She lingered in the doorway, the living room utterly dark, even in midday, what with the foil covering the windows. The darkness mirrored her mood as she thought of Beam and what he had done. He completely disregarded her wishes, her fears, and taken Lyle to the funeral, to that house, with his sister and those two…. Beam had done the unforgivable and he would have to pay for it.
Wandering through the messy living room, Emma sidestepped Lyle’s toys and Jimmy’s old magazines. It was all dark and gray, mildewed, cluttered, dusty, dirty, and secondhand; she deserved better. Stacks of papers on the kitchen floor, the kitchen so dirty that the smell from the sink terrorized her, sent her flying down the hall into the bathroom. A pile of wet towels sat on the floor beside the tub, and the dirty clothes of the father and the son shoved into a corner, not into the hamper as she had asked a hundred times.
Put your clothes in the hamper. Why am I always picking up your things—
In Lyle’s nook, she found the drawers to his garage sale dresser ransacked and left open; obviously, Beam had found something for him to wear. The tennis shoes she’d tied on Lyle’s feet that morning were on the bed; Jimmy had thrown his blanket over a chair.
Can’t you put things back where they—
In the bedroom was the empty garment bag that once held Beam’s new suit and an open bottle of cologne, one she had gotten as a free gift with a twenty-dollar purchase at the J.C. Penney in Ukiah. He’d never worn it for her, he said he hated smelling all fancy, but he splashed some on before going up to The Landing to be with his family.
I only asked one thing of you and look what you—
Outside the back door, at the rear of the house, Emma stepped onto the tiny stoop. Although mended by Beam after an awfully cold and wet winter, it still leaned to one side and sagged in the middle. It left her feeling a bit off-kilter, but she was learning to accept that. She came out here often, when Beam was out and Lyle was down for his nap, to stand and stare into the trees at the top of the hill. This day, the sky above, seen through the taller trees, was cool and crisp, clean, though it was only temporary. The rains would come later in the day as they did every spring, and today, funeral or not, was no exception. If she was going to do it, now was the time, before the path into the trees turned into a muddy stream.
This is the best way. A clean break so I never—
Leaving the back door open in hopes that the breeze might elbow some of the stench from the house, Emma went back into her bedroom and plucked Lyle’s pictures from each and every plastic frame. She even took the one of Lyle that she kept in a silver frame, and the only wedding photo she had—she and Beam at the Justice of the Peace in Reno—and set all the photographs in a neat pile.
You can’t have these, they belong to—
Slowly, for the stack of snapshots was thick, Emma tore up the photos into bits of confetti. She scooped up a handful and set about spreading the scraps all over the floor like a flower girl scattering rose petals as she walked down the aisle ahead of the bride. Bits of Lyle in the kitchen sink, in her coffee cup, along the counter and over the table. Scraps of Emma and Beam in his La-Z-Boy, ground into the rug and dropped onto sofa cushions. In the bathroom pieces of her life stuck to the tile walls still damp from Lyle’s bath and Beam’s shower.
No matter where you look, I’ll be—
Emma filled Hefty trash bags with clothes and make-up, books, cigarettes and jewelry. Then she tossed them out the back door, stopping once again to eye the path to the trees. It was still dry, though not for long. When the rains came, water would flood the yard and gush downhill toward town. Some days the rain was so intense that Emma, lying in bed, watching One Life To Live, would swear the rainwaters would carry the house away; she pretended she was Dorothy, without the twister.
I just want to be away from—
After stuffing the trash bags into the garbage cans, she wheeled the green rubber monster down to the edge of the road. Trash day was Monday, still three days away, but Beam always forgot to put the cans out. This was the last nice thing she did for her family before walking up the hill, into the trees. Back in the side yard, after leaving the cans by the road, she plucked the clean clothes from the line, letting them fall to the ground. She ripped down the clothesline, unwinding it from the posts that Charlie Bloom had sent over when the old clothesline collapsed. Beam could rewash the clothes; he could buy a new line.
Clean this mess up, Beam, I’m not your—
Stepping over the sheets and dishtowels, underwear and blankets, Emma went to her room one last time. At the mirror, she combed her hair and checked her make-up; she buttoned her smock and straightened her nametag. Looking at the reflection of a woman aged far beyond her years, a woman too tired to do anything more, she felt only the realization of a coming death, a destiny delivered.
She’d wanted to take a walk in the woods ever since the day, as a happy little girl, her father said her mother was gone. Now, she was going, too. Grabbing the clothesline from the bed, Emma wrapped it round and round her arm so it was easier to carry. She walked off that back porch, feeling unsteady for the last time, and climbed the hill, in search of the perfect tree…before the rains came, as they always did.