumble while ascending the staircase. How many times have I run up them? How many times did I fall down them is a better question.
Even with nothing upstairs I recall every little detail of what it once was. Nana’s painting’s on the walls and Pap’s books piled high. Oh, how I used to try so desperately to pull them out without causing an avalanche. I rarely succeeded. Pap never cared about the mess, only talked about how proud he was that I was willing to create it just to read a good book.
The second floor has a total of three rooms; the master bedroom and two guests along with the master and guest bathroom’s. I remember them all. The colors, the paintings, the style, the feel of smooth wood against my sensitive fingertips. I inspect each one, saving the master’s for last, either because I am scared or excited, I’m not sure.
When I finally step in, I swear I smell them. Nana’s lavender perfume and Pap’s menthol cigarettes. I hated those damn things, always said he should quit because he had to live forever. He laughed, and the sound was always hoarse and cracked, but kind and warm. At the moment, I wish for the smell of menthol cigarettes to be real.
“Yo, Winnie, get your ass down here!” Tabby calls from the floor below. “I am not unpacking all of your shit! Let’s go, I wanna get a drink tonight.”
“Tabby!” Mom snaps.
“What? Oh, like you weren’t drinking at seventeen.”
“That’s—that’s not the issue!”
I snorted when their voices fade into the distance. My eyes continue to scan over the room, which is open and vast without furniture. Glass walls continue from the bottom floor into the master bedroom. There’s a beautiful view looking over the shimmering deep blue lake below as well as the vast greenery that consumes the horizon. Trees stretch into a seemingly endless horizon. Though there is no one around, I haven’t felt so comfortable in...in a long time, fifteen years I’d argue.
Downstairs I find that Tabby has a large amount of boxes in the kitchen and, just then, the movers arrive with furniture. A long day of moving follows. Mom mostly puts items away such as kitchen and bathroom essentials while Tabby helps myself and the movers. By nightfall, all the furniture is in and (mostly) set up, but there are tons of boxes sitting around waiting to be opened. That isn’t happening though. Instead, I get those drinks Tabby mentioned, but she isn’t partaking because the poor thing is out cold on the couch from exhaustion. Not that any of us are surprised. We all had a long day.
I smile while brushing the jungle of red hair away from her open mouth. She lets out a gracious snore, so loud I swear it shakes the house. Then I grab a blanket from a nearby box and cover her, tucking it in around her thin frame. Immediately the girl curls up, smiling in her sleep.
Snagging one of the few items I have in the fridge, beer, I return to the patio where Mom is sitting at the edge. She smiles in thanks when sitting beside her so that both our feet are dangling off the wooden deck overlooking the lake only a few feet away. There’s already a soft fog lingering over the water, leading into the woods that are so thick it appears as a single mass.
When I first visited as a child of four years old, the forest frightened me. A deep, dark, and maze-like structure closing in all around us. The trees and brush and grass consumed everything in their wake and I thought they’d consume me too. I’d disappear in the dark like an idiot victim from a horror movie, but I learned the forest was not scary, it was an adventure waiting for me. Nana and Pap took me through the trees and brush and grass until I saw them as fortresses’ and hideouts and play places.
One week was all it took until I welcomed the sight of a deep forest waiting to be explored, or rested in. A good nap in the cool grass or under the shade of a tree, listening to the flowing of a creek nearby. Even now, these woods only calm me. They almost feel protective, like a barrier from the horrors outside.