The House on Cypress Street
“You remind me of my little brother,” Ariana called out to the boy on the bicycle, who stood up to pedal more quickly, no doubt wary of talking to strangers. She saw herself as she must look to him, a dowdy middle-aged woman accosting him on the street. He looked just like Jason, years ago, his bicycle swaying under the weight of newspapers crammed in wire baskets on both sides of the back wheel, tossing newspapers one by one over fences onto paths and front porches, whistling when he returned home with the baskets empty. Happy. She’d always meant to come back to this place where they’d all been happy.
“I’m back,” she said, to no one in particular, as she walked along the leaf-strewn sidewalk on a sunny afternoon, bearing no more than a canvas shoulder bag. She’d left her small suitcase at the station, not certain where she’d be staying. She hadn’t responded to the invitation for their 30th reunion. After all, she hadn’t graduated with them. She’d been a junior when she was bundled off to her aunt and uncle’s after what they called the “tragedy,” speaking in hushed voices. But then she’d thought, why not. Maybe it was time to come back and face the ghosts she’d left behind.
Was her mother’s friend Maude still on Sycamore Street? That was years ago, so maybe not. Were there old school friends still living in town? Steven from ninth grade homeroom? Lydia from the soccer team? That blonde girl who’d been her chemistry partner? What was her name? There was so much she couldn’t remember.
The front door was ajar when she got home that night, ready to tiptoe up the stairs and slip into her bedroom. She knew something was wrong.
Ariana didn’t recognize Sycamore Street. The trees had all been cut down. Apartment buildings had sprung up during her long absence, with hibachis and plastic tricycles and dying plants in pots on the balconies. The neighborhood was strangely silent. Of course the children would be in school. All but the boy on the bike — playing hooky maybe. She felt like she’d been playing hooky too. Years had become decades, but she just couldn’t bring herself to return. Who could blame her? Not her parents, or her brother Jason.
“Mom? Dad?” she called out. “Jason?”
“I’m here,” she said to a robin hopping on the grass by the sidewalk. The early bird gets the worm, she thought. And the late bird? Maybe there was no one left to welcome her. No one who would recognize her at the reunion and say, “Ariana! Is it you? We were worried about you!” What if she didn’t recognize any of them either?
None of the houses looked familiar. Maude’s house had been blue clapboard, but these houses were stucco. She considered walking to the house on Cypress Street. There was plenty of time before the gala reception that kicked off the reunion weekend. But the new residents would be strangers. If she knocked on the door, said, “I lived here once,” would they recoil? They must have heard the story. There were real estate disclosure laws nowadays. Neighbors. They wouldn’t want to see her. She imagined peering in the door at the living room, the stairwell with its mahogany banister. There’d be no sign of what had happened. Not now.
She crept up the stairs, confused by the sharp metallic smell. She hoped her parents were asleep, and hadn’t noticed that she’d missed her curfew. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness.
A sudden chill in the autumn air made her shiver. Why hadn’t she worn a sweater? She shifted her bag, suddenly heavy, to her other shoulder. It hadn’t been a good idea, coming back to a reunion. The classmates who remembered her would be horrified.
“They never caught who did it, you know.” They’d be gossiping behind her back. “If she hadn’t been out that night, she’d be dead too.”
Bloody handprints like red maple leaves on the walls in the stairwell.
She put her hands over her ears, but she could still imagine them whispering, see them looking at her over their shoulders.
“It was a bloodbath. That’s what the papers said. They said her brother tried to escape.”
“My god,” someone’s wife would say. She’d turn to her husband. “You never told me there was a murder here.”
“I forgot all about it. Her brother was a freshman. Jonathan? Jay?”
“Jason,” someone else would say, nodding.
She couldn’t stand it. She didn’t want to talk about Jason. She didn’t want to answer any questions. But what else did she think they would talk about? Her job at the insurance company? Her divorce? She hadn’t had children. There were no pictures to show her old classmates. Her life hadn’t added up to much, after all.
She’d been confused when she tripped over his body on the stairs. “Jason!” She’d thought it was a joke. “Get up, Jason!”
All day long she worked with actuarial tables. What were the odds that Jason would die at fourteen, and that she’d be forty-seven, older than her parents had been the last time she saw them alive? A divorced non-smoking female, her life expectancy was 81. Their three ages totaled together came out to 90. If they were still alive, the total now would be 183. It seemed important to note that.
Ariana had picked up her pace, and arrived in front of the house on Cypress Street out of breath, her heart beating erratically. The windows were shuttered and dark. The grass was overgrown. Why had she come back? Why had she been in such a hurry? She should have known better. It was obvious. There was no one here.
Her hand came away wet with blood. She could hear a girl screaming but she didn’t know who it was. She wanted the screaming to stop but the girl screamed and screamed.
She didn’t know how to make it stop.
Jacqueline Doyle’s flash chapbook The Missing Girl is coming out with Black Lawrence Press next September. She has recent flash in The Pinch, 100 Word Story, and Quarter After Eight, and new flash forthcoming in Post Road, Threadcount, and Hotel Amerika. Her collaborative flash under the name Alvarado O’Brien appeared in the “Bad Sex” series at Jellyfish Review. Find her online here: www.jacquelinedoyle.com.
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