Reintroducing shorts stories this week with a new piece in a genre (creative nonfiction) that is new to me. As one short preamble that I can’t fully explain today: I take a very liberal definition of “nonfiction.” Hope you enjoy!
They were fighting again— voices climbing the carpeted back staircase, sliding down the hall and under the door gap. At first, you try to ignore it. You line up the Lego knights, with the lion-crested heroes on one side and the barbarians on the other. Then, before the crash of plastic figures, before the imaginary ringing of metal on metal and triumphant fantasy music, you hear your mom shouting.
Shifting on the hardwood floor, you look up at off-white door. For a brief moment, you wonder if your sister will be grounded again. But the sound is coming up to you wrong side of the house. If Maria was in trouble, the sound would skip up the right staircase as Mom pulled her to your parent’s bedroom and the wooden salad spoon. This is coming up the left staircase and from the den.
A knight and barbarian still in hand, you strain to catch what’s being said, your eyes tracing the door’s paneled rectangles and dull round door handle that used to be bronze. There’s Dad’s voice, just as sharp as mom’s, but not quite distinct. Setting the figures down, you stand up. Careful, the new wood floor creaks, especially by your chest of drawers and the bunk bed. And then there’s the sea of plastic bricks: the smaller half of four boys-worth of Lego hoarding. But there’s a safe spot in the corner, over the Lego sea, where your bed meets Aaron’s old desk. The floor won’t creak there.
You take the leap, landing softly on your feet and then hopping from the corner to the door. Another squeaky spot avoided. You still can’t hear. The door itself is going to whine, regardless of what you do. But maybe, if you open it slowly, it won’t disturb the fighting.
Maybe you’ll be the one dragged to the bedroom, if they come up and find you listening. But you can’t hear. Just a crack. Then, if someone starts to climb the stairs (which also creak), you can maybe shut your door and pretend you were picking up your room like you always do. The door lets out a little of your bedroom’s light into the dark hallway, and a little more of the fight sneaks in. Mom, then Dad, and Stephen? You can’t understand it, but Mom and Dad are doing most of the shouting. Maybe you should pick up your room now. That way, when they shout at you, it won’t because of the Lego sea and closet vomiting dirty clothes onto the floor.
You hesitate, turn out the light, and then slowly pull the door just enough to slip out. The groaning hinges drag, and you hold your breath until there’s just enough space to squeeze out of the crack and into the dark hallway. Years of tip toeing around, of trying to go unnoticed at night or during nap time, have taught you where the loudest spots are in the hallway. You find Maria and Aaron by the stairs, just out of sight of the den. You quietly wonder if joining them at the corner will make it harder to run back to your room when Mom comes upstairs, but then—
“I don’t care! It’s not going to be my money. Alright? Look, If Stephen goes to Juilliard, I’m leaving!”
You run back to your room then, chased by Dad’s threat and Mom’s half-crying, half-shouting answer. You don’t turn the light back on until the door’s closed. You push against the wood when someone tries turning the round handle. Maria whispers a plea to be let in, but you ignore her. She’ll give up after a minute and stomp back to her own bedroom. The door to your parent’s bedroom slams. The fight is over.
Silently, you pile the dirty clothes into the metal hamper, and scoop up handfuls of the sea into plastic bins. You put everything away except for a few of the knights, which you’ll try halfheartedly to play with.
The piano practice won’t wake you up tomorrow— you’ll do that by yourself. You’ll clean your own cereal bowl and quietly go into the den to do your school work. It’s spelling test day, but Mom will forget. She’ll stare mutely when Aaron starts practicing on the piano in the living room, and then go up the stairs when Stephen starts practicing on the piano in his room.