Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Orange Envelope

He pulled out the chair, dusted off the top of the worn, wooden surface and sat down. He lifted the lid with an aged creak and let it settle against the wood of the board. The ivory gleamed with dust as if the keys hadn’t been played in years, even though he had only played a few days previously. That was how everything felt lately. It all felt so wrong and old and worn out. He cracked his fingers and began to play.

But he wasn’t really playing. He pounded the keys, purposefully avoiding the pentatonic scale–– purposefully avoiding melody or harmony of any kind. He pounded and pounded the keys until it felt like his heart and soul and anger were all beating and reverberating in the air around him.

“What the bloody hell is that noise?” She yelled from below the staircase as she looked up towards the foyer where the piano was located.

“Trish.” He heard the other voice.

“Robert, don’t touch me! Listen, I don’t care that he’s just trying to cope! We all are trying to cope as best as we can but he doesn’t have to go and throw a temper tantrum like a little baby.”

He sighed and let his long, dirty blonde hair fall across his face. He let the keyboard lid slide shut. He slumped back in his chair. He waited for the worst of the fight to be over before he went back downstairs. He knew why this was all really going on. He had felt it the second his mom had laid that orange envelope on the table.

* * *

Downstairs the lights were mostly out throughout the house. She sat at the table and looked up as he walked down the stairs. Just like him, going and making some noise until somebody pays him attention. He just didn’t seem to want to face the fact that they were really going to have to deal with this. Their lives were going to change. and there was nothing–– no amount of playing or banging or noise making–– that would stop that.

“Sebastian, why don’t you just grow up.” She hissed at him under her breath as he walked into the kitchen. The light bathed them and the table in oily, yellow light and made everything else beyond the light seem even more blue and depressing.

He didn’t answer her and that just made her all the more angry. Not viscerally angry. More just frustrated at him. It helped to be able to channel some of her anger at him and his poor choices. His last few weeks of skipping out on school and failing his classes hadn’t helped the situation any bit. The situation.

Her eyes fell on the orange envelope on the table before them. His eyes followed hers and his back stiffened visibly. In part she blamed him for aggravating the situation but deep down she didn’t know if she could ever feel that she could forgive her mother for bringing the orange envelope home.

Not that it was her mother’s fault either. But somehow. Somehow her mother being the one to bring it in and lay it down on the kitchen table made it her mother’s fault. Because before that their house had been a safe place. Nothing bad could find them. And then her mother brought the orange envelope.

“Now then, I’m glad we’re all finally here. It’s been the devil trying to get you all together so we could have this talk.” And as her mother stopped talking her father cleared his throat and looked at her expectantly. Hopelessly.

She wished she could reach out and comfort him, but she didn’t know how, even if she really wanted to. And while there was a part of her mind that was logical and told her that it was actually her father’s fault, somehow she couldn’t just blame him. She felt more that she had to defend him against the other two. Her mother and her brother. The room felt like it was made of ice cold marble. No one said anything.

“Well, as you both already know––” her mother began, motioning towards the orange envelope.

“This is sick!” He stood up–– her stupid blond haired brother–– and was yelling and making a scene like he always did.

“Bastion, sit down!” She hissed at him.

“No! You’re all... all.. so sick!” He clenched his fist and for the first time ever she wondered if he might hit her. “How can you all just be so normal! So rational about all this! There is nothing normal about this! And yet you all carry on like it’s okay and perfectly alright!”

“Well, someone has to be rational about this.” Her mother. “And since you obviously don’t want to be that person we aren’t going to force you. But if you don’t have anything else to add to the conversation then kindly shut up and sit down!”

“Now, dear.” Her father’s turn, “I thought we’d agreed––”

“Robert!” Her fury on him now, “Don’t you dare undermine me. Not now. Not again! We agreed!”

“Yes, dear. And we agreed that we would let the children be a part of it. And that means letting Sebastian have his say too.” Her father placed his hand on her mother’s arm, who wrenched away and sat down again. She couldn’t believe that her mother could be so cruel sometimes.

The silence settled on them again. None sure whose turn it was. Sebastian was sulking like some big baby. Even though he would protest and say that he was old enough to move out next year and that he was too old for a curfew. Still, times like these just proved how immature he still was. The silence between her parents was like an armistice, but she wasn’t sure which side had won. So it looked like it was up to her to get the ball rolling. The sooner the better.

* * *

When she spoke he nearly jumped out of his skin. He had been waiting for Trish to speak and when Alice was the one to break the silence it caught him off guard. The way that Alice was looking at Trish almost broke his heart. He wished he could stand up and take his little girl in his arms and tell her everything would be alright and that it was his fault and not her mother’s fault and that she shouldn’t be angry at anyone but him. It was all his fault after all. There was no one else to blame. He had done this.

“So, mother.” And there was venom in the air, “You were saying?”

“Thank you, dear.” Judging from Trish’s response it was easy to see where Alice got her venom, “We love you both and we hate that this has to happen. Especially with your brother in his last year of high school, and you just ready to get married and everything. And this is the last thing either of you wants to have to go through. But sometimes life is full of unexpected turns.”

His eyes fell on the orange envelope. It was his fault. He had done it. He had caused it. Everything had been fine as far as they had all thought, but then he couldn’t just be happy with what he had. Many people had been happy with much less. Was he being ungrateful? Maybe he could still turn it back, change things. But the way Trish was sitting, the way she kept her distance from him like he was some kind of disease, that was what made all of this not only unbearable, but told him that there would be no going back. He sighed. She seemed to take a sharp intake of air, as if he was trying to steal the very air out of the room.

“I’m sorry.” He sighed as he leaned forward and placed his face in his palms.

“Not this again. Robert! You promised! You said you’d be able to keep it together in front of the children!” She was livid with rage as she stood up, “Well, until you pull yourself together I’ll be in the other room!”

“Dad, I’m sorry.” It was Alice, wrapping her arm around him, “No one blames you. She’s the one who––”

“No.” He brought his bloodshot eyes level with her worry lined ones, “She’s right. Your mother is right. Don’t you dare blame her for this.”

“But Dad, she––” But he placed a finger on her lips.

“No. Not a single word against your mother. You hear?” And he tried to sound stronger than he felt as he made his command, “Please. For my sake.”

“Fine. If you’re gonna take her side then there’s really no point anymore, is there!” And he knew that deep inside she would be hating herself for being so melodramatic, for making the same kind of exit her mother had made, but that didn’t stop her from standing up and marching out of the kitchen.

He looked over at his son. The last little part of his family that was left here at the kitchen table with him. Sebastian was slouched back in his chair, his hair in his face, arms crossed. He didn’t need to say anything. Robert knew that look. He knew exactly what it meant. The lights may be on but the doors were all locked. He leaned back in his own chair and closed his eyes and let his head rest against the wall behind him. Just the two of them in their own personal, silent agonies at the kitchen table.  With that orange envelope in the center of the yellow pool of light.

* * *

She massaged her forehead, trying to release the stress that seemed to live right under her skin and pound against her skull day and night. She had barely had a moment to herself to think lately. All of her responsibilities and commitments aside, she had to deal with all this rubbish that Robert had brought home with him. And now, like always, his problems had become her problems and she was the only one left to clean up his mess. It was true, having a husband was no better than having a third child.

From downstairs she heard angry stomping and knew it was Alice. She wondered if she should look over. Alice would have to pass her door to get to her own room. She could look over and try to make her daughter understand that it was her who was the victim here. But no, she wouldn’t. She didn’t make it this far in life by looking for handouts. Instead she simply sat and kept looking out the window as she heard the creak of the floorboards behind her. In the window’s warped reflection she could barely make out the dark blue shape that lingered in the hallway. Alice.

But before she could turn her daughter had gone. And then there was the slam. How dare her daughter behave like this, taking Robert’s side in this when she was clearly the victim here! No, she told herself, none of that victim mentality nonsense. If Alice was going to be melodramatic and take sides and hate her, then there was nothing Trish could do about it. She couldn’t control her daughter’s feelings. Once she stopped and thought about it, she wouldn’t want to.

She stood up and walked out. She paused at the door that led to Alice’s room. Inside she could hear a muffled scream. Alice hadn’t done that since she was a little girl. But she wasn’t a little girl anymore. Soon she would be married and off on her own with her own family in her own life and have her own problems to deal with. And then when she wanted to cry or scream she would have to go find a quiet place to do it because she wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore. Not where anyone could know that she cried. Trish sighed.

She walked down the creaking stairs. Robert and Sebastian were still sitting there. Neither really seemed to have moved since she left. And she almost felt foolish enough to blush for her outburst and for stomping away like that. Looking at the two of them sitting there, she wondered if Robert even knew the extent of the damage. The fact that Sebastian had broken it off with his longtime girlfriend because he didn’t even know if he still believed in love. Of course, she reasoned with herself, that was just the last few drops of adolescent melodrama working its way out of his system. In a few years he’d be fine. They would all be fine. So couldn’t they keep things the same way and still be fine, the thought slid into her mind uninvited.

Her lips felt dry and she didn’t know what to say. Should she clear her throat? Should she even sit down. Maybe stay standing. This was ridiculous. This was her house and her kitchen and her table and her family and she shouldn’t feel like a stranger. Like the bad guy. Maybe she was too busy trying to defend herself. Maybe they were right about her. Maybe she was the bad guy. And what was the point in admitting that to herself? It still wouldn’t change anything. Maybe nothing could change it. Maybe there was no way for them to stop the chain of events that were now in motion. No way to go back against the orange envelope sitting on her kitchen table.

She sat down and Sebastian looked over at her. When he talked, with words, he was never very good at communicating what he really meant. And often. Very very often. he would end up making her and everyone else mad. But he had a  way with his eyes. He could tell you whole books with his eyes. He could make you feel what he felt with those eyes of his. And the look he met her with, right then and there in the pool of oily yellow light surrounded by the inky blue house. She felt all her walls and defenses come tumbling down. But she wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t break down. She didn’t know why she had to be this strong. But she would be. Only a single tear escaped out of the corner of her eye, tracing a wet line down her cheek as she watched him stand and leave.

* * *

He pulled out the chair, dusted off the top of the worn, wooden surface and sat down. He lifted the lid with an aged creak and let it settle against the wood of the board. The ivory gleamed with dust as if the keys hadn’t been played in years, even though he had only played a few hours ago. That was how everything felt lately. It all felt so wrong and old and worn out. He cracked his fingers and began to play. And this time he played a song. A swan song. A song for the orange envelope on the table.

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