My mother is dead, yet ever-present. In the kitchen, her disembodied words peel through the walls. In the basement, by the washing machine, they come out as tears, slurred through prescription pill fog. Sheetrock collects my parents’ voices. I can make out each one, mom, dad, their tonality muffled through the reverb of building materials.
A FOR SALE sign hangs in the front yard. Books on selling real estate suggest hiding the fact of hauntings. I can’t. Mom and Dad insist on reliving the time our family’s German Shepherd tore my brother’s throat out whenever someone steps through the front door. I’ve heard it everyday since Mom’s burial. During the first months, it made me cry. Now, it’s elevator music, street din submerged in the background. For potential buyers, it’s fresh. My mother screams as my father pulls the dog away. The clench and snap of teeth is accompanied by a chorus of harsh barks as my mother phones an ambulance.
The moment never let them go.
The mortgage is too high and I don’t have the money to afford a condo. There are few rentals on the market with AirBNB swarming our town. After being laid off, my bank account dwindles. There’s only enough for another three months of payments. I need to sell the house for at least half its value or the debt won’t balance.
I don’t want to leave, but there’s no way I can afford to stay.
I have a showing at one. It’s a family of five. The kids range from eight to fifteen. The more kids, the faster they leave.
I open the door, my best Goodwill suit hanging large on my frame. I smile, offering blueberry muffins from the plate by the door. The kids don’t even get to take their first bites before my mother starts in about my brother. The dad looks at me, trying to figure out why I’m screaming about a dog and bite wounds. Then he realizes it isn’t me. No one else is home. The TV is off. The radio dead. It only takes him a moment to connect the unreasonably low asking price with the reality of the four bedroom, two-point-five bath colonial.
They leave their muffins ground into the carpet. I vacuum as my father progresses to tell the EMTs how they never saw it coming, how Klem was a friendly dog.
I sleep in my childhood bedroom. Occasionally, when I turn off the lights, my mother’s whispered songs surround me. Nursery rhymes and country ballads from my youth. Sometimes dad’s voice recites chapters of the fantasy novels he read to me in middle school before I told him I was too old. I’m glad my own voice doesn’t sift through the sheetrock. I don’t want to hear the recollections of teen angst, the disheartened tone in my father’s voice when he agrees to stop reading.
When the developer offers me a hundred-thousand-dollars under the already diminutive asking price, I drop back into an armchair. The man sits across from me, smiling, the sounds of the dog attack shrilling through the living room. He’s handed me the forms. I can’t rent a new place with that amount, not even in the worst parts of town. It won’t even cover the remaining mortgage debt.
“It’s the only offer you’re going to get,” the man says, adjusting his tie.
“But it’s worth…” I begin to say.
“Doesn’t matter what the assessor says. They don’t have a sliding scale for possessions or hauntings. Whatever you call this.”
“They’re my parents,” I reply, scanning the papers.
“No one will care when we bulldoze the place.” he says.
I throw the offer back in the developer’s face. Papers cascade across the floor. I tell him to get out.
He can’t do that to my parents. Every moment under their roof wasn’t pleasant, life stuck on loop, but they meant well. Mom never wanted to neglect her remaining son. Dad only desired to read me stories through high school, their plots preferable to the life before him.
They never kept photo albums. Or journals.
Their words are all that’s left.
Ear plugs might help. I could take them off whenever I wanted to visit. Whenever I felt nostalgic. Or lonely. It’s not all dog attacks and depressive bouts. Once I let them go silent, truly silent, I won’t be able to get them back, even the worst parts. They’d never show up in the prefabricated ranches the developer plans to drop on the property. They’d probably hate the wallpaper, the tacky paint job in the living room.