Here’s a short story I wrote recently called, “Room by Room”:
Our Realtor, Mandy, wants a tour of the house she will be listing for sale. You aren’t here. You left three weeks ago to be with that older woman you work with, the one the children and I call Sue-Sue instead of Susan because it sounds more appropriate, both juvenile and irresponsible, the way we like to imagine her.
I reluctantly guide Mandy through the foyer where your shoes once lay stacked like a fortress against the wall instead of hung neatly on the shoe rack I bought for the garage. Mandy takes pictures that will eventually end up on the Internet for the whole world to see. I cringe when I think of the mess of my life exposed for any voyeur to critique and comment, all those strangers who don’t know what hell I’ve been through to get here.
In the living room, Mandy bends to examine the hearth. “What’s that?” she asks. I look closer and notice the safe you placed inside so robbers would never guess where our valuables hid. It conspicuously sits like a steel box where a stack of logs should be. “I’ll remove it,” I say, knowing I will have to text you after the appointment so that you can use your key to come in and remove it while I’m at work.
“Would you like something to drink?” I ask.
I flush with embarrassment when I pull open the refrigerator and see my collection of Lenox dolls on the top shelf. You aren’t here to criticize me for keeping them, but I hear your voice nonetheless. They’re porcelain. They won’t break in the heat. But still I kept them refrigerated like they had an expiration date. I grab a bottle of water and shut the door. I’ll have to pack them up or sell them on eBay. I can’t leave them with whoever will buy the home. They aren’t garden gnomes, after all.
I find Mandy in the master bathroom taking a photograph of the double sinks underneath the skylights that make the house look like a model home. Only she must have opened the cabinets to spy what was inside because the room smells like your Eternity cologne, the one I bought for you when I thought I would be spending eternity with you.
My eyes smart with tears. As soon as Mandy takes the bottle of water, I leave the room. I thought you had been erased once you left, but the reminders linger everywhere. Even in your absence, you take up more room than me.
Outside, in the backyard, I slump down into a chaise lounge and try to read a book I picked up from the library. It’s called, It’s Not Me, It’s You. The title seemed appropriate, a little bit like the fuck you diet my coworkers suggested I go on so that you might give me a second look when you see me again. But I can’t focus. I just read the same line over and over again.
My yoga teacher says, “Life is simple. We make it complicated.” She says it’s a quote from Confucius. I don’t care who said it. It’s not true.
I didn’t make my life complicated. You did. When you told me you were leaving me for an older woman, a woman who had just received her AARP card, I felt like you had punched me in the gut. I couldn’t breathe. How many nights had I spent bent over the mirror plucking every single gray strand of hair from my scalp because I was too lazy to dye it? I should have let my black locks grow gray and wiry like steel wool. Would you have loved me enough then?
Mandy pushes the slider back and steps outside. She surveys the garden oasis our gardener has meticulously landscaped. I am sitting beside the koi pond beneath the willow tree. Mandy asks me to move. “I want to photograph this Zen-like scene,” she says. “It will help the house sell quicker. It feels like a little piece of paradise.”
My chest hurts. I stand up and stagger back into the house and sink down on the nearest sofa in the family room. The walls are bare. I made you take every painting you ever created, even the one I like the most, the one you painted of me. I wonder if you’ll paint a picture of Sue-Sue.
“I’m done,” Mandy says. She closes the slider and sits down on the sofa next to me. “I’ll get your ex-husband’s signatures and then we can place the home on the market. What hours do you want the lockbox programmed for?”
I feel a headache blooming behind my right eye. I rub my temples, hoping to stave it off, but it remains. “How about by appointment only?”
“It will sell quicker with better access,” Mandy says. “I’m sure you want to move quickly.”
I don’t want to move at all. I want to take a bottle of sleeping pills and lie down on the cool leather sofa and fall into a hundred year’s sleep only to be awakened by true love’s first kiss.
But my life isn’t a fairytale. It’s a nightmare.
“Okay. Show it as much as you’d like. I’ll stay with a friend until we get an offer.”
Mandy’s smile broadens. At least I still have the power to make someone happy.
After Mandy leaves, I exhale. The tears pour out in messy belly-aching sobs. They rack my body until I feel like I’m out of breath from sprinting five miles. I grab a throw pillow and squeeze it tightly in a hug because you’re no longer here to hold me, and I wait for my breathing to return to a normal pace before I go into the kitchen to remove my figurines from the refrigerator, the first step to clearing out the house like I must clear out my life, making room for the next family who will move into it with the same bright hopes of making this place a home.