The landing at the top of the stairs sounded the loudest lament.

Her fingers traced the expansion and contraction lines on the white-washed plaster walls as she took the first steps slowly, navigating the bowed and weakened wood on the stairs. The house and her family were accustomed to her. No longer aware of the accompaniment of whines and moans from the house’s joints, the furtive efforts were for her own sake.

She loosened the grip on her body as she neared the bottom of the stairs and with both feet on the floor, she pivoted. She did not propel her weight around the banister as her children did – the overwhelming daily soundtrack of clatter, hammering feet and pitched voices tumbling down the stairs – but with both feet on the solid floor, she turned as if launched, released from the confines of caution.

Cast from her neighbor’s porch, she interrupted the ghoulish lines of yellow light that stretched across the floor of her living room. Safely out of the light’s reach, the corners of the room would remain dark for hours. She always woke long before the first sanguine song of the cardinal.

In the dark, the fulfillment of a new day hemmed her in. The silence attended to her wounds.

Crossing the threshold to her kitchen, she reached for the piebald teakettle she vowed to keep clean. The disappointment with her failure was just as impossible to remove as the burnished stove top splatter. With great care, to quiet the contact of cast iron and metal, she placed the kettle on the lattice grates of her gas stove. Turning the dial, sound prints marked the stove’s ignition: the hiss of gas, the pilot light snapping, twice, then air engulfed – whompf – in blue flame.

She confronted the contents of her kitchen sink.

The porcelain basin held a tottering jumble of the previous evening’s plates and bowls. Of the three remaining water glasses, one was perched precariously – hastily abandoned – its lip and base bridging the gap between the dishes and the white wall of the sink. The fourth glass lay in shards. Splintered pieces swept and placed, regrettably, in the trash.

From the dining room, the metronomic beat of the hanging wall clock trespassed on the quiet.

Each swing parsed out moments of memory: the blast of her voice reacting to her daughter’s complaint, the swell of bitter frustration with her son’s indifference, and then the detonation of glass on the tile floor, the spray of shards and the shrapnel of silence. She hated herself.

To atone for her sin, she drew hot water and reached for a bowl. Greased with the remnant of the salad dressing she made, she took the washrag in her hand and ran her fingers around the crease of the shallow dish. The action comforted her. It was measured and purposeful. Tender and patient. Qualities she wished she possessed.

With each pass of her hand, she tried to salvage some semblance of forgiveness.

Picking up another bowl, the pulse of her eyelashes slowed. The fierce seizing of regret clutched at her gut with sharp teeth and angry claws. The next bowl she scoured, punishment. She did not want to add to the shrill voice in her head, so she made a habit of leaving the kettle’s steam whistle open. She listened for the echoes of pressure, the volley of escalating frenzy and the clamor of water at boiling point. Pausing from the dishes she looked over her shoulder; she saw hot coils ascend from the narrow neck. She turned off the stove. The blue flame recoiled, and the fire was swallowed by the burner head.

She poured the steaming water into her cup, and a shiver ran down her spine. Each vertebra trembled in succession. She was riven between who she was and who she wanted to be.

Quietly she came apart.

Her hands ascended to her brow, her knees hinged, and her body poured down the kitchen cabinet. The bevel-edged front of the cupboard gently guided her, like a friend, to the floor and the tile caught her fall.

She was surprised by the relief.
*This piece was inspired by Peter Geye’s, “The Lighthouse Road.” Of Rebecca, he writes, ‘she felt herself coming apart’ (pg. 240).

Photo Credit: aulbarnes08 Flickr via Compfight cc

Alicia Gatto Petersen

Alicia Gatto Petersen’s life revolves around the shores of White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Her poems have previously appeared in Mothers Always Write. This is her first flash fiction publication and her first in the Feminine Collective. She is honored to be part of the collective.

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