It was a cold morning. The countryside lay frozen in the tight embrace of snow and ice. Spare patches of skeletal trees raised their bony hands towards the vault. Elisabeth had rarely seen a cleaner sky, the blue a pale kiss of winter. The sun cast a golden pool under the windowsill, while the house resonated in the sleepy sounds of cracking wood.
It was still early.
Elisabeth extracted a pair of socks from her dresser. The dresser lay crooked against the wall. Two legs were missing. One of the drawers was bent, her brother had kicked it. Elisabeth didn’t mind, the broken piece of furniture was a good portrait of her life.
She pushed the drawer, tried to force it to slide back in place. The wood whined, as its weathered surfaces scraped against each other. It didn’t close. Elisabeth pushed harder, but this time the entire dresser started moving, tilting towards her. She stopped pushing, before the piece of furniture toppled over.
Elisabeth sighed, passed a hand through her long, ashen blond hair. Her fingers got tangled in a few knots. She pulled unceremoniously, freed her hands, glanced at the alarm clock on her bedside table. She was perfectly on time, as usual. She could only hope her brother was too.
A sharp noise attracted her attention. Elisabeth turned around, startled. The drawer had somehow slid close on its own. Elisabeth stared at it fixedly, silently asking why it put up such a fight every single morning. She then sat on her well-made bed, quickly put on the socks. She studied her worn-out sneakers. No matter how much she tried to make them presentable, her shoes desperately needed to retire. She couldn’t grant them such a privilege, she had no other personnel to replace them.
Elisabeth put them on, her feet immediately finding the well carved shape time had created for her. She then stood up, walked to the door. Under the pealing door frame, Elisabeth froze. She was forgetting her backpack. Elisabeth turned around, searched her bed. Her backpack wasn’t where she had left it. She inspected the spacious room.
The discolored wood floor stared back at her. Elisabeth put her hands on her hips. Her twin-size bed occupied the left side of the room, the light blue comforter almost gray. A bedside table stood at its right. A small lamp, an alarm clock and a pink quartz sat on its weathered surface. The bedside table had also been blue once upon a time. Life had carved heavy lines through the wood, eaten the paint, lined it with white.
There weren’t many places her backpack could hide.
Footsteps echoed in the corridor, a door slammed. Elisabeth threw herself on the floor, lay face down. She looked underneath her bed, the only place where dust clouds accumulated. Elisabeth sneezed, her eyes started watering. She rubbed her nose, as she tried to contain a second explosion.
Defeated, Elisabeth stood up, a bad feeling spreading through her chest. Her sketchbook was in that bag. Elisabeth’s hands closed into fists. Her life was inside that sketchbook, and it wasn’t just secrets it contained. She wrote and drew thoughts, dissected her reality, redefined the world she lived in. It contained wishes, hopes, dreams and fears. The last entry, in particular, haunted her.
“Liz, if you don’t move, I’m leaving without you.” A man’s voice called. Rushed footsteps descended the staircase. Something fell on the floor. Elisabeth shook her head.
“I’m looking for my backpack.” Her voice was barely louder than a whisper. She walked back to the dresser, realized she had already looked there. A loud sound came from downstairs. She jerked. A chair had fallen.
“Your backpack is here!”
Elisabeth rushed out of the bedroom, descended the stairs. The steps creaked underneath her feet, the stairwell a dark tunnel of spiderwebs. The entrance door was bright in sunlight, the dusty glass shone golden and white. Rainbows refracted through the layers of glass, prisms that diverged one from the other.
A tall, young man entered the hall. His hair was black, spiky. Dark eyes darted to meet Elisabeth’s blue ones. Predictably, her brother looked exasperated. He lived his life avoiding his younger sister. He extended his hand, an old black backpack hanging from his fingers.
Elisabeth didn’t move.
“What were you doing with it?”
“Nothing.” He opened the entrance door. Elisabeth put her hand on the glass, the crystal as frozen as the outside landscape. She pushed the door closed. Her brother stepped back.
“What did I do now?”
Elisabeth crossed her arms over her chest.
“I thought we had discussed the meaning of privacy, Akira.”
Elisabeth didn’t flinch.
“I mean it.”
Akira looked down at his wristwatch. He mumbled something under his breath.
“What did you say?” Elisabeth raised her voice.
“I was, politely, considering the fact, that, for once, I was on time.”
Elisabeth opened her mouth, but Akira interrupted her.
“I didn’t touch your bag.” He, once again, reached for the entrance door, but Elisabeth slid in front of it. Akira swore.
“Politely?” Elisabeth cocked her head. Akira leaned against the wall. His eyes darted to the door, studied the icy yard, the empty road. The door rattled, cold wind picking up snow, a wild dance of evanescent ghosts.
“Ok, I don’t mind being late,” he exhaled.
Elisabeth glanced outside. The sun was rising higher, the sky turning an even lighter shade of blue. Her eyes got lost in the distance. The road was a gray snake, appearing and disappearing under layers of drifting snow banks. It looked like it could go on to infinity, fade into the horizon, the sky and the snow becoming one.
“Me neither,” Elisabeth said. Akira stared at her blankly, waited. Elisabeth looked outside a second time. She tapped her foot on the floor. Elisabeth was never late. Her routinely perfection risked being interrupted, but she wasn’t going to give up. Akira rolled his eyes, adjusted his backpack on his shoulder. The strap had peeled; the brown color of the fabric had faded to black.
“I never touch your stuff, Liz.”
Elisabeth looked down. The wood floor looked especially battered in that part of the house. The door had scraped the smooth surface. It was now a tangle of infinite semicircles.
Elisabeth searched her brother’s dark eyes. Something told her that, for once, he wasn’t lying. She lingered in doubt a moment longer and her eyes widened.
It had been her mother.
“That… woman!” Elisabeth exclaimed, anger bringing an acidic taste to her mouth. She didn’t have words to describe the hatred she felt towards her supposed parent. Vivian was cold and manipulative. She didn’t care about the wellbeing of her children, but they couldn’t escape her vigilant stare. Vivian was always on top of them, asking where they had been and with whom.
It wasn’t the first time Elisabeth had found her sketchbook missing. In the end, her mother always handed it back to her, accusing Elisabeth of writing down lies. There were things Elisabeth wasn’t supposed to think, ask. For there were many things the McFlay family never discussed: the past one of them.
Elisabeth made to rush back upstairs, when Akira’s expression caught her attention. He was staring out of the glass door, his eyes fixed. Elisabeth turned around. A massive black pickup truck was coming to a full stop in front of their yard. It looked like it was about to pull inside, invade the peaceful sleepiness of their house. Elisabeth didn’t think much of it. It could have been anybody about to make a U-turn.
Akira’s eyes were glued to the black vehicle. He was searching for something the darkened windows concealed. The pickup truck slowly turned around, paused a moment longer in front of the house, and then turned left. Akira grabbed Elisabeth’s wrist.
“What are you…” Elisabeth started saying. Akira didn’t let her finish the sentence. He dragged her out of the house. Freezing wind caressed the bare skin of Elisabeth’s arms. Elisabeth never felt the cold. The air’s icy kiss didn’t make her uncomfortable.
Akira pushed Elisabeth to their rusty sedan. He hurriedly opened the door for her.