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  • Writer's pictureMarble Black

The Yellow House


We are a speck of dust on the Universe’s shelf. Everyone is dead or dying and if they aren’t, then they’re simply unaware. These are the things my father recites to me as I lie in bed. He pulls the quilt up to my shoulders. The bed creaks beneath the weight of him. He sits beside me.


I see only his back, which is dressed in a thinning, powder blue button-down. His shoulders are present beneath the fabric: aged skin and spots spurred by the blaze of the sun. 


When he gets up, the bed creaks again. He walks into the closet behind him, opening the shutter doors, hanging onto the tiniest doorknob with a somewhat feminine delicacy. It’s like he’s checking for something. He doesn’t tell me what. 


He sighs and pulls on the string seemingly floating in the air beside him. Click. The closet is dark. He returns to me. He kisses my forehead and shuts off the lamp just beside me. The room is black. He stands before me, resembling something strange. Everything is the negative of what it once was before, like nuclear shadows burned into the membrane of my eyes. 


“Goodnight,” he says. 


 

In Youngstown, all the buildings are brick. Smoke permeates the air from the steel mills. It’s hard to breathe. No one smiles. No one speaks. If I’m walking to school and pass a neighbor, I don’t wave. I don’t even turn my head in their direction, too certain that a pair of judgmental eyes will immediately greet me.


I walk on the paved road on my way home and count the gaping cracks beneath my shoes. Trees spill out on either side of me, roped in by telephone lines. They look sick. I wonder if they are, if the decay that comes during the fall for them is permanent and not temporary like so many people believe. Maybe just these trees, though. 


Maybe father is right, and everything here is dead, dying, or simply unaware that it is.


When I get to our front door, I stop. Beside our simple, brick house is a new house. It’s dandelion yellow, composed of plastic siding with white-trimmed windows. There are flowerbeds, a white picket fence, and a woman. 


She’s standing across from me on the other side of the fence, wearing a navy Kitty Foyle dress and her eyes — she points. I follow her familiar finger to a trail of dirt that runs from her house to mine. It lines our dead flowerbeds and stops just at the side of the house where my bedroom is. 


Quickly, I go inside our house. I lock the door behind me. In the living room, I draw the curtains. I write a note to my father. I leave it in the living room on the coffee table for him to find when he comes home from work. 


 

At 6 PM, he calls for me after shutting the front door. I crawl out from beneath my bed and meet him in the living room. He’s holding my note, staring at it strangely. 


“What is this?” he asks. 


I can’t speak, and the confusion on his face intensifies. 


He places the note down onto the coffee table and walks over to draw the curtains. It’s dim outside. The sun has begun to set. Across the yard, there is no yellow house. I blink. My father makes an amused sound. He walks into our kitchen and begins making supper. 


Stunted, I slowly lower onto my knees and reach for my note. To my surprise, there are no words, only lead scratches.


 

Sleep reluctantly finds me that night. My father gives me a handful of antihistamines. He does this when I become restless. There was a time, shortly after my mother’s death, where I’d walk up and down the hallway that separates our rooms. I used to terrify him. He said I used to speak as I walked and when the walking stopped, it soon was replaced with crawling. 


As I dream, I think I am walking again. I must be. The walls that surround me feel like phantoms, a simple push, and I’d fall right through them. I can hear my bare feet, hear the house creak and whine with each step I take. 


A door opens. The grass is cold beneath me. I shiver and then stall. Across the yard, the yellow house has returned, glowing from within. She is standing in the large, living room window. 


My body feels like a funhouse, disconnected from the true world. Fear lies somewhere inside me. It scatters like a roach beneath light, and in its place — nothing. 


Somehow, I find myself standing before the front door of the yellow house. I’m in pain, but not responding, and then the door opens. Bright, hypnotic colors encase me.


A record is playing in the living room. Some man is singing in a low and melancholic voice. The record skips. I step inside. Behind me, the door closes, and when I turn around, she’s there.


“Hello,” she says. 


Eyes stare back at me, lifeless. Large. Large like a doll’s. 


“You look just like her,” I say. 


My voice is an echo. She smiles at me. Then, I blink, and she’s gone. Dishes clink together in the kitchen off to my left. I feel my heart in my chest. I feel my pulse slip out into the very tips of my fingers. 


There is an innate fear inside me, comparable to witnessing something foreign. It reminds of the time I’d awoken in my father’s bedroom after sleepwalking. The act of displacement shook me to my core. I wasn’t sure of the time or the day, or how I’d even gotten to where I was. 


I feel that now, only, there’s a new element. Like a lamb born with two heads peering back at me, there she was — this woman that looked like my mother, but didn’t. 


Her head pokes out from the frame of the kitchen door, appearing disconnected from her body. 


“Hungry?” she asks. 


I shake my head. 


Her head pokes out a bit further, to the point I question the possibility.


“Sure, you are,” she says. “Come here.” 


I do, not because I want to, but because I’m afraid to say no. In the kitchen, she sets the table. Salmon pink dishes are lined out with polished silver. I take a fork from the table when she isn’t looking.


“Are you lonely?” she asks. 


Her back is facing me. She’s stirring sweet ingredients together in a bowl with a wooden spoon. On the stove, I can see that one of the dials is set to 350 degrees. 


“Life can be lonely,” she continues. “Especially in Youngstown.” 


“I’ve lived here my whole life.” 


She grabs a pan from a cabinet near her knees. I watch her line it with a pie crust that’d been lying on the counter beside her. 


She claps the flour from her hands, “All your life?”


“Yes.” 


Carefully, she begins to pour out the filling from the bowl into the pan – crushed cherries and sugar. I continue to watch, but then my eyes click to the door in front of me. Around the doorknob, paint has chipped away. In tiny, neat print, is the word, “Arrive.”


“Do you have a basement?” I ask. 


She is covering the pie filling with strips of dough when she stops. She turns back around and for some reason, I’m afraid to see her move. 


“I do have a basement,” she says. “But you don’t.” 


I swallow. My skin itches. Her head tilts to the side, and I wonder if she can see how fast my heart is beating. She turns around. She finishes making the pie and then places it into the oven. 


“What does your daddy say?” she asks. “Everyone is dead or dying and if they aren’t, then they’re simply unaware?”


My stomach turns to ice. I can’t move. Glued to my chair, I watch her slowly straighten her back. She stands this way for minutes. I watch the clock on the stove slowly tick — still frozen, still sweating, and contemplating how fast I can run and if she can run faster. 


“Do you think things really die, though?” she asks. 


 

When I open my eyes, I’m in my bed. My reflection stares back at me within the vanity centered along the wall. I’m panting. 


I’d dreamt it. It was a dream. It was a dream. It was a dream. 


Suddenly, something crawls across the floor of my bedroom. I hear the sound of knees smudging against wood and look to find the shape of a woman hurrying out into the hall on all fours. I scream. 


Light floods my bedroom as my father stands in the doorway where I once saw the woman. He’s staring at me with parted lips, looking pale and disheveled. 


I throw the quilt from my body and dart out into our living room. Through the window, there is no yellow house. I blink. My father asks me if I’m alright. He wraps me into a hug, cradling my skull in his hand. 


“You’re okay,” he breathes.  


He leads me back to bed, gives me three antihistamines, and eventually, I sleep. 


I awake just an hour later. 


I hear the clock on the kitchen wall as a car outside lazily putters by. The headlights possess the interior of our house, painting the walls a bright yellow. When the light disperses, I step out into the living room. Her house is sitting across from me through the window. The lights are off. Beneath the glow of the moon, the house looks fake. 


If I were to reach out through the window, a part of me believes I’d be able to hold it in my hand. And there, inside its warm catalog walls, would be the woman that looks like my mother. I don’t know how long I stay in the living room. Time seems to move through me, like grief, abundant and yet, invisible. 


 

That night, I dream of her – not the woman, but my mother. When I awake, I’m lying on the floor of the living room. My father joins me in an hour or so. By then, I am dressed and showered, so he doesn’t question where I slept last night. He cooks us breakfast and makes us tea. 


The house is not there, and I don’t think about it as much as I think about my mother. 


After supper time, I stand in the hallway outside the bathroom, watching my father brush his teeth. I feel different. He tucks me into bed and refuses to give me more antihistamines, saying he’d read the bottle’s hallucinatory side effects. 


When he says this, I cry, confessing I think he’s right. I tell him about the woman and the house, about the trail that I once saw connecting our home to hers. He looks at me with sympathy and kisses my head.


“If you still can’t sleep tonight, come get me.” 


I nod, and he stands in the door frame of my room. Behind him, the house is dark and yet, bright. It’s as if all the color in the world has returned. I wonder when exactly it left, if it went when my mother did or if, somehow, my father’s been able to control this all along. He shuts off the light. I close my eyes.


Beside me, something clatters on the floor. I get up. I turn on the light. In my closet is the fork I’d taken from the yellow house. It’s lying next to the note I’d written days ago. 


“Daddy, I’m under the bed. Call the police. Please. Something across the street is pretending to be mom.” 


I lift my head to the back of the closet. There, just a foot above me, is a doorknob. Beneath it, in tiny, neat print, is the word, “Depart.”


 


Marble Black currently works as a Technical Writer/editor with a BA in English, and has fourteen years of writing experience. She’s been writing all her life and has been known to somehow relate everything/anything to Sylvia Plath or Richard Siken while at parties. When she’s not writing, however, she’s usually in bed. Sometimes, she goes for walks in downtown Tulsa, plans trips she’ll never take, and eats uncooked pasta. She thinks indulgence is important. She thinks happiness is key.

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