There is a photograph, her mother has it somewhere, of her and her papa when she is young – seven, maybe, all knees and cheeks – in an armchair in the backyard, a mass of old leather on soil and the sky like a wide stone above the fence. She is crouched on the seat in front of him and he holds her from behind, eyes and wild hair and bare arms around small shoulders. The chair is colored by time, its cushions stained with dark strands from rain and then sun and then rain again, old leaves and stems in its corners.
The memory is not in her body.
If, years from now, it turned out the photograph never existed, she would only insist on the sensation of its glossy corners poking into her hands. The certainty of his shorts being blue. But the things that push themselves out from inside the image – the sharp dead scent of leather, the soft pressure of bare arms, her leaning against his chest where his heart sits – are artifice. This she knows.
Other things are real. Other memories solid, too thick to stick anywhere. The back door open at unlikely hours. Phone calls taken in whispers. Her mother silent in the bathroom. The way rooms could smell cold, like basements, when they are recently empty of people. Him going on sudden walks and the way the air dragged after him.
His body asleep on the couch, jeans unzipped for his fingers to fit inside, the colorless pulse of a TV on no channel, vibrating on dark walls, and her, dizzy from stale weed and coming in late, wondering why it’s called static if it moves. Lifting his beer can to her tongue and tasting cigarette ash rolling in.
A hallway of dark yellow where secrets are dragged out of rooms and screamed about.
An open door closed.
His closet suddenly empty months later, so he must have come to get the rest of his stuff while he knew they’d be at school. Her equal relief and offense at the thought.
The armchair is in the backyard when they move in, her and her sister pulling trash bags of books and clothes across the coiled mustard carpet, their parents carrying the couch between them, her mother’s bones pulsing out of her forearms. She always forgets how strong her mother is.
It stays there when they leave. A vestige of years that wouldn’t get factored into decisions anymore.
It’s no big thing to leave a place. Plants never took to the soil anyway. The whole yard is just fence, a mini trampoline, and a big shape of dead leather.
The new place has a door with glass panes so she doesn’t have to stand on a chair and squint into a hole to see who’s knocking. And they don’t have to knock. This kind of house has a doorbell. And a garden. And chairs in the backyard – plastic folding chairs, the kind meant to be there, meant for the outside, chairs that don’t peel or fade or stain.
He comes by once after everything, distant in the doorway, to give her Patron for her 21st birthday. Did he know he was wearing her favorite sweater of his?
“I don’t like tequila,” is all she says, but she takes the bottle anyway, compelled by a cold wanting that swells suddenly from her ribs – a wanting of an exchange, of something mutual, of something solid to press into her palm, of a sensation that can warm her from behind like bare arms around shoulders, like a brown leather armchair.
She closes the door on him. But the effect is lessened when they can still see each other through the glass.
Nadia Prupis is a writer whose work has appeared in New America Media, Truthout, Ms. Magazine, Common Dreams, Dispatch, The Portland Phoenix, and other outlets. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara.