Well meaning relatives press their hands tightly around mine, telling me just how sad I must be. In case I have forgotten. Mindless chatter fills the room and one too many egg salad sandwiches eaten out of politeness begin to make my stomach churn. I make my excuses and quietly pad down the dark familiar hallway to the bedroom.
Everything looks the same. Matching bedside tables and lamps, my mother’s glasses neatly folded atop a precarious pile of books, my father’s favourite jacket carefully hung over the back of a chair. The same ruffled brown comforter on their bed for as long as I can remember. I reach down and run my fingers over the worn fabric. It feels like home. Exhausted, I slip my shoes off, crawl into the middle of the bed and lay my heavy head down between their pillows so I can breathe them both in once more. Silent tears fall on the ruffled brown comforter that is no comfort to me at all.
The crowd has dispersed now, all gone back to their regular lives. “Death and taxes,” I hear more than a few of them say. Together we sit at the kitchen table, my siblings and I, as though we are happy children instead of lonely adults. The canary yellow benchtop is strewn with newspapers still rolled in their plastic, bereavement cards and an endless sea of food that won’t fit in the fridge. My brother takes charge and starts making a list. We have only five days to remove all trace of our family from this house and the desperation hangs heavily in the air: “please don’t make me do this alone.” Quietly, methodically, we work our way through each room, pausing to laugh, to cry and eat reheated lasagne on paper plates. Packing whole lives into cardboard boxes.
The bedroom remains untouched until the last day, consciously avoided all week. We enter together as if our communal strength will somehow make this less painful. My sister starts in the closet while my brother pokes around in the en suite. I sit on the edge of the bed with the ruffled brown comforter and stare blindly out the window. Nerves are fraught now and the bickering begins so I slip out of the room unnoticed. This is too much.
I unlatch the flimsy lock on the back door and walk slowly through my mother’s garden, running my hands over the rosemary to release its scent just the way she used to do. The grass is still wet with dew and feels cool under my tired feet. Who will live in this house now, I wonder, who will care for her garden? The carefully planted bulbs will rise on the cusp of winter and spring, a joyous floral symphony that none of us will be here to see. I turn my head in an effort to shake these thoughts from my mind and the smell of the looming pines reaches out to me. The woods. I walk to the edge, where the garden ends and the unknown begins, and listen to the wind whistle through the creaking boughs, finding comfort in the sound. The trees beckon, pleading with me to take just one more step forward. I glance back toward the house, through the window of the bedroom, and see my brother and sister sitting on the floor amongst the cardboard boxes, laughing now. They’ll be just fine. I close my eyes, draw a breath and step into the darkness.