A White Picket Fence
by Susanne Thomas
Busy city sounds drift through the windows of a third-floor apartment in a tall brick building. The furniture inside is as worn as the soot covered building is. Various objects are stacked on every available surface, boxes litter the floor, some full and closed up, others open and waiting.
A mother stands in the kitchen, her skin a warm, dark brown, her hair even darker. She is dressed in a uniform for a 24/7 grocery store and, though it is old, the uniform is spotless and professional. The woman finishes wrapping her dinnerware. The box is full and packed carefully. She looks around the messy room and spies the packing tape on the table. She points her hand at the table. “Hey, kiddo, hand me the tape?”
The boy sighs from the couch and roughly sets down a book. The couch he is sitting on is stained and torn. He stands reluctantly, tall but slouched over. His skin is lighter than his mother’s and his hair is shaved close to the scalp, but he shares her nose, lips, and cheeks. Right now these features are marred by a scowl. He trudges over and grabs the moving tape, thrusting it roughly at his mother, “Here. This isn’t fair, Mom. I don’t want to go; I don’t want to leave my friends.”
Rebekah sighs, weary of the battle. Her son is seventeen and, until recently, she’s believed his teen years were treating her kindly. She’d found a home in a beautiful neighborhood for an incredible steal, well below the market price. The owners wanted to rent it immediately, and she’d pounced on the chance. It was in a better school district and was closer to her job. She had just switched to a night shift. Being forty minutes away made her nervous.
“Micah, we’ve talked about this. It’s not safe there. Two drug busts, a shooting, and who knows what else. That school is a death trap, and now that the twins are in school, too, I have to keep you safe. And maybe being so close to work will make me a better candidate for the assistant manager job, which would change everything for us.”
“But I am safe. My friends and I don’t do any of that stuff,” Michah argues, flailing his long arms. He prefers comic books and Star Trek to the nonsense his classmates get up too. He has no doubt it will be impossible to find friends at his new school as great as the ones he has now, especially in his junior year.
His mom sighs loudly, her dark braids clacking as they shake back and forth with her head. “That might be true, but you don’t need to be around it. Now grab those books.”
He slouches further and slams himself onto the couch. “You’re not even listening.”
She turns to him and puts her a hand on her left hip. One eyebrow rises and she frowns. “I am listening, Micah. I just disagree.”
His dark brown eyes are sad and hurt. “Can’t we at least take my bed?”
“You saw the house, Micah. It’s furnished, and your new bed is nicer. You have a good reading chair, and a dresser without broken handles. Be thankful.” She shakes her head one more time, unable to understand her son’s reluctance.
The new furniture is clean, well-cared for, and it all works. Two of his drawers have to be left slightly open so he can get into them. Hardware is not that dear, but the time to fix the furniture is. She consoles herself that he will come around eventually. The stale smell of smoke from when she still had that nasty habit lingers, no matter how much she’s cleaned. She promises herself that for the sake of her children, she will not bring that awfulness to the new home.
She hears excited squeals and giggles from down the hall and smiles; her six-year-old twins have no such reluctance to move. “Isaac, Elizabeth, do you have your books in their boxes?”
The small voices answer her in chorus. “Yes, Mom.”
She grins for a moment at their sweet response even as she rolls her eyes at the quickness of it; she knows their ability to find things is challenged like so many others their age. She turns to Micah. “Go check on them, please. They’ll be upset if we forget anything.”
He wanders down the hall as she grabs another box, anxious to get more packed before she has to leave for work.
* * *
Monday brings a clear morning. Rebekah springs out of bed, eager to begin the drive. As they leave the city, she is smiling wide as Isaac and Elizabeth sing along to the radio. The cloudless sky feels like a blessing. She ignores the cloud of gloom sitting next to her with headphones on.
The street they enter is quiet; sidewalks line the wide, well-kept streets. The neatly mowed yard is green and inviting. The road stretches far in both directions. Houses peeking out in the distance. The quiet after the sounds of the city is almost jarring. She is excited to rest during the day without shouting and car horns to wake her.
Rebekah pulls into the driveway of the house they are renting. Her smile grows bigger at the white picket fence that surrounds the entire yard. A large detached workshop in back will double as a garage once she cleans out the old furniture stored in it but, for now, she parks in the open driveway to unload the car. She waits for children to unbuckle, steps out and approaches the wrap-around porch of this large, two-story home. She marvels once again at the size. After cramped apartment living, this beautiful blue and white home is going to feel like a palace.
The realtor stands on the porch, waiting for her. He is older, brown hair peppered with gray. His pale skin shows small wrinkles around his face. She is struck again by his casual demeanor; the plaid shirt and jeans never seem to change. He grins at her, though the eyes remain absent. He waves. “Welcome. Won’t you step inside?”
“Thanks! Where do I sign?” she says, chuckling awkwardly at his joke. She is eager to finish the niceties and have the keys handed over.
He hands her a paper with standard terms, and points toward the sheet as he looks at the children carrying things out of the car and setting them on the large porch. “Right here.”
She signs. “Thank you for meeting us here; it’s much easier with the little ones.” Her children are well behaved, but two six-year olds in an office is never a good idea.
A loose smile plays on the realtor’s face. He nods gives her the packet with keys in it. “Of course. Here you go, congratulations.”
“And here you go, deposit and rent.” She handed over an envelope with the large chunk of her savings in it.
He shoves it in the back pocket of his faded jeans. “Got it.”
She breathes and unlocks the door and throws it open wide. She turns to the children who have begun running around the large grassy area. “All right, guys, start unloading.”
“Yes, Mommy,” Elizabeth answers and starts dragging her bag of dolls into the house. Her two large, dark black braids are hanging forward.
Isaac struggles with one of the boxes, trying to lift more than he can. “Yes, Mom.” He puffs his small chest out with pride. Rebekah grins and lifts a few boxes of her own.
Micah meets her in the large living room with an armful of boxes and looks at her. “Where do you want these?”
She peers at the boxes until she finds the blue dot she’d marked the dishes with and motioned with her head. “In the kitchen, Micah.”
Micah has begun unloading the large appliances and looks up at her. “Hey, Mom, where do we put all of the empty boxes? Is there recycling?” At the apartment, they’d been required to separate and sort all recyclables. She isn’t sure what the policy is here.
“Let me go ask,” she says and steps out to ask the realtor. “Hey, is there recycling?” she asks to empty air. The man is gone. Rebekah hasn’t heard or even seen his car parked nearby, come to think about it. She scans the area around the house for a sign of the man, but sees nothing. She dismisses the issue and grabs more boxes. “We’ll figure it out. I’ll call later,” she answers Micah.
They empty the car of boxes, bags, and loose objects and delve into unloading all of their stuff. Rebekah revels in the space of her new kitchen. She finds places for all her things and has room left. She watches the twins wander the halls and smiles at the sounds of their tramping feet up and down the steps to the second floor. Micah even helps willingly get things put in order and breaks boxes down into an ever growing pile in the living room.
As she figures out how to use a rack hanging above the kitchen island to hang her pots on, she feels a tug on her apron. Isaac looks up at her with his light brown eyes, flecks of gold shimmering with happiness. “Mom, do we really get to stay here? Can we sleep here tonight?”
She stops herself from crying tears that have been threatening to spill for a while; happiness and relief overwhelm her. She kneels and hugs her small boy. “Yes, we’re home, honey; this is our home.”
He squeezes her back tightly and runs off yelling to his sister. “We get to stay; we get to stay!”
* * *
Rebekah makes breakfast; the sun cracks through the clouds to shower light into the breakfast nook where the children wait. She flips stacks of pancakes and bacon sizzles while the twins sit at the table carefully drinking juice. They are dressed in their school uniforms, pressed and ready for their first day at their new school.
Micah stomps down the stairs, also in his new uniform. The bright green polo shows boldly against his dark skin. He has his ear buds hanging around his neck, waiting for use. Rebekah looks at the clock. “Micah, you’re running late.”
He sighs loudly. “Come on, Mom.”
He grabs a piece of bacon and eats it while he makes a cup of coffee. Rebekah shakes her head. “I made you breakfast. Put that coffee down. You are seventeen; you don’t need coffee.” She puts the plates of food around the farm style table and watches the twins shovel food into their faces.
Elizabeth smiles up at her mom. “Your pancakes are so good, Mommy!”
Not to be outdone by his sister, Isaac chimes in, “You make the best breakfast!”
She grins at her little ones. “At least I have two that won’t fight me.” Micah rolls his eyes at the comment. “Don’t roll your eyes.” Sad at the conflict so early in the morning, she stops and tries again. “Look, eat up, I need you to walk the twins to the bus stop down the street.”
Micah slumps in his chair. “What? It’s right down the corner; they can do it themselves.”
“We can, Mom, we’ll be fine. I’m big and strong, see.” Isaac flexes his biceps.
She grins and raises one eyebrow. “You are a very big and strong kid, but Micah is still going to take you two to the bus stop.”
Micah mumbles under his breath, “Fine.”
The rest of the meal is finished quickly and bags are grabbed. Rebekah kisses the soft brown cheeks of her children, forcing her oldest to accept the affection. She spends a few quiet moments cleaning after breakfast and deciding which room to organize first.
The shuffling of feet or something being dragged along the floor reaches her ears in the kitchen. There is no answer. She looks around and says hesitantly, feeling very alone all of a sudden, “Hello?”
There is no response, and the noises have stopped. She climbs the stairs but finds no one in her room, the bathrooms, Micah’s room, or the twin’s room. The phone rings and she goes to answer it, pushing the noises out of her mind.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Susanne Thomas