I dropped everything I carried and stood, gazing up at 1307 Whippoorwill Road.
There were fifteen more years on it, fifteen stubborn and remorseful years, a sodden two-story mobbed by tall grasses and lived in only by small animals. The country was always wet around here, and the house hadn't aged well.
I didn't need the city's yellow Unsafe sign to tell me our family didn't live here any more, but I could see the truth of our presence. The patio, empty of chairs. Yellow gingham curtains in the living room window. The screen door, hanging by one hinge, eaten by weather and insects. The wooden ramp for Laura Lee's wheelchair. Two lines of gravel where a tired Oldsmobile would have parked. I'd been born in the upstairs bedroom, ran down the stairs two at a time, raced cars over the kitchen tiles, built forts of cardboard, watched cartoons on a flickering color television. Fifteen years ago, I left.
I'd tossed and turned ever since, argued with myself, and decided to come back, supplies in hand. I would stay only a moment, enough to take care of everything, then get in the car and go away again, forever. The worst days of my life happened in that house, and it ate at my heart to know it still stood.
The windows that weren't broken winced silently down at me. Remembering. Days of work, days of optimistic hope, days of shouting between a bourbon-fueled man who spoke with his belt and a woman whose dreams had withered. Mama was our cook, our seamstress, and our buffer. Dad worked his heart away at the refinery, and it took more and more of him each year, leaving only rage.
Dad raged at everything. He raged at me for going to college, raged at Laura Lee for not having legs that worked, raged at Mama for no good reason. Someone would be hit. He'd make it up to us with big holiday dinners and board game nights and attempts to take us fishing or hunting or shopping. He'd paint the walls and fix the plumbing. He'd make promises to us and to himself, and he really meant to keep them. He must have wanted us to be happy in that house. Maybe we thought we were, but the house was always brimming with that rage.
Then a day in April, when he'd hit Mama and she came running out of the bedroom screaming back at him, to go downstairs like she always did to make herself some tea and calm down and read herself to sleep, except that this time she missed the top stair and hit every step on the way down, breaking the carved bannister and coming to rest on the wooden floor like one of Laura Lee's dolls. Dad and I burst from our rooms at the same time, and his wails were terrible to hear, for he had lost the only woman he loved, and I hated him then more than he could imagine, for his love was made of pain and I had lost a sane ally and an anchor. I'd left after we buried her, and he raged at me, and Laura Lee had to stay with him. She wouldn't go with me. Maybe she had to share his regret.
The house on Whippoorwill Road remembered as sharply as I did. The windows were haunted with the memory of games we played, of songs we sang, of heights we never managed to reach but always looked up at, thinking it might be ours. Laura Lee had moved away, and Dad was left to rage at himself, although he always called us on the holidays, hoping to see us. Then he left too, trading the lonely house for a nice plot at Greenview next to Mama. I'd already visited that and had my say.
It wasn't the house's fault.
I picked up the gasoline cans, walked back to the car. I realized there was nothing here I wanted to do. The house was already condemned.