The perfect starter, the realtor is saying.
A tidy backsplit on a thirty-five-foot lot;
nearby, a clutch of shops – pharmacy,
hairdresser, tanning salon, cafe.
I’d discovered a new Thai restaurant in the west end,
coaxed her to lunch. But all throughout, she’d
dampened my triumph, pensive over nasi goreng and tea.
Then, without warning: It isn’t far from here, you know.
What wasn’t far? Where it began.
We drove past. It was the FOR SALE sign
that took us both aback. For days our conversation
wavered around letting it go, going further –
until she rang up Re/Max.
Might we go in alone? Nodding, the realtor
takes out cigarettes, ushers us in.
Freshly painted, he says as he retreats
out to the yard. Windows completely redone,
.....everything like new.
In every doorway a tormented ghost,
every room stabs at her heart.
Under the whitewash, plaster and paint,
revenants linger. I know she sees them, the way she
circles around the edges of the empty rooms, her hand
running across the walls, willing them to speak.
And I her memory’s accomplice: each hesitant
confession, each whispered intimacy, as we continue
our ritual dance to a vapid incantation –
living room, dining room, kitchen, bath –
coalescing into reality.
Are you afraid?
He’d asked her, that first night,
twisting her arms behind her. She'd whimpered;
no use pretending, as before, that she was asleep.
He’d laughed, unsheathing his belt.
You should be.
As in a trance, she leads the way upstairs,
fourteen steps up, across the landing, to her old room.
Scuff marks where the bedposts scraped the wall.
The indentation of the legs still mar the floor.
And when she's found it all, proven to herself that
it was real, an unimagined life, when she's sifted
and cataloged the evidence, the forensic minutiae
of innocence unravelling, she weeps:
for who she was, for why she is,
here in a whitewashed starter,
where it all began.
Eleven years old again, pulling me close,
a coverlet against night.