Emma Carpenter looked at the piece of paper in her hand. It read 1125 50th Street West. She looked to the right to double check the street sign that was three houses down on the corner. It said 50th Street West. She looked straight ahead at the numbers on the house. The numbers were 1125.
Refolding the paper, she neatly slipped it into the back pocket of her jeans, and let out a disappointed sigh. When her cousin Aaron said his friend had a spare room at his place where she could stay for a while, she wasn’t expecting a posh, glamorous townhouse, like she was used to, especially when Aaron wrote down the address, but she was expecting more than what she was standing in front of.
“Maybe I should just go back,” she whispered to herself, as her nostrils caught the scent of weed blowing past her from a neighbor’s open window. She wrinkled her nose at it and fanned the front of her face. That stuff always smelt like skunk to her.
Refocusing her attention back at 1125 50th St W, she noticed a big chunk of concrete was missing on the third step that lead up to a weathered, warped front door. The house, at one point, was white, or so said the few speckles of paint still left on the siding. The windows, from the basement to the second floor, were smeared with many years worth of dirt and grime. The other tall and skinny houses squeezed up and down that street were mostly the same, with some minor variations from house to house. Needing a bit of TLC on this place would be an understatement.
Emma knew that if she went back now, her parents would have just assumed she went shopping for the day, had supper with a friend and caught a movie. If she ran desperately at the taxi, that was now pulling from the curb and into the light traffic on that dismal street, she knew it would stop and let her back in. The elderly man who had drove her here looked at her with such an expression as she got out, as if to say, “Are you sure you are at the right address?” But she just stood there and watched the yellow cab become smaller and smaller.
Emma bent down, picked up her suitcase, took a deep breath, and slowly went up the stairs. Her suitcase suddenly felt much heavier than before. Bass from a stereo inside was vibrating through the door, so she used the side of her fist to pound loudly enough for the people inside to hear. She figured even then she’d be banging a few times, but as soon as she knocked, growling and barking were heard on the other side of the door. She silently hoped that it wasn’t a big threatening kind of animal. Maybe a small dog with a loud, ferocious bark? Not likely.
The front door opened a few inches and a young man’s head stuck out. He looked at her up and down, a bit confused, but pleasantly so.
“You lost or somethin’?” he asked with a slight hint of an attitude, no doubt acquired from unfortunate past experiences.
Emma realized how out of place she must have appeared, especially after the way the taxi driver had looked at her. Fitted, dark jeans with a boot cut bottom, newer black pointy toed boots, a white, v-neck, long sleeved shirt, long, flat ironed blonde hair, and a black, suede autumn jacket. Now she wished she would have thrown her baggy sweater over top of herself instead.
“Um, hi. I’m looking for a Jamie Brown?” she asked. Observing this guy Emma saw a hat that was positioned with the brim sideways on his head, wearing a simple, worn black T-shirt, and jeans so baggy that, if it wasn’t for the belt, they probably would have fallen to the ground.
“Who wants to know?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“I’m Emma Carpenter. My cousin is Aaron,” she ended her sentence more like she was asking a question to this young guy who was probably around nineteen or twenty years old. She was hoping that the name was familiar. The guy smiled, as though he was remembering what was going on now, and fully opened the door. He was holding a black Labrador dog by the collar, and its nose was in overdrive as it was attempting to find out who she was.
“Oh yeah! I’m Jamie. Sorry, but I just assumed you would look more like Aaron.” As he apologized he moved out of the way to let her in.
Her cousin was a heavier set guy and was just a basic T-shirt and jeans type of dresser. Emma hoped he wasn’t referring to the weight issue.
The living room was on the right, just as you entered the house. Two mismatched, dated sofas, one with white flowers scattered everywhere and the other with burgundy strips, were arranged in front of a fifty six inch flat screen TV and a newer surround stereo system, as well as various gaming systems with several games stacked beside them. The mustard-yellow shag carpeting and peeling wallpaper looked awkward with this expensive entertainment unit. Emma wasn’t surprised though. Most guys still fresh from the nest will often get the best electronics, but have the shabbiest of everything else. Jamie picked up a remote and turned down the stereo’s volume.
There was an awkward silence as Jamie’s dog decided to greet her by sniffing her crotch. Emma shyly smiled and pushed the dog’s nose to the side.
“So, ah, living room,” he waved his arms around in the air, then walked straight ahead to lead her to the small kitchen that had a two person table and chairs against the far wall on her right. The cabinets showed many years and many tenants worth of use. They were plain wood doors painted a blotchy white with what seemed to be original round steel door knobs on them. Emma felt her stomach churn slightly at the dirty dishes stacked high in the sink, and the counter, and the table. She wondered how long it had been since they were washed. The partially overflowing garbage bag in the corner with paper plates sticking out suggested that it had been awhile. The mold and rotting food that must have been accumulating on these dishes probably wouldn’t be worth washing anymore anyways.
Jamie opened a door beside the table that lead upstairs. The stairwell was long and narrow. She wondered how they managed to move any furniture up since there was hardly enough room to walk up. A bathroom was at the top of the stairs, then they turned right.
“This is my room,” he pointed at a closed door next to the bathroom, “and this will be yours.” He opened a door after making another turn to the right.
“My former roommate moved in with his girlfriend last month, so he left the bed. She’s got a big queen sized,” he snickered to himself. Emma tried to seem amused by this remark, but she didn’t succeed because Jamie stopped smiling and cleared his throat, looking sheepish. This was followed by another awkward silence.
“So, is there a store somewhere close where I could get a few things? Toothbrush, that sort of stuff?”
“Yeah. There’s a Wal-Mart on Thiessen Street. The bus stops at the corner here and goes right passed it. Honestly, though, you don’t wanna be walkin’ by yourself around here any amount, you feel me? Just go to the bus stop.” Jamie was emphasizing his point by gesturing in the direction of the bus stop. Emma nodded.
“Oh, yeah,” he turned back to Emma just before leaving the room, “some of my crew is coming by tonight. Just to let ya know.”
Emma wanted to ask how many people that was, since a “crew” sounded like a lot, but instead she just smiled and nodded again. It was his house after all, and he was being hospitable enough just letting her stay there for a while.
Jamie gave a little wave and bowed out, softly closing the door behind him.
When she was finally alone, she put down her belongings and sat in an old wooden chair in front of a small wooden desk. She wondered how much, if anything, Aaron had told Jamie about the reasons why she was looking for a place to, well to be honest, hide for a while. The last few weeks had been so crazy and happened so fast. Now that things were beginning to settle, her mind was starting to move from feeling numb to feeling pain. She gripped her thighs tightly, feeling a certain stinging behind her eyes as the tears began flooding steadily, but she remained silent. No wailing, screaming out or hyperventilating. Just steady tears, and the feeling of her nails piercing into her flesh.
So, this is what ‘scratch’ is, she thought, wiping her face with the back of her hand. A clean slate. Starting over. She never imagined she’d have to do that at only twenty nine years old. She felt lost, vulnerable, stripped of everything she had known, tossed into the jungle and told to live or die.
By now she had planned on being a successful Registered Massage Therapist (RMT), maybe even own her own spa, with a loving husband, a few kids, a mortgage and a dog. But, when twenty nine came around in May, she had only her career, minus the ownership of a prestigious spa. She had found success in being an RMT, but she had to abandon all her clients and people she had known for five years to start over. But she truly felt it was the only option to leave everything and everyone. Be somewhere where she could reinvent herself, be someone with an uninteresting past and be just a face in the crowd.
From scratch sounded promising. It gave Emma a glimmer of hope. But now, looking over at her suitcase on a second hand twin bed crushed her optimism. Starting from scratch sucked.
“Snap out of it Emma! Don’t you dare feel sorry for yourself,” she reprimanded sternly, standing up and forcing herself to hold her head up. She needed to appear collected before venturing out to do some shopping. She was hoping it would be therapeutic.
There was no mirror in her little room, so she decided to try the bathroom. She opened the door of her new room, but her path was blocked by the big Labrador.
They looked at each other. He didn’t growl, but he did slowly approach her and cautiously smell her leg this time. Feeling brave, Emma slowly held out her hand so he could smell that too. She loved dogs and was hoping maybe he’d let her pet him, eventually. To her surprise, the dog licked her hand and put his head under her opened hand so she could scratch his head. His fur was very soft and soothing. He was actually quite gentle and affectionate. For the first time in a while, she smiled a real smile, and her shoulders came down from being wrapped around her ears with stress.
“You’re silly,” she quietly said to the dog. “You bark up a big game, but no follow through.”
“Joker!” yelled Jamie from the bottom of the stairs. The dog immediately turned and left.
The brief moment of light heartedness was abruptly stopped when she flicked on the bathroom light. There was a ring of grime around the tub. Facial shavings clung to the sink and on the counter. The toilet, which was right across from the tub in this tiny little bathroom, had the seat up and there was pee all over the sides of the rim accompanied by a reek of urine. She’d seen public washrooms at truck stops cleaner than this. A cleaner with bleach in it was the first thing she was going to buy. And gloves.
Emma decided to just pull her hair into a ponytail and put on the bulky sweater she was wishing she would have put on earlier. She quietly went down the stairs, went passed the kitchen and into the living room. Jamie was watching a police car chase on some TV criminal show, but looked up long enough to say, “Headin’ out?”
Emma smiled and nodded, adding that she was heading to that Wal-Mart to pick up some supplies and would be back soon.
“Don’t get lost,” he joked.
Luckily the bus was on its way to her stop when she emerged from the house. She quickly trotted to the sign, waited about fifteen seconds, then climbed on.
Emma ran through her mental check list again as she climbed onto the bus and took a seat half way down on the left side. Bathroom cleaner, gloves, dish soap, towels, linens for the bed and a new pillow and blanket, toothbrush and paste, a novel, and maybe a new shirt to cheer her up.
It was dark out now, even though it was only after eight in the evening, but Emma assumed there wouldn’t have been much to look out at scenery wise on this side of town anyways. She just watched as multiple vehicles drove alongside the bus. It took about ten minutes for the bright, familiar Wal-Mart sign and building to come into view. The bus turned right, went down the drive and came to a stop at the covered bus stop as per Emma’s request by pushing the next-stop-button.
The bus stop was about one hundred feet from the front entrance of the store with lots of parked vehicles and people moving about, but Emma decided to do a quick run for it anyways, just to be safe.
Once inside, she got a cart and started maneuvering up and down the aisles collecting the things she needed. People were passing her, not really paying any attention to anyone else, the same as she was. Just another shopper.
Emma casually pushed her almost full cart to the linen aisle, picked out the last remaining things she needed and headed for the checkout. Unfortunately there weren’t any shirts that grabbed her attention, which was a little disappointing, but she did find a good mystery novel to entertain herself. She figured that she wouldn’t be doing much conversing with her new roommate.
After she had paid for everything and they had been placed in bags, she realized that there were so many bags that she’d have an awkward time carrying them. She was used to having her own vehicle and driving herself wherever she needed to go. But she had recently sold it so that she’d have more money on hand. She wasn’t sure how long she wanted to be incognito or how long it would be to find another RMT position. This was going to take some getting used to.
Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now, she thought, letting out a little sigh and managed the bags as best as she could.
She was getting good luck though with bus timing. Again, she didn’t have to wait longer than a few minutes to get on the bus. It came around the corner from the opposite direction that the last bus had dropped her off from, stopped at the little glass bus shelter, picked up five people including herself, and continued on its usual route.
When she got off the bus, it seemed even more dark than when she had left. Even though she could see the house, she felt nervous and looked all around her first. The neighborhood had been very creepy when she first arrived, and there was still some light, but now that it was night it seemed even more so. Tall, dark, crumbling buildings all around her, closing in on her like mountains. A junky car clanked by and a man yelled out from the driver’s side, “Hey sweetheart!” Emma rolled her eyes and quickly went into the house.
When she came in through the front door of her temporary home, three extra faces turned to look at her from the couch.
“No way are you Aaron’s cousin! You‘re totally hot!” exclaimed a heavier set guy, dressed in the same style as Jamie.
Emma gave a half smile and said, “Yeah, well, here I am.”
“I’m Taz,” the guy went on to say. “That’s DJ,” Taz pointed to the preoccupied skinny Native guy sitting on the floor playing a video game, “and he’s Mark.” Mark waved, but had a creepy way of looking at her.
“Hi. I’m Emma. Nice to meet you all,” she said politely and exited the living room to go upstairs.
Jamie was grabbing a beer out of the fridge. He glanced over to Emma with her overflowing purchases and teased. “Did you leave anything there fo’ other people?”
“Probably not,” she joked back. Jamie laughed, opened his beer and went back to his friends. Emma continued to smile. This guy, so far, seemed alright, kind of sweet.
She did a double take of the kitchen after Jamie left. The overflowing garbage can had been emptied and the mounds of dirty dishes had been washed and were drying in the adjoining sink. A definite improvement. The floor still needed sweeping and a washing, and the countertops, she now noticed, were filled with food debris, but all in all it was better.
When she got upstairs, Joker was laying on the floor in her room, not sleeping, but just lying on his side with all four legs stretched out in front of him. Emma gently put the bags down, watching for his reaction, but he just looked at her sleepily. She slowly walked towards him, but still he just laid there. Emma knelt down just in front of him, extended her hand and started petting him softly. Surprisingly he rolled onto his back, asking for a belly rub, which she happily obliged.
“You are nothing but a teddy bear, ain’t ya?”
Emma loved dogs, and it had been many years since she had one. Animals, to her, were soothing, comforting, and listened when you needed to vent. She silently hoped that Joker would stay with her tonight. She would certainly feel more secure then.
“Well Joker,” Emma said, looking at her relatively empty room, “let’s get personalizing this a bit.”
She bought light blue sheets for her twin bed, a fluffy pillow and a cozy white comforter. From her suitcase she pulled out a picture frame with a thick, black frame that she held onto tightly as she gazed down at it.
It was a photo of her with her parents and sister, Abby, taken last summer at their cabin before things got all screwed up. She placed it gently on her wooden desk. Now that a few familiar objects were out it made the room feel more friendly and relaxed. Lastly, she carefully took out her laptop and put it on the desk. Emma was really hoping that Jamie had Wi-Fi, but if not she would purchase a device that would allow her to get the internet herself.
Sitting down she turned on the computer, and once fully booted up, she found that Jamie had an insecure Wi-Fi network. She logged onto Facebook and activated her account. In her Inbox it said she had fifteen new messages. Emma hesitated. “Should I or shouldn’t I?” she mumbled. Twisting up her face in thought, she scrolled down onto a message from her sister and opened the message.
Emma, why on earth did you just take off like that? Where are you? Are you okay?
Emma didn’t need to have audio because she could hear her sister’s high pitched, concerned and disapproving voice in her ears already. Abby was older by three years and always thought that Emma should be taking everything she had to say like it was from God’s own lips. Emma read on, already knowing what the rest would say.
We are all worried sick! You just up and leave! Mom and Dad thought I was reading into things too much when you didn’t show for supper, but I know you better. You didn’t call or anything!
Okay, I understand that you needed to get away for a while. I would probably want to after all the shit that has happened. So go to some nice, sunny, warm place, get laid and come home! Wherever you are, just come home to the people who love and care about you! We love and miss you so much! Let us help you!
Emma was very annoyed by Abby’s comments. She had left her parents’ house early that morning so that she could leave while her courage was up. She knew that her parents and Abby would talk her to death about how much they loved her and how they would get through all of this together. Blah blah blah! She was so sick of everyone talking. It was always the same thing over and over again, and she had said so to them the night that she finally decided to just leave.
“Just shut up!” she had screamed, clenching her hair between her fingers and pulling hard. “You have no idea what is going through my head. I don’t even know what’s going on in my head. Just shut up and let me figure things out for myself!” Then she had stormed out into the backyard and sat on the deck swing, crossing her arms over her chest, fuming.
She had to lash out because they weren’t listening to her anymore. Her Mom and Abby had even started talking about her like she wasn’t sitting across the table from them. Everyone else- them, doctors- knew what was best for her. Well, what about her figuring out what was best for her?
Emma felt irritated, logged out of her Facebook account and closed her laptop.
She sat in the stiff little wooden chair, tilting it onto its back legs, pushing it up with the balls of her toes, rocking back and forth. She stared at the blank white walls wondering what to do now.
That bathroom started screaming out at her begging to be cleaned, like now. So, Emma decided to tackle the bathroom. A distraction would be good.
She took her new, yellow rubber gloves out of the plastic Wal-Mart bags and pulled them on. From one of the plastic bags she pulled out two kinds of cleaners - one for the tub, toilet and sink, another for the toilet bowl, each containing bleach. With cleaners in both hands she stood in the doorway to the bathroom, looking like the cleaners were her weapons and she was going into hostile territory. She took a deep breath and stepped inside.
“Well let’s hope this whole bottle of cleaner will do the trick. Bathtub, you’re up first.”
For a good twenty minutes Emma scrubbed and scrubbed every porcelain nook and cranny until the whole room reeked so strongly with cleaner that she had to open the tiny window above the tub. The fall air rushed in fast, cool, and crisp, quickly dispersing of the strong odour.
She focused on the cleaning, even breaking into a sweat. If she were Snow White she may have started humming a tune, but it wasn’t a cheerful cleaning process. It wasn’t even the fact that this bathroom, never mind the rest of the house, was disgusting, but perhaps she felt that by scrubbing all this filth she was scrubbing herself clean too.
After all of her hard work the bathroom was now clean, and Emma stood up with satisfaction as she admired her work. Wiping her forehead with the back of her arm she stretched her back out, which made several cracks, and smiled. She felt assured that when she sat on the toilet or used the shower now that it would be sanitary.
Though the feeling of accomplishment didn‘t last as long as she had hoped and after placing the cleaning supplies under the sink went back to her room closing the door securely behind her. She sat on the edge of her bed, hunched over with her elbows on her knees, mouth resting on closed fists. She stared at the floor.
“Temporary. Just for a month of two. I can do this until then. I must keep it together. Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” Emma said, talking sternly to install confidence, to add an extra layer of scales.
She heard a soft whining coming from outside her door. Smiling, she walked over and opened it just enough for Joker to squeeze through. He walked past her and made himself comfortable next to her bed, bumping into it as he laid down.
“Come in. Make yourself comfortable,” she said, and sat on the floor next to him, her back leaning against the bed frame. She patted his head and he took that as the cue to get into belly rubbing position. He rolled onto his back, front legs bent and crossed, but the back legs he just let flop open.
“Well, no modesty there, eh?” she chuckled.
“Where are the men of the world?” she continued, not really caring if Joker took interest, but happy to not be talking to herself.
“Guys like this Taz. He probably tries every pick up line on every girl at a bar, and if by some miracle some chick wants to sleep with him, he’ll just toss the one night stand to the side after he’s done and head back to the bar to try again.
“What happened to the guys who want to get to know you, romance you, have a relationship, a real relationship.” Emma went from scratching his belly to scratching under his chin. Either spot seemed fine with Joker. “Someone who respects your opinions, your feelings, who won’t try to change you or break you down, tell you that no matter what you say you’re wrong and he’s right.” She paused, looked down at the dog sadly. “I was with someone like that Joker. Asshole that he was.
“And would you have protected me?” her tone changed, wanting to end this depressing trip down Memory Lane before she got lost. She made his ears flop back and forth, turning his head this way and that. “’Cause you’re a big ferocious lap dog, ain’t ya? Yes, I bet you attack so many spiders with such ruthlessness.” Joker had no idea what she was saying, but her high pitched tone was getting him thinking that she wanted to play. He got up quickly, a smile on his face, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. with a twinkle in his eyes. She pushed him a little and he came back at her a little, then she pushed him again until he was bouncing all over the place. When he started barking short happy barks, she laughed, “No! Shhhh!” putting a finger to her lips. She didn’t want Jamie thinking Joker was getting in her way. She wanted him to stay.
Joker took the hint and settled for just laying down next to her. Emma reached up onto the bed where her novel was and decided to start reading.
“Just some time to myself tonight. That would be good,” she said, turning to the first page.
After reading several chapters her eyes were starting to feel heavy and the yawns were coming at more regular intervals, so she decided it was time to try and get some sleep.
She got dressed into some warm PJ’s, a long sleeved red shirt with matching red pants that had snowflakes on them. Then she brushed her teeth in her freshly cleaned bathroom and washed the days’ makeup off her face.
She heard the guys downstairs, hooting and hollering when one of them did something great or awful on whatever game they were playing. It was already a little past midnight, and she wondered how long they’d be down there being loud. She was suddenly exhausted and desperately wanted to sleep.
Turning off the bathroom light she started making her way towards her bedroom when she heard Jamie call up the stairs at her. Emma guessed he heard the floorboards creaking as she was walking.
“I gotta be at work by like six, so I’ll just lock the door when I leave, ’k?”
“Oh, okay,” Emma replied, thankful for the information.
“Is Joker up there with you? Joker!” he yelled, not waiting for a response. Emma quickly stopped him.
“Oh, Jamie it’s fine. I’m used to dogs. He can stay if he wants.” She tried hard not to sound like a timid child wanting to feel safe. Whether Jamie picked up on that or not he didn’t let on because he just responded with an okay and left it at that.
Crawling into her stiff sheets, and wishing now that she would have washed them first to loosen them up, she rolled onto her left side, put her left arm up under her pillow and rested her head on it. Joker hadn’t moved from his chosen spot and already was making little paw movements against the carpet, dreaming of chasing something.
Well, she thought, if he has to work by six, I’m sure he’ll be shutting things down soon. She closed her eyes and hoped that for once her head would stop working long enough to let her go to sleep, despite the fact that she could still hear the guys laughing downstairs.