Ribbons of sweat streaked the back of Esther’s blouse. The vinyl bus seat smelled sour and she dreaded peeling her thighs from it but her stop was next. The air brakes hissed as a cloud of road dust billowed up the aisle. The bus left her standing on the road side – left her there alone. She had walked the short quarter mile from the school bus stop on the county road to her home many times. Many times she gave no thought to what she left behind – her school – classmates, assignments, routine. She had learned a long time ago how to leave things behind. Practice makes perfect, they say, and her best practice came in the mornings when she would leave home behind – anger, regret and a deafening silence she did not understand.
It had been three weeks since he left. Three weeks of jumping up to look out the window at every car that passed. Three weeks of Mama setting a place for him – only to clear it away because he did not come home for supper. Three weeks of pushing down the emotions to stop the pounding in her chest. One day Mama would act like nothing happened. That would be the day she would pretend he had just gone out for cigarettes. It was that day that ended in a night of gut wrenching crying – Mama in her room – Esther in hers – both crying for different reasons. The days that followed that day would be filled with fits of anger and sudden tantrums that seemed to spring up out of nowhere. There was more crying but only Esther cried on those days. Mama raged. Esther cried.
Creek rock crunched with every step as Esther slowly walked up the road that led to her house. All day she had a bad feeling. Experience had taught her to trust her feelings – especially bad feelings – they came as warnings and today’s was the warning kind. Climbing the grassy bank from the road to the front yard Esther panned the house. Everything looked as it did when she left this morning. Once under the shade of the trees she could see the front door was open. The screen door slammed behind her.
Esther did not know it at that time but the slamming of the screen door would be the only thing she could have any certainty of that day. The scene inside the house would change in detail like a kaleidoscope.
The house looked as though someone shook it like a snow globe. Nothing appeared to be in its rightful place. A strange metallic taste coated Esther’s tongue. She thought for a minute she would vomit but something inside her steeled her urging her to keep moving – don’t stop here – keep moving. Romance novels lay scattered in the living room some with pages torn from their spines and set on fire. Esther’s eyes registered the charred paper but her mind could not reason why there was no smell. Drops of sweat run down her legs onto her sweat soaked socks so wet that her shoes rub blisters on her heels. Radio static splits the silence – a man laughs at his own joke as he announces things for sale on the local Swap and Shop. His laughter upsets Esther and she swings her arm as if to slap him – to shut him up – the radio sailed from the bureau to the floor just as he announced the Ladies Missionary Society would be selling pies and cakes to raise money for children in need.
Flour covered broken dishes and the refrigerator door stood open as flies swarmed in and out of a torn window screen. As if being lead through a fun house on a dare, Esther stepped out onto the back porch dazed and numb. On cue, the barn door slammed drawing her attention to it.
Like the effects of smelling salts, the familiar odors of the barn sobered her. There in the golden shafts of sun light piercing through the barn’s boards danced dust motes around her mother’s hanging feet.
The mid-morning chime was followed by a monotone female voice, “Units two and three please make your way to the session room. Units two and three – group session – units two and three.” Esther sat on her hands pressing her palms against the seat of the cold metal chair. She stared at the space of floor between her feet. She studied her socks – the bulky seam across the toe – she curled her toes exposing the seam between the tiles. “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.” She smiled.