Friday, January 16, 2009

from "missing persons"

Emma began to feel cramped in the house. As soon as she felt she could possibly lose it, it was suddenly not enough. She wanted more, what she knew she did not.

It was he who always looked after the bills, the land. She had stepped in between, in the spaces he hadn’t. Without him, it was as though she didn’t know where to stand. She had adapted her activity to meet him.

A month after Alberta’s father died, Emma emptied their bedroom of his effects. Her bedroom. She erased his visible effect from every surface, keeping to the boundaries of closet and bedroom door. She scrubbed his body from their room down to the molecular level, and spent the whole time soundless, crying. A scientist, seeking any evidence of existence, only to wipe it clean from the world. To Alberta, it was a genocide to memory.

Don’t be so dramatic, Emma sighed.

Alberta's mother threw everything across one of these two borders, moving his clothes to the closet back or the other way; from the hall, living room, kitchen and out with the trash. Notebooks where he kept information on bills, parts; mess of pens and loose change in dark dust and hay by the bed; stacks of car magazines and fishing journals, melting slowly into each other and the floor. She would scrape it away until it was nothing; not even a stain of oil beneath the bed.

When she was finally alone in her room with the door closed, she was alone. On the east wall, the only piece of artwork a reproduction of Blue Boy. It was so old that no one knew where it had come from.

Alberta had never thought to ask until it was long, long gone.

Emma’s jewellery case on the dresser, where she stripped herself bare, even of wedding ring. Everything in that small wooden box, that had been hers, or her mother’s or grandmother’s, into the box where she closed the lid and worked hard not to remember.

They had started going to a store in town with the wood floors and wood barrels, a new chain store recreating what they always had in the village. Increasingly, it was only the old who frequented the original; it was only the old who lived in the past, her mother qualified. Alberta hated this new store, but Emma loved it. It was new and clean and wasn’t covered in dust. Paul thought Mrs. Appleby smelled too much like soap, and signed so. Emma made a comment about how much young boys like soap and he giggled. Alberta elbowed him in the side when their mother wasn’t looking.

On the floor, a line of ants up and down the line between floorboards, tracing back and forth along a crease of dust from a mess of bread crumbs to outer wall.

Alberta wondered what would come next, if Emma intended to move from baking to store bought, or a fake plastic Christmas tree. Might as well be a fake plastic Christmas. The threat of fires and needles in socks, and all those other important experiences that made it feel real, and feel so important.

Going through baskets and boxes and bags, Alberta took to wearing her father’s work shirts and wool socks, to keep them perhaps out of David’s hands. Fading plaid, or farmer green. She wore them over her t-shirts, or under sweaters during the winter, the months where she was rarely without a layer at least of her father’s skin. Some days she would flaunt it, parade around the house to taunt David, or remind her mother of his ongoing presence, and other days were just for her.

It was never remarked upon. It was a door no one else wanted to open.

Once opened, Emma knew, it would never be closed.

For some reason, when Alberta twenty further years down the line, this would be the thing she would miss most. Waking up early on a weekday winter morning before the house was awake, the house still cold from her mother turning the thermostat down before bed, having just turned it back up again to twenty-one. Alberta could see her breath, and her bare feet felt the linoleum cold from her bedroom to the bath. Whenever she felt the cold, she cursed; the fresh flush of heat in the dry air made the air crackle, nearly spark. The dry heat and the dry winter cold.

Her speech broken up into parcels, and distributed along points on the endless strain of prairie road.

If Alberta was water, hers was a history of drought.

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