He looked around the room, bare now of the clutter of their lives. Only a wooden box remained. It must be the china, or the crystal. It didn’t matter. Soon it would be gone too. Would this house remember them? Would whoever came to inhabit it next hear echoes of their laughter, tears, frustration and love?
He was exhausted from the day’s labor. She left his suit hanging in the bathroom so he could clean up before leaving the house. He would carry his toiletries and dust and sweat-stained clothes out in an old grocery bag to dinner. And that box. It couldn’t be left behind.
The cold water of the shower made him jump and wish he hadn’t turned off the water heater. It seemed a good idea at the time, like so many ideas before them. At least it rushed him through his ablutions, until his eyes alit on the small tile just above the faucet.
It was a flower, blue. He remembered when she handed it to the guy tiling the bathroom, the way he rolled his eyes, the way she insisted it go there. He always forgot its name, and she always laughed when he asked her time and time again what it was. “Why even bother telling you? It’s not like you’re going to remember the next time someone asks,” she said, her eyes dancing in merriment. “Just tell them it’s blue and to ask me.”
“I remember the important things,” he mumbled, reaching around her to grab a chip from the bowl.
“Oh yeah? When’s our anniversary?” she asked as she slapped his hand away.
He was silent too long, so she turned with a raised eyebrow, arms folded across her chest, knowing she had him.
“The day I became the luckiest guy on earth,” he said, leaning down for a kiss.
“Nice save,” she whispered, pecking at his lips with hers before turning back to whatever it was she was doing. She was always doing something.
“Forget-me-not,” he whispered to the empty shower, surprised he now remembered. Why now, when it was the last time he would gaze on it? No, he would no longer forget. After all, there were so many memories here, even in this shower. Some made him smile and yearn for the woman who was now far away. Others made him cringe, such as bathing his infant son after a diaper explosion.
Eventually the cold became too much, so with a quick rinse he turned off the spray. The heat of the room assaulted him in the absence of the water, and he was sweating before he even finished toweling himself dry. He opened a drawer, wanting his hairbrush and razor, only to hear no rattle of items. A confused look was followed by a quick laugh. Right, it was packed away. Running his fingers through his hair would have to suffice.
Dressed, he walked down the hall, bag in hand, stopping to look into his children’s bedroom. Scuff marks marred the walls. How many times had he come pounding down this hall and into this room, contorting his face into what he hoped was a look of serious anger, and told them to stop jumping on the bunk bed and go to sleep? They cowered before his presumed rage, never having heard that their mother chastised him first. “If they see you laughing they’ll never stop!”
The box called to him as a place to rest for a moment. He didn’t need to leave for dinner for another twenty minutes, so he threw the bag on top and perched on its edge, mindful it might hold something fragile. This house used to hold something fragile: his family.
Leaning forward he gazed at the wall just inside the hallway. From the moment they first brought each child home he stood them up and started the progression of marks to chart their growth. He made a new mark every two months the first couple years, then every six, then every twelve. Would the new owners paint over this treasure? With a sigh he pulled out his phone and took a picture. Maybe it could be recreated.
His eyes traveled around the room. There was the dust mark from the piano. Next to that was the scuff left when their second child decided skateboarding down the hardwood floor was a good plan. Here, next to his foot, was the charred spot he hid from his wife with a new throw rug. He’d assured her the candle was safe as he made love to her in front of the fire, creating their third child.
He chuckled. That was the reason for leaving. Apparently three children didn’t fit into a two-bedroom, nine-hundred-square-foot home with a postage-stamp yard. Granted it took her three more years to convince him. Whenever he tripped over a toy she gave him that look. When he got his promotion he sighed, nodded, and off she went in search of their new home.
It was sad to leave memories behind. There were so many here. A glance at his watch told him it was time to leave for work. Standing, he grabbed the box, bag of dirty clothes and toiletries on top, and carried it through the front door. It was a good thing the box was heavy, or he’d be tempted to linger at the threshold, remembering carrying first her, then each child, through it. Instead he snagged the door with his foot, slamming it behind him.
Putting the box in the car, he gave one last look to the place that brought him so much happiness. A wave to neighbors he would miss was his last act before pulling away. A thrill of anticipation filled him. What new memories would they create?