Harry sat at the table with Evie sipping his mint tea as he did every morning. Three weeks had passed since the funeral, but he still felt her presence and talked with her as though she were there beside him.
He heard his daughter, Laura, enter through the back door calling, “Hey, Dad.”
Harry smiled and waved, his eyes following her as she took Evie’s seat at the table. “Ha.” He released a little laugh watching Evie blend into Laura.
“Nothing,” he said shaking his head maintaining his grin.
Her fingers drummed the yellow Formica tabletop, and he fingered the cotton batting oozing from a tear in the vinyl seat of the chair next to him.
He wasn’t sure when she had begun speaking, but he tuned in at the words, “…senior living facility. A fresh clean space, Dad, with modern appliances and central air. Remember, we agreed to make a decision today.”
Harry cringed. “No. There are too many memories in this house.” He could never leave them behind.
Laura rolled her eyes reminding Harry of the teenager buried beneath the layered years of his now married daughter. And with her head dropped in her hands, she said, “You can take them with you.”
She didn’t understand. The memories were in the walls. The scents, the sounds, the fading hues. While he appreciated her interest in his well-being, she did not yet understand the importance of holding onto memories.
His daughter’s voice receded like white noise in his ears. Move from this place? My life’s blood? Rooms that hold over fifty years of memories, walls infused with Evie’s Angel perfume?
Harry wondered how much of this pressure to farm him out to an old age home was coming from that controlling, jealous husband of hers. Harry was certain Jake had tricked Laura into marriage, promising to fill their home with children, but once the marriage was consummated, he wanted her all to himself and resented anyone taking her time from him.
How is it Laura’s not strong enough to stand up to Jake, but she can muster enough strength to fight me? Harry wanted to ask, but Evie stepped in, as she always did, telling him to mind his own business. But this my business, Harry argued with her in silence.
Setting the empty mug on the table, Harry’s eyes drifted to the aging gas range with foil lined burners and grease stained backsplash. His head bobbed up and down. They were details that had gone unnoticed, but oozed with memories like the tear in the vinyl chair. He drew a deep breath savoring the lingering aromas that once wafted through Evie’s kitchen.
“Your mother lives here, and I promised never to leave her.”
Harry’s eyes rose to wine spots on the ceiling only he could see. Evie’s wide-eyes had locked with his that day when the bottle cork popped and an erupting geyser sent a shower of exploding fermented grapes raining down on them. Laughter, tears of laughter licked away with burgundy-flavored kisses. With an impish grin, he recalled the passionate love that followed there on the kitchen floor bathed in spirits.
Still smiling he pushed back from the table and reached out to his daughter.
“Come, walk with me.” Taking her hand, he led her down the hall. “These walls are bursting with our family secrets,” he said stopping to study a road map of cracks in the plaster.
Heading upstairs, his hand caressed the wooden banister, where the once dark stain had yellowed from years of loving hands sliding over its surface. With each step his grunt was met with groans from the creaking stairs complaining with him. “Your mother always says those are sounds of life, and I should be glad I can hear them.”
“What?” Harry’s face tightened.
“Nothing. I’m sorry. Forget it,” Laura said shaking her head.
Together they followed the black-and-white collage of family history rising up the stairway wall. For years, Harry had been passing them without notice. But today he paused at each photo, each one holding a story. Births, weddings, and rites of passage. Loved ones long gone. He tapped his finger on the one of his son posing proudly in his US Marine uniform, hoping Evie would find him in heaven.
Their wedding picture hung at the top of the stairs. She in a long, white satin gown, her waist pinched pencil thin. He, gift wrapped in black and white with a large bow tied around his neck. His hand swiped the cold glass trying now as he had then to push a stray curl from her forehead, but once again his effort was refused.
He kissed two fingers and let them rest on her lips. “You were a beauty, Ev.” He stared into her dancing green eyes with that tiny splash of yellow in only the left one. He swayed remembering how they’d danced, forgetting everyone else in the room. Closing his eyes, wrapped in her warmth and delicate redolence, he stumbled backwards on the step.
“Dad,” Laura screamed catching him midfall.
“I’m all right, Ev,” he said straightening up and looking into the eyes that had faded to shades of gray.
“And here,” he said moving down the hall, “in here lies our marriage bed.” He stepped across the threshold imagining his bride in his arms remembering the love, the disagreements, the indelible pains of loss all saved for this room, as he settled onto the mattress infused with Evie’s fragrance. She was with him in this bed, this house, this home they’d built together.
Smiling, he looked up at his daughter. “Here, right here is where I belong.”
Laura sat down on the edge of the bed beside her dad and nodded. “I get it, Dad, I do.” She paused, again dropping her head. Harry watched as she picked at a hangnail on her thumb. Another lingering childhood habit, he thought, putting his hand over hers as he would always do to cease the nervous tic.
Laura looked up, with sad eyes and half-smile. And with her voice raised an octave, she said, “But this house is a hazard, Dad. You almost fell down the stairs. What would’ve happened if I hadn’t been there to catch you?”
Harry had no answer, no defense. He knew where this was heading. Even Evie was telling him it was time. He closed his eyes hoping to contain the rising tears.
“I promise to wrap up every memory that can be moved. We can’t take the foul odor of the green slime living in your fridge.” She smiled. “But I promise we can bring everything that can be moved harboring Mom’s scent. She’ll be coming with you.”
Harry inhaled deeply relishing in every memory the room held, and slowly releasing his breath, his eyes searched Laura’s for the truth.
“Promise?” he said.
Barbara Schilling Hurwitz is a veteran teacher who has found new voice through creative writing. Her works have appeared on line and in print journals including American Writers Review 2020, The Writer’s Rock Quarterly Spring 2020, Montgomery Magazine, The Drabble, Fewer Than 500, Microfiction Monday, and soon to be published in Wrong Way Go Back. She and her husband spend their time in Bethesda, Maryland and New York City.