Never Coming Home
By Alexis Leno
The yelling and screaming was too much. Isabelle couldn’t really take it anymore. At nine years old, she had endured much of it and the screaming going on down below was more than enough. The loud shrieks of her mother and the pounding of feet on the marble floors made her wince. She stood at the top of the stairs, both of her small white hands grasping the frame of the wall. Her ear was against the cool white surface and her body was pressed to the wall as if hanging on for dear life. She could hear the vibrations of the fighting down below, the stomping, the yells, and silence following them. They all seemed to travel through the walls up to the small ear that was pressed to the surface.
She heard a clatter, but it wasn’t coming from downstairs. A small boy came from behind her, carrying a toy car made of plastic. He threw it down the hallway, letting it roll over a few times before hitting the opposite wall with a clunk. He moved to open his mouth, his pudgy hands reaching for the car before Isabelle shushed him by bringing a small finger to her lips.
Hearing the door slam, she walked down a few stairs to look out on the damage. Her mother was standing there, hot faced and red from screaming. She didn’t notice Isabelle and Isabelle didn’t realize that her father was nowhere in sight. She walked back up the stairs and noticed her brother playing with his same toy car in the hall. Stepping around him, she continued on through to her room, sitting down quietly on the floor. Her mother came up a few minutes later and stood in the doorway, looking in at her daughter as she played with her dolls. The moment was completely silent, mother looking on child as if she wanted her to turn around. Isabelle played on, oblivious to her mother’s presence behind her.
As her mother watched, a small sigh escaped her pale lips. Her tired face looked on as her daughter continued to play noiselessly; the room was absent of any chuckle or childish laughter, and there was no clinking of toys together as she played with her dolls. She seemed to be in her own world, her body bent over the dolls, petting down their hair and staring into their eyes with a small smile on her round face. The world was too silent for her mother; she sighed again, a little more loudly.
“Babe,” she began, walking in slowly, the plush carpet soothing her aching toes, “Mommy wants to talk to you for a second.”
Isabelle’s green eyes shot upward towards her mother. Her mother became lost in the sea of helplessness evident in her daughters dark green eyes. It seemed that Isabelle almost knew what her mother was going to say, that the words were in her heart, and she knew what was going on around her. For the first time, her mother realized that Isabelle was more mature than her years. In soulful eyes, her mother could see into the depths of her daughter’s grief stricken heart.
Isabelle broke eye contact, making her mother snap back to reality. She lined up her dolls neatly, stood and walked over to her bed, sitting down obediently. She never made one noise, all of her emotion and thoughts were locked up tight in this little girl’s body. Her mother sat down on the edge of the bed, placing a hand on Isabelle’s knee.
“Daddy is going to be gone for awhile.” Her mother said slowly. She wanted to make sure that she understood, that she knew that her father and mother were taking some time apart, but that it wasn’t because of her. She wanted Isabelle to know that everything would be fine even though Daddy wasn’t coming home that night. And she wanted her to know that she could be sad about it. All the things she wanted to say to her daughter didn’t surface; the words wouldn’t materialize on her lips. She had spent so much time yelling in anger, screaming at the one person she had pledged her life to, that the words left in her mind were garbled and incoherent. Only thoughts and phrases of what she had said in anger came back to her.
The fighting had gone on for a long time. Isabelle couldn’t even remember a time when there wasn’t fighting, she was used to it now. She nodded her head solemnly, accepting what her mother had to say, but silent tears fell from her eyes. Her mother had expected there to be actual sobbing; the out of breath, can’t figure out what’s going on, scared sobbing, but it wasn’t there. Isabelle just stared into space, letting the cold tears roll down her face. Her mother didn’t want to see her like that; she took Isabelle in her arms and rocked her gently, begging for something, a scream, a loud intake of breath, something to calm her own uneasiness.
A few hours later, the sun had set and the sky had become flooded with dark foreboding clouds. Isabelle was sitting at the window, staring out at the downpour raging on just outside. The rain stormed down against the street, banging on the pavement and creating loud cracking noises even heard by Isabelle indoors. Her face was glued to the street, its sleek, wet tar glistening under the street lamp. There was a sad expression on her face, the rain mirroring the tears that Isabelle had shed earlier, and the ones that she knew would come. She could hear the phone ringing in the distance, its bells faintly heard at the outskirts of her mind.
She heard a loud crash again, turning she looked around for her brother. Isabelle wanted to take the car away from him, to shake it away from his pudgy fingers. He didn’t know what was going on, he didn’t understand what her mother had said. He just continued playing with his car. It bothered Isabelle, and she wanted to make him stop. Looking around the dim room, she noticed that her brother was nowhere to be found. She walked through the house, looking for the source of the noise, only to find that it was coming from the kitchen. The phone was off the hook, and a loud beeping noise was coming from it. She picked it up and put it back in the cradle, the black handle wet with something cold.
Isabelle looked at her small hand, and wondered why the phone was wet. Her mother was sitting down on a chair at the table, her eyes blank and her face bleak. Isabelle put a hand to her mothers face, wiping away the silent tears that were falling from her mother’s identical green eyes. Just as before, the room was silent. Her brother had long since been put to bed. The storm raged on outside. Seconds ticked on the clock nearby.
“Mommy?” Isabelle asked, her voice tight and worried. She knew there was something wrong, and she wanted to know what it was. She could feel her mother’s pain; it was evident in the grief on her face. There was horrible sadness in her hollowed eyes. Looking at her mother, Isabelle realized that her mother looked old. There were small wrinkles next to her eyes that she hadn’t noticed before. Her face was beginning to droop and she had been gaining a bit of weight these past few months.
There was a knock at the door. Her mother made no sign to move. The pounding on the door grew louder, until the person unceremoniously began ringing the doorbell. Biting down on her lip, Isabelle moved down the foyer, her bare feet cold against the marbled floors. Her whole body felt cold and she knew that as soon as she opened the door, her body would be hit with a gust of wind and a splash of rain. She was wearing a dark brown sweater, and as she walked she shivered and pulled it closer.
Lightning cracked across the sky, lighting up everything outside. She could see it through the window above the door; her eyes were attached to the window, watching the pounding rain, listening to the silence inside the house mixed with the noise of the rain pounding against it. She put her delicate hand on the doorknob; it was cool to the touch. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door, letting a gust of cool air hit her in the face.
“We would like to speak to your mother, please.” A uniformed man said in front of her. He was tall, and his face was hidden underneath the hood of his dark blue jacket. There was another man standing next to him, something shiny on his breast. Isabelle wasn’t sure what they wanted, or even really who they were. She nodded silently and turned her head towards the direction of her mother.
“Momma?” She called down the foyer, her small voice echoing in the silence. She could hear the loud screech of the chair as her mother pushed it backwards so that she could stand. Her mother seemed to be taking forever to get there, and Isabelle was getting wet from the rain in the doorway. Frost came out of her mouth as she breathed, the cold air outside affecting her warm body. Her mother walked slowly down the hall, her feet barely heard against the tiles. Isabelle noticed that she was breathing heavily, that her hand was at her throat and that her eyes were wide at the sight of the two men.
“Can we come in?” The taller one asked, a look of sympathy on his face. Her mother nodded silently and motioned for Isabelle to step aside. She did, and the two men came in, trying their best not to get the floor wet with their sleek black boots. They hung up their coats on the hook near the door and her mother guided them into the living room.
“Isabelle, why don’t you go in the other room?” Her mother asked, not even looking down at her daughter. Her eyes were empty and hooked on the officers in front of her. She already knew what they were going to say, someone had already given her the news. Pushing Isabelle aside, she tried to hide the tears that were moistening her eyes, present at the outer tips of her lids and ready to slide down her face again.
Isabelle left the room, her eyes watching her mother. She wasn’t sure what was going on, yet she had a terrible feeling tugging at her deep down. Moving to across the marble floors, she seated herself on the bottom step. She couldn’t hear the conversation her mother was having with the officers, but there was only one thing moving through the thoughts of her mind. Deep in her heart she knew; Daddy was never coming home again.
© Alexis Leno 2005