real lj idol | week 11 | 1563 words
The hall closet had a stash of secret things, no Whys or Whens but always If, because there were some things Lily couldn't bring herself to say out loud. Pride might be the death of her, but she liked to think she'd realize it if things ever approached the line where anger became fierce enough to kill.
"You can always come here," her mother kept saying, as if Lily might have forgotten. It was getting harder and harder for Lily to say Thank you to the accusations underneath the offer, and there was always someplace else she was in a hurry to be: making sure dinner would be ready when Wayne came home, or cleaning the house, or brushing her teeth over and over to hide the fact that she'd been throwing up all day.
Her mother's words would come to her when she was mopping the floor or buying beer for Wayne and his buddies: Where are you in all of this?
Most days, Lily couldn't even pretend to know.
She didn't go out much, but when she did she always seemed to run into someone from high school. Even ordinary questions were hard to answer. "What are you doing these days?" was a post-feminist pitfall, because nobody stayed home simply to take care of the house anymore. Wayne didn't want children that might take Lily's attention away from him, and she got tired of having to be evasive whenever that topic came up.
Sometimes, just talking about it hurt too much.
Nothing she did seemed to make Wayne happy, at least not for long. "You used to be pretty," he'd say, watching her until her skin prickled. "Jesus, what the hell happened?"
She swore to herself that she'd try harder. Maybe she'd start wearing lipstick again, or do something about the way her clothes just seemed to hang on her these days. But there was never enough time. As soon as Wayne left for work each morning, she'd clean up the kitchen. After that, it was straightening, vacuuming, laundry, ironing, groceries, and odds-and-ends kinds of chores. Lily usually missed lunch unless she got together with an old friend, but that rarely happened. Wayne got jealous if she spent too much time with other people, and it wasn't worth the risk of making him angry.
Besides, she hated the questions people asked: What's that bruise on your wrist? or How did you hurt your shoulder? or worst of all, Do you have someplace safe you can go?
It was hard enough just trying to make it through any given day. She had no energy to respond to those questions, and she was so tired of making things up.
So much of her time was spent cleaning and tidying, because Wayne liked everything just so. She made sure the contents of the pantry and the medicine cabinet were lined up properly, and dusted shelf after shelf of knickknacks that Wayne's aunts and uncles and grandparents had passed along.
The house was full of artifacts from someone else's life, someone Lily hardly remembered being.
Here, on the mantelpiece was a picture from her wedding. She'd been so young then—only a year out of high school—and her future had looked so bright, so hopeful. Those days all seemed so far away, now.
There, by the door where Wayne had carried her across the threshold after their wedding, was the dent from where her head had struck the wall the night Wayne came home and discovered the burnt ruins of his dinner.
Lily's mother kept telling her to leave him, but who did she think Lily was? Lily wasn’t brave or clever or resourceful; she was the women who never got all the streaks off the windows, the one whose hair was always stringy and whose Sunday pot roast was always dry.
People like her couldn't go chasing off after loose-end fantasies that had never even existed in the first place.
One hot late-April morning after weeks of rain, Lily looked outside and realized that something was different. Half the flowers in the yard were blooming, and sky was a cloudless blue. The weather had finally turned for the year. Summer was on its way.
She stripped the bed and put the sheets in the washing machine, then went to get the light-weight summer bedding out of the linen cupboard. She had to wrestle with the contents of the cupboard, just like always. No matter how often she straightened and reorganized it, it was simply too full. Wayne had crammed some of his mother's things in there, and space had been limited to begin with. Lily twisted and yanked at the bed sheets, trying to pull them loose. They jerked free suddenly, falling on top of her and pulling the box they'd been sitting on right along with them.
The box was marked "Lily's Things," in permanent marker. The handwriting was Lily's.
She hadn't opened this box since they moved into the house four years ago.
Lily sat down with the box and removed the lid. Both the box and its contents were smaller than she remembered. There was a threadbare, light-brown teddy bear in there named "Buttons," for his eyes. He'd been hers ever since she was a little girl, a gift from Grandma Bess. Next to him was a dried-out clump of flowers—Wayne's boutonniere from the wedding. Lily had pressed it for weeks to preserve it, but something had gone wrong. The colors were faded and the flowers just looked old.
There was the music box her mother had given her for her sixteenth birthday. It was pink with gold filigree, and Lily still thought it was beautiful. But Wayne didn't like pink, so it had been banished, too.
There were a few other odds and ends—her textbook for second-year French, a couple of CDs, a Girl Scout pin. At the very bottom was her high school yearbook.
Lily opened it, leafing through the familiar pages. She looked at the school's entrance, the quad, the cafeteria, the basketball court, the locker area. There were pictures of the National Honor Society group, sports teams, the Model United Nations, Chorus, and Band. Spanish Club showed Lily's friend, Becky, standing in the front row, and there was Lily herself in the picture for French Club. In the candid photos, Lily and Serena Jackson were goofing around in the cafeteria and blowing the paper sleeves off of straws.
God, she'd been so happy back then. She'd forgotten what it felt like.
In the back of the yearbook were the usual notes from friends: "Love ya, hon!" and "Thanks for not letting me flunk Algebra!" and "I can't believe we almost blew up Chem lab. Science would've been so boring without you!"
On the bottom corner of the last page was a note from Bob Martin, whom she'd known since Junior High: "You're really nice, and much smarter than you think. I hope you get a chance to do something with that after graduation."
Lily caught her breath, and thought about high school for a moment. She'd always gotten decent grades—not amazing, but good. She'd done well enough at projects, and she'd had a lot of friends.
Yet now, just a few years later, she spent every single day feeling useless and utterly incapable. God knew, Wayne made sure she wouldn't forget it.
Her eyes stung and she clutched the yearbook to her chest, like a lifeline to her past. When the tears stopped flowing, she got up and went to the bedroom and pulled her only suitcase down off the shelf.
Toothbrush, underwear, a change of clothes, and a sweater. Lily added in the teddy bear, the music box and the yearbook. It was a strange collection, but there wasn't room for much else anyway.
She zipped the suitcase shut, and went to the hall closet. Taped to the back of a picture frame was an envelope full of cash from her mother, and an open-ended plane ticket to Philadelphia, where Lily's parents had moved a few years back. Lily put the cash and the plane ticket in her purse, and took the key for the Buick off the key ring and left the others on the counter. She wouldn't need them anymore.
Grabbing the suitcase and her purse, she went out to the car before she could change her mind. She didn't care about the house or any of the things in it. They'd never really belonged to her anyway.
She blinked in the sunlight, surprised by the colors, the smells of everything around her. Birds sang up and down the street, and children's voices rose out of one of her neighbors' back yards.
Had it always been like that? All of that noise and energy, all that life, happening all around her?
Lily breathed in the smell of flowers and sunshine, and smiled as she unlocked the car and put her suitcase inside. She drove off down the street, toward the freeway that would take her to the airport, her hands gripping the steering wheel with intent.
She didn't know Philadelphia, or much of anything outside of West Plains. But she finally realized that there was nothing keeping her from her future. She'd forgotten it, but it was still waiting for her.
At long last, she was ready to find it.
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