Alden Mills rested his hands against the fence. It moved under the slight pressure as if it would collapse at any moment. Some years ago, the fence was the target of vandals but now even this was fading into obscurity, only patches of pink and orange mixed with the original white remained. Alden ran his finger along the front of the fence as he made his way to the gate. The gate was locked with two padlocks and he only had one key, but it was enough to unlock the chain. The chain was covered in cobwebs and Alden used the bottom of his shirt to wipe them clear. He grabbed the padlock that matched the key.
‘We don’t have to go in.’ Sensing his ambivalence Doctor Lola Hume placed her hand on his shoulders and kissed his neck.
Alden turned his head to the side but didn’t look at her. ‘It’s been long enough,’ he said and pushed the key into the lock. With a sharp twist the lock fell away. Alden shoved the gate open and they stepped in. The yard was an explosion of greenery. It had held up well despite the neglect. All except for a dank depression at the far end where an old septic tank had been.
It neared the end of summer and a boy ran his toy, polished blue and magnificent, around his cement playfield. At the far end he had built a ramp out of wood scraps secreted from his fathers shed. He rolled the car back and forth, then with one final push he let it go. The car flew over the ramp and disappeared into the long grass, beating out all past records! Victory was short lived as the car was swallowed by the lawnmower. It sparked and churned and a chunk was ejected from the body and ripped through his cheek. His screams were loud and painful, but his father continued to cut the grass. The boy ran inside the house leaving nothing but a trail of bright red blood.
Alden rubbed his cheek. The feel of hard knotted tissue eased his mind. Then with a flurry he dropped his hand back to his side. He glanced at Lola and she looked away pretending not to have noticed.
‘Shall we go inside?’ Lola suggested.
Alden retrieved a second key from his pocket as they approached the pale green front door. The colour had been his mother’s idea and it reminded him of an infectious sneeze. One time he was foolish enough to mention this to her. That was six months before he left the house permanently; after his leg had recovered.
The door opened suspiciously easily. The smell of the room entered his nose without invitation. He thought it would smell rotten and old, but there was something different. Perhaps a rear window was open and native frangipani were contaminating the room. The smell did not match the décor. Wallpaper was peeling off in sections and the carpet once pure white was now the colour of mud-rolled dog. At some point in the past something had fallen through the roof and in the middle of the room a pile of debris had spewed into the room. Alden was sure if he poked about he would be disturbing the rat civilization of his nightmares; he took a wide step around.
Lola watched on as Alden put his back to the wall and scuttered around the room. She took a notebook from her jacket pocket wrote in it. Then she slipped off her shoes, left them at the front door and followed Alden into the property. ‘Alden how are you feeling right now?’
‘Good, I feel good,’ Alden replied, as he rounded a corner and out of her view.
She made some more notes and then put the small book away. There would be time for more later.
Alden entered the kitchen. He braced his hands against the door jamb and refused to go any further. This was his mother’s territory. It was in immaculate condition, almost as if she were still alive. The only thing out of place was one cupboard door hanging open. Alden closed his eyes and wished the door close, but when he reopened them it had not moved. He took a breath and stepped into the room. It was only three steps but the journey felt far longer. He reached out to close the offending door when it rocked on its hinges and slammed shut.
Why are you here? She screamed. The boy looked up, confused. Had she not just called him for dinner? Answer me! The boy held out his hand and put it to his mouth. Words were not coming yet, walking but no words. Why! Why did we have you? The boy dropped his head. She reached down and grabbed him by the pants. His bottom itched but he’d learnt better. Get out and fix it! She carried him to the door and tossed him into the garden. His eyed welled with soundless tears.
Alden was frozen in a minefield of fear. His hand remained in the air where the door once was and he struggled to keep his bladder from leaking.
Lola’s voice snapped him back to reality. Obviously, it had been the disturbance of the air that made the door close by itself. Slowly he lowered his hand and turned around. Lola was standing in the doorway. Purity in the darkness of this house. A house, yes, but never a home. For a moment he stared at the young doctor. She had done so much for him. Six months ago, he was on the verge of ending it all. Diving into the blackness of death with willing arms. And now here he was facing the demons that had plagued him most of his life. He had tried everything, but nothing had stopped it – heroin, weed and whiskey had all done nothing. His past was always waiting on the exit ramp from euphoria. Lola was different, she had listened to all his stories and offered to help without payment. He twisted the metal ring on his finger and thanked a god he didn’t believe in.
‘Alden? Is everything okay?’ She stepped in closer.
‘I think so. Just. It was something that happened right now.’
She placed a hand on his shoulder and reached in her pocket. The book, she was always at that book. One day maybe she will let him read it. He glanced down, something was odd, he looked up into her eyes.
‘Where are your –’
His words were cut off by a sudden pain that swelled in his stomach. Alden thought he was going to throw up, but this was different. Hot and intense. His eyes rushed to the pain. But nothing made sense. Lola’s hand was pressed into his side. Then she pulled her hand away, and thrust it back again. Blood gushed out of his wound and over the knife she held. Alden lost count of the time. He fell back against the clean bench. Marking them in red. He tried to stand but his feet wouldn’t allow it. He looked up at her as she cleaned the blade that took his life.
‘You have an excellent property here Alden. I’d bet it’s worth every cent.’
Alden watched her walk away, as he lay there desperately trying to stem the bleeding. Then above his head the cupboard door opened.