God, I miss her. It’s only been a few days. I haven’t decided where to spread her ashes or if maybe I should just keep them. I haven’t thought about a memorial service, because no one but me gave Mom the time of day. She lived in her tiny old house, sleeping one door away from my son and two doors away from me. I moved in with her when my husband left. She’s the only person who never did leave me. Even Sam, at five-years-old, packs his little suitcase every other weekend and drives away with his father.
Speak of the devil and he shall appear.
“Susan, I know you’re in there.”
The downside of husbands knowing everything about you is now my ex-husband knows everything about me, including where I go when I need to think.
“I’m not coming out, Rick. Move on.” I watch the doorknob at the foot of the stairs. It won’t matter if he touches it. It’s locked.
“Come on, babe. Let me in. I know you’re hurting.”
I close my eyes and curl my fingers into the red shag carpet. Colors dance across my eyelids. Stained glass images of Jesus are burned there from the windows lining the wall above my head.
“I dropped Sam off at my mother’s,” Rick says. “She can keep him all weekend if you need some time to regroup.”
“I don’t need to regroup,” I practically shout. “I haven’t effing grouped in the first place.”
He tries the knob. I open my eyes and watch the metal glitter in light from the stained glass. The white door is covered in red triangles and blue curves to match the waves Jesus walked on. The gold of the knob reflects a halo.
I’ve come here since I was a kid, since back when it was still our church and my youth pastor had an office underneath this staircase. He gave me a key. I never gave it back.
“How do you stand it in there?” Rick asks.
I’m normally claustrophobic, and this stairwell is little more than a closet, but the dark walls feel more like a womb than a tomb, and the red carpet is soft as the quilt at home on Mom’s bed. It smells musty with a hundred years of prayers, like they’ve soaked into the wood and glass and metal all around me.
I run one finger down a crack in the wall. It’s been there for ages now, but it’s gotten longer. The church should have their foundation checked. I should’ve had my foundation checked. Maybe, if I’d noticed the cracks like this one when they first started forming, my ex-husband wouldn’t be on the other side of the door, because he’d be at home with me, in my bed, still my husband, holding me through this hard time.
And maybe I would’ve seen how the cancer was spreading. I could have taken Mom in sooner. I could have insisted she see a new doctor, tried a new drug, prayed a hundred years of stained glass prayers right here with me.
“I’m not going anywhere, Susan.” Rick’s voice is so soft it barely carries through the wood. It nestles in the carpet beside me, and my throat swells.
“Go away,” I whisper, but my own voice is hoarse. It tumbles from my lips to my chest and lodges there. Rick can’t hear me. Mom can’t hear me. Nobody can hear me anymore.
The colors shimmer on the door and disappear. My head snaps back and I get to my feet. High above me, the stained glass has gone dark. The shining face of Jesus doesn’t glitter anymore. Now his eyes are angry slashes across brown skin. Behind him, storm clouds gather on this Alabama afternoon. Lightning flashes. For a moment, I can’t remember if this is real or not. Am I in a church or on the Sea of Galilee?
The doorknob turns again. This time it opens.
“Rick?” I look down, but it’s not my ex standing on the stairs. It’s a man with a ponytail. He wears a tan jumpsuit and carries a large cross. “Jesus?”
“No, name’s Bill,” the man says.
“Susan,” Rick appears behind Bill.
I feel weak and put a hand on the wall. The crack bites into my flesh, and I wince.
“If I could just squeeze past you, ma’am.” Bill takes a step toward me. “I have to get this crucifix up to the attic.” He’s a janitor. Or a maintenance man. What do they call them now? I can’t remember.
“I’ve got her,” Rick reaches around Bill and puts a hand on my shoulder. He moves me to one side and Bill walks past, the foot of the cross dragging on the carpet, Jesus’s tattered body floating by me. I take my hand off the wall and put it on his wooden skin. Then Bill is gone, the cross is gone, Jesus is gone, and the thunder outside shakes the building.
“There’s a storm coming, babe. Let’s get you home before it hits.”
I sink to my knees and lean my head against Rick’s thighs. “I don’t have a home anymore.”
“What? Of course you do.” Rick kneels beside me, pulling me to his chest. “I saw the will. Your mother left you the house and her car and, well, everything.”
I shake my head. There’s a broken communion wafer on the ground, and it cuts into my knee, but I don’t shift my weight. I don’t move at all.
“The house doesn’t matter,” I sob. “Mom… Mom was my home.”