Echoes in the Dark
by Karlene Jacobsen
Not For Sale
Author requests article critique
Not For Sale
Author requests article critique
The house, broken and empty, leaned heavily on crumbling beams. I opened the door and tossed my keys on a nearby table. The floor moaned in protest as I stepped into the family room. Glancing around, I took inventory of the furniture, whatever was left of it, covered in a blanket of dust. I set my duffel on the floor, creating puff clouds around my feet. Across the room, a fireplace sat beneath a mantel covered in soot. The wall behind was blackened from smoke except for the squares left white where pictures once had been.
I left the room, following a hall leading to the kitchen. More faded squares and circles covered the walls lining both sides of that hall. I knew there had been pictures on those walls, showcasing my husband’s family. They had been removed by relatives the day Ben’s Grandma passed a week ago, most everything else too, the way things looked.
The house, left to my Ben—the only grandchild who ever bothered or cared—once was so pretty. Now…the walls and doorways were marred by the hasty removal of anything that could be turned into cash. They left behind everything else—broken.
I made my way into the kitchen, and noticed something glint in the late afternoon sun. Walking over, hating that my feet echoed in the empty kitchen, I recognized the object that caught my eye as a beautifully decorated picture frame—homemade, I was told. Resentment boiled in me. I knew this was left behind because no monetary gain could be seen.
I looked down into the faces of the picture, knowing how gracious Ben’s grandmother had been. It was taken on the front porch of this home, long ago. I recognized Grandma, Granddad, and their nine children. The faces of the children were young, but I was able to pick out Ben’s dad in the lineup. Oh, I wish he were here to see this photo. Everyone in there looks so happy. We debated whether to wait until he could come with me, but he had to work; the house needed to be readied for the market. I was available, so I agreed to come and get an idea what needed to be done and which supplies I ought to bring back with me. I groaned. I really did not want to sell, but the family demanded they get their share.
My fingers traced the delicate etchings in the frame. I’m such a sucker for homemade things. Ben shakes his head, exasperated, every time I run off to a craft show and come home with my newest treasure. At least I don’t have to spend money on this one.
I looked around the kitchen, trying to imagine it layered with children, every one eagerly waiting for breakfast.
Clutching the picture, I wandered from room to room, trying to imagine what it must have been like growing up in this house. How many pillow fights erupted in the hall upstairs between the four bedrooms? Were the children orderly…or did they race to the bathroom, then fight over who got into there next? What was it like living with four pouty girls and five scrappy boys? Did young men anxiously wait downstairs for his first date with one of the girls? Were young men scared senseless when they came to ask Granddad for his daughter’s hand in marriage? Did Granddad make it rough on those boys? Did Grandma offer milk and cookies for her sons when they brought their sweethearts home.
The picture boasted of the perfect family. What happened to clear out these rooms? What was it that changed them from the smiling faces in this photo to the angry, jealous, greedy children who tore through Grandma’s things as soon as she breathed her last? I could name them all, knew who they were today: one an alcoholic, another dying from AIDS, both of them now outcasts—unclean and unwelcome. Dad’s heart has been hardened, vowing never to talk of his life or of what changed this happy family to this splintered greedy crowd.
My heart broke. This house reflected my own bitterness—battered and pillaged. The house…through anger and greed, mine…resentment and judgment. There was much work to do. Replacing the picture on the counter I remembered Grandma’s words, “Never allow the sun to go down on your anger, dear.” It was time to leave them in God’s hands.
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Reader Count & Comments
I like the emotions in the piece. I was especially gripped by the middle part, her wonderings about the family, "clutching the picture," the frustration the MC obviously feels, tettering between anger and despair. You described the house well, pulling out interesting details like the dust and soot. If I can make a suggestion, maybe giving those aspects of the house more "life" would introduce the emotion to the reader at the same time as setting the scene. I sensed that the MC was sad and the descriptions certainly described neglect, etc. but say the furnishings, walls, even the dust could have personality and pull the MC down the hall or if the smells brought forth memories.... That may match the emotion in the middle paragraphs better and pull the reader into the home. I still like this one though!
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