There were three families. The first came when the home still smelled of fresh paint, a young couple full of hope, or something like it. Here we are, they said, our new life together. They spilled a glass of orange juice and said don’t cry over spilled milk. At first, the couch cushions were rotated every week, the blanket across the back of the sofa straightened, the bed made every morning, the sheets changed every two weeks, the dishes washed every night, all with smiles and love. The house was taken care of, felt loved. Everything was a joke. They laughed, and the house was warm. They slept, and the home dreamed.
Someone said something wrong, and the house broke. It happened more and more frequently. The comment that had too much aggression to be ignored. The anger reverberating when a coffee mug was put down with enough force to make the coffee splash out. The start of a conversation that was abruptly cut short and the subject changed. Someone forgot to pay the bills, and there were lamps thrown. As the love between them collapsed, so did the love of the home. As the threads of loneliness pulled the two apart, the floorboards began popping up. The bed was not only unmade, but its blankets were thrown across the floor, left unwashed for months. You left the door to the home unlocked. Someone broke in. Why did that happen? I forgot. You forgot? Yes, I forgot, could you please remind me some days? Why don’t you just remind yourself? Why don’t you want to talk to me more in the morning? Why can’t you just remember? Why can’t you do it yourself? Maybe I will.
You were late, didn’t call. Who were you with? Don’t you trust me? Why are you so defensive? Why are you upset? They looked at the table that had been set for hours, looked at the sauce running down the ravioli, as though it could go on forever and not actually fall, as though the sauce could thin itself out to a string reaching the floor gracefully, never completely falling apart.
The second family was four brothers in their forties, separated for a decade, suddenly reuniting, never exactly talking about it, never telling the home the story of their coming. The home didn’t quite understand much of what happened. One could never be alone with one of the others. They were starting a business, always referring to it as “the business,” never telling the home anything. They came home and grunted at each other, never really making conversation except about “the business.” Occasional references to childhood, nothing heart-wrenching. Casual mentioning of high school love interests. In the winter, no jackets. Wearing suits until bedtime. Sitting in four lounge chairs with the television too quiet to hear, reading the same newspaper as the television news station. Quiet, repetitive days. One brother was in an accident. And it was another’s fault. And the other two continued the business elsewhere.
The last family was five children and their grandmother. The home was full. The awkward quietness was gone. The youngest two laughed. Constantly. And not the cynical laugh of the first couple, but the bright one of childhood. The walls became painted by fingers. Cheap tape was used to put posters of celebrities in the room the teenagers took over, ripped off later to take some of the wall’s paint. Each feeling weird when the next achieved the age at which they had moved into the home. Each giving the younger tips on the first day of middle school, the first day of high school. When all five had grown, the last summer day marked moving day. The smell of bug spray, chlorinated pools, and memories. Five children sharing the home. Five children growing up, moving on. All five re-uniting, the last day of summer, before going their separate ways. The final departure, leaving her alone in the home. She lived there a little while longer, until the heart attack, alone in the night.
Afterward, the home rotted. No one bought it, but no one sold it either. The paint was chipped, too chipped to redo. The roof was starting to look threatening, and none of the doors stayed on hinges or fit in their doorways. The house seemed to be at an angle. How long had it been standing, anyway? It was stripped apart, and no one thought of it again. Only they built something better in its place, and a young couple full of hope, or something like it, moved in.