With the last shoebox tucked securely under her arm, she mounted the stair case to make her final sweep. She knew every creek the stairs would make in protest before her foot ever touched down and felt her muscles involuntarily tense before each groan. The house had been talking to her all day and although she listened, it was wearing her down.
The empty rooms seemed large without the tell tale marks of their lives there. The walls wiped clean of scuff marks from midnight races through the hallway. She let her fingers slide along the chair rail and find the familiar divots made through years of bumps and tumbles. Her body responded to the touch as if each one were a blow. Or an embrace. It seemed that every part of her was in an equal state of confusion about how to feel.
She wanted to check the master bedroom again but her breath caught in her chest and she faltered, nearly stumbling against the wall, but then caught herself lest she make another dent in the fresh paint. She looked down at the sunlight on the hardwood floor and remembered sitting outside that doorway, her finger nails following the cracks in the floorboards while she listened to him snore on the other side of the door. It was enough to make her conclude the upstairs was as ready as it was going to be.
She let herself lean on the handrail going down. She felt weak and almost wondered if she were coming down with something. Stress could do that to you, she reminded herself, her brain grasping onto the logic with an unsteady grip. But there was nothing but emotion here and she could feel herself reaching the limits of self control. “Almost done” she whispered to herself.
Downstairs, she heard the wind beating against the large bay window and waited for the familiar sounds of her daughter’s wind chimes. It had taken Sarah three summers to collect the sand dollars she would use to make it. Every time there was a storm she’d taken them down, wrapped them in tissue paper and hid them in the chest in the living room. Afterwards, she’d told her that elves had stolen her beautiful creation, and then brought them back after using the instrument to compose a curing song for an ailing elder. Even after she was no longer a little girl, they’d re-tell the story whenever another storm came. Another chapter that bound them together in a shared legacy.
She scanned the room and felt small standing alone in the large, open space. The big, overstuffed couch had left a permanent groove in the floor and it creaked under her foot as she shifted her weight. She took it all in- the sunlight on the walls, the shadows in the corners, the sound of the room as the ocean waves crashed outside. Empty as it was it still spoke to her, telling her how many pictures had hung on the walls, how many pillow fights had taken place on the couch, how many dance parties they’d had when it was storming outside and the rain beat the rhythm on the windows. Every memory was still there, still holding her in this space she had to leave. She took a breath and vacillated between overwhelming devastation and life-giving gratitude.
Then she exhaled and closed her eyes. “You take the memories with you,” she said to herself. She repeated it over and over again like a monk trying to reach nirvana. “You take the memories with you.”
“Mom? You ready?” Sarah’s voice echoing through the empty corridor broke her trance and she startled. She quickly wiped away the tears that had slipped through her closed eyelids and tried to look like a reasonable woman, which she knew she wasn’t.
“Mo-? Oh, ok, you ready?” Sarah asked her, turning into the room and smiling at her with her father’s eyes.
She looked at her daughter and saw him. His eyes, his high cheekbones, his chin dimple. She had hear ears and her delicate hands but so much of her was her father; including the stern disposition which had caused so much conflict when he was still alive. But she wasn’t her father, she was kinder and softer then him. ‘The best of both of us’ he used to say. He was right.
Sarah walked over to her and put an arm around her. “You ok?” she asked as she gave her a kiss on the temple. She held herself firm though she wanted to sink into the support, let her daughter carry her out here and away from all these years. But she’d made it this far, she could make it the last few steps.
“Mmm- hmm,” she said, and took a step forward.
“Mom,” Sarah said, holding her back and turning her to face her. She looked straight into her eyes and said “I’m gonna miss it, too.”
She smiled at her and agreed with her late husband’s sentiments- she really was the best of both of them. Soft enough to allow for her emotions, but hard enough to move on. For the first of many times in her life yet to come she wished that she would be more like her daughter in her old age. It reminded her of what she still had left to look forward to.
She gave her a kiss on the check in gratitude and led the way out of the empty house.