The Writing Disorder



New Nonfiction


by Leigh Gaston

      “See ya soon, Sweetie.”
      This is the last thing he says before he leaves. I expect something along the lines of an apology or a watery-eyed farewell, something to comfort the girl he used to tuck in bed every night.
      I used to wait up for him.
      He is wearing the plaid button-down shirt that my mother has thrown out three times, once out the window where it landed on Mr. McLaughlin’s hedge. I am in my sweatpants, the special ones I got for being captain of the swim team; black with red embroidery and my last name printed down the right leg. My hair is thrown up in a careless, frizzy bun and in the window’s reflection my profile looks like his.
      I am the only one watching when he carries his bags to the truck. He lifts them into the bed with an overambitious ease, like he is being filmed or, at the very least, closely observed. He ushers our Labrador retriever, Tucker, over to his side, scratching his ears and talking to him in broken, affectionate phrases. Tucker never seemed of particular interest to him until this day, just an ornament amongst many. He is the only living thing my father will take with him. They are already inseparable, dependent upon one another in a suffocating, detrimental kind of way.

                                                                                        *      *      *

      It is our last day in the three-story colonial, where the four of us have lived in charming dysfunction for sixteen years. The movers, two thick, dark-skinned men, pack and move boxes quickly and efficiently. I imagine they might pause for a second, think about the circumstances of the move and the two teenagers watching their childhoods being taped up and sent off, and feel somewhat ashamed of their profession, of their involvement in the downfall of a once happy, suburban family who hosted dinner parties and played softball in the back yard. Instead they grunt and complain, track clumps of dirt into our home, and drag expensive furniture across the floor so violently that they leave deep scars in the mahogany wood that braved our growing feet for years; from Velcro sneakers to combat boots to my first pair of heels, black stilettos that pinched my toes and threw my balance. When they dismantle the foyer, the Oriental rug that my parents used to dance on is rolled away. They are inside, flattened in the coils. The mirror above the cherry wood table, the one I used to pose in front of, pursing my lips and fluffing my hair, is bubble wrapped and carried more delicately by the faceless men.
      My brother and I sit in front of the fireplace, below the mantel that dressed in garlands and white lights every Christmas. It was always picturesque on those early December nights, until around December 15th when my father took to his own kind of decorating, the kind that involved cheesy stuffed snowmen and plastic Santas he bought at the pharmacy. He refused to buy the tree until December 23rd because of his strict policy on fire hazards.
      “Janet!” he’d say to my mother in the midst of their annual yuletide argument. “Do you know what dehydrated pine needles mean? They mean danger, Janet. Danger. Capital D. Just think, the house up in flames because you insisted, prematurely I might add, on a fluffy dying tree out of your aesthetic selfishness. Think of the kids, Janet, think of the children…burnt to a crisp because of your illogical desire for Christmas spirit.”
      “Garry,” my mother would interrupt. “You’re being fucking ridiculous. Who do you think you are? The Christmas Nazi? I’m getting the tree, even if I have to hoist the mother fucker onto the roof myself. The biggest, most expensive one they have. Charged on your credit card. So you can shove your cynical bullshit up your ass. Merry fucking Christmas!”
      My brother and I would sit on the second floor landing and peer through the white spindles, covering our mouths to keep from laughing. He is blonde and freckled like my father was when he was younger. His features are small and innocent and they stay this way even as he grows older. I envy his coloring. I inherited my mother’s kinky brown hair and flushed cheeks.

                                                                                        *      *      *

      I sit beside my brother on an empty floor, in front of an empty fireplace, inside an empty room. I think nothing at all, maybe a few scattered memories, but I am mostly blank. My brother doesn’t say much, just a few comments about the dog.
      “Where will he live?” he asks.
      “With Dad,” I reply. “Why? Does it really matter?”
      “Yeah, it does. It matters,” he says, brushing his sandy blond bangs off his forehead. “He’ll be here long after everyone else.”
      “What? No he won’t. He’ll only live another ten years tops,” I say.
      We refuse to help with any of the moving responsibilities out of laziness and apathy.
      My mother scurries around the house, manic in her movements, heels clicking back and forth between the four downstairs rooms. She is beautiful even in her depression, dressed in blue jeans, black flats and a relaxed oxford. Her hair is perfectly amiss and carefully highlighted. She has on just enough makeup to mute the sadness, sheer mauve blush and creamy rose lip gloss. She directs the movers with authority, her voice stern and precise. Her requests are reasonable even in their peculiarity.
      “No, those are the living room boxes,” she says. “I want each room separated in the truck and each box unloaded accordingly on the other end,”
      “Yes Mamn,” one of them replies politely.
      “I’m not going haywire at the new house, carrying heavy boxes up and down stairs that should have already been in their proper place … yes, everything in its place.”
      “Sure Mrs. Gaston. Not a problem,” the other man says, eyes wide and anxious.
      “You men are my husband today. He would have done this shit himself if he didn’t walk out on us … but I guess you already knew that.”
      She continues talking at no one in particular.
      “What kind of married woman directs movers and packs up her whole house alone? I’ll tell you what kind. The kind that gets cheated on and left with two kids, no assets and three stories worth of furniture that he’ll probably take from me anyway.”
      She pauses, shakes her head and suddenly looks mortified.
      “Oh god … I’m so sorry … I shouldn’t be telling you this. So inappropriate of me. Christ, I’m that woman, the one who won’t shut up about her problems to people she doesn’t even know. Alright … fuck it … I’m pulling myself together. I swear. Let’s just get this over with.”
      She exhales, runs her fingers through her hair and wipes the sweat from her forehead.
      The two men relax and return to lifting boxes. They look sorry for her. They are familiar with this type of woman.

                                                                                        *      *      *

      When the moving truck is packed and nothing remains but a beautiful shell, John and I remain in front of the fireplace. By this point we have sleeping bags and pillows that we pulled out of an untapped box. We lay down, facing each other, Tucker wedged between us. We pet his strawberry blond hair simultaneously and every so often our fingers touch and we pull away quickly and awkwardly.
      My mother’s voice echoes through the empty halls as she summons us to the car.
      “Common,” she says anxiously as she enters the room. “Time to hit it.”
      We have one more night here, Mom,” I say pleadingly. “The house is ours for one more night.”
      I am wide eyed and desperate. Even if she says no I’ll stay anyway.
      “Yeah, Mom. We have one more night,” John mimicks.
      She sighs and softens a little, too tired to argue. Too tired to talk.
      She collapses down next to us, closes her eyes, and puts her hand on Tucker’s head, stroking between his eyes and along his snout. It doesn’t matter if our hands touch when she is there. She is home. We know this. We never have to look for her because she waits for us on the floral love seat in the sunroom where the light reveals only her good parts.
      She sighs and her fist loosens just enough to reveal a small opening at its center, a cloudy, oval window.

                                                                                        *      *      *

      At the edge of sleep I hear footsteps in the hall. A pause. He’s come back. I don’t look up but I imagine he is watching us, puffy eyed and stiff, wondering where he went wrong. I breathe softly and pretend to have fallen asleep like my mother and brother, fallen into these floors for the last time. I hear him sigh and then feel his palm on my cheek. His skin is clammy and warm, the way mine gets when I hold hands for too long.
      He sleeps next to us and I hear him snore lightly the whole night. My mother says he only snores when he’s dreaming.
      When I wake up he is gone, but his smell still lingers. I am the only one who knows he has come and gone and I don’t tell because it’s just the three of us now. When my mother wakes she asks how I slept. I want to tell her that I didn’t sleep. I turned into dust and traveled through every room, every crevice, every beautiful mistake in this old, broken palace.

      Leigh Gaston studied English at Villanova University and is pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Sarah Lawrence College. She has taught writing at Phillips Andover Academy as part of their summer fellowship program and currently lives in Brooklyn.

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