SASKIA THIBODEAU-VAN DEN BERG
There’s three of everything now.
Three toothbrushes in the plastic glass next to the sink. Three pairs of shoes on the doormat in the hallway. Three used mugs lined up upside down in the top drawer of the dishwasher. Sometimes, in the morning, when the house is empty and the Parents have already left the house, I take yours out of the cupboard – the one that says “Bad Mother Fucker”, just like Jules’s wallet in Pulp Fiction – and I put it down on the kitchen table right in front of me, just because it makes me feel a little less alone. The coffee tastes harsher than when you used to make it for me though. And I still can’t whip up that foam you made so well.
Every Wednesday as I leave to go to school, I cross paths with Ana Rosa. We have our usual little exchange over the drone of the vacuum cleaner – “Hola Anasita, como estas?” and then “Bien y tu, preciosa?” – and then I ask her not to clean your room today. Every time, she gives me a sad little smile and squeezes my hand in hers, her thick, gold rings pressing hard into my skin. Every time, I look away and mumble something about having a bus to catch. Sometimes I go into your room when no one’s home and sit on your bed and breathe in the damp scent of Axe and wet socks that still lingers in the air, that smell I used to complain so much about before. Everything is still exactly the way you left it: empty packs of rolling paper abandoned on your desk, giant sneakers stacked messily in the corner, red and black graffiti cans lined up against the window sill, the posters of Bob Marley and Scarface that I’d bought you to cover the holes you’d punched in the walls. Last week I pulled them down and looked at the gaps, running my fingers over their ragged edges, each hole telling the story of a different frustration. I remember your bloody knuckles and how the house shook with every punch you threw and how no one – not even Dad – could make you stop launching your fists once you got started. I remember waiting for it to be over and silently stepping into your room with alcohol and bandages, and how you’d let me fix you. I remember how neither of us would ever say a word while I did.
It’s the little things I miss. When I’m in my room studying, for instance, I still gradually crank up the volume, decibel by decibel, as if my music still had to compete with the repetitive rap that would always boom from your bedroom across the hall. Remember when we’d do that until our ears buzzed and the Parents yelled at us to stop from downstairs? Now, when I turn my music off, there’s nothing but silence.
And I miss worrying about you. I miss telling Mom, “Yeah yeah, he was in bed when I went up” when the truth is I stayed up until the backdoor screeched open at dawn and I heard you drunkenly paw your way up the back steps. I also miss snapping at your friends on the phone when they would call the house fifty times a day because you got your cell phone confiscated at school. And I miss covering for you when the secretary would call to say you hadn’t come in that day. Now, no one ever calls anymore.
What I miss most is racing you for who would get to shower first in the morning, and the times you would call me to ask at what time the Parents would be home and when I’d be home and if you could please borrow my bike “just for an hour” because you had another flat tire and you really needed to be somewhere but wouldn’t tell me where or why. I even miss arguing with you over who did the dishes last, and who put the empty milk carton back in the fridge, and whose turn it is to take out the trash, and who ate all the Oreos. I miss intimidating the girls you’d bring over by grilling them about their intentions and asking them for their full names and addresses and postal codes, “just in case things get ugly, you know?” And I miss falling asleep in front of the T.V. in the den and how you’d scoop me up and carry me to my bed every time. I never thanked you, but I knew it was you.
I even miss the big fights, like that time I came in without knocking because I needed to borrow a pen and I found you at your desk, with your giant Ziploc bag full of little purple pills. I remember the look in your eyes when you saw me and the words we screamed at each other and how I grabbed the bag off your lap and sprinted to the bathroom. I remember how you caught my wrist in the hallway and wouldn’t let go, and how we both tugged at the bag until it burst. I remember the sound of those hundreds of little purple pills falling to the floor, ricocheting off the walls and bouncing down the stairs like tiny marbles. I remember your panic, and how you cupped your hands and tried to catch them. I remember how you dropped to your knees and swept your hands against the wood, saving as many as you could. I remember what you called me and how I told you that I hate you. Now, I can only hope you heard me say that I love you more often – or at least that it meant more to you. Because it did to me.
You know, I still look for you in the bus stops and parks and alleyways of N.D.G. when I walk home from the library late at night, as if I still expect to find you there with your hooded friends, stomping your feet to stay warm. And I still count the empty beer cans in the recycling bin like I used to before, to know how much you’d had to drink that day. But they’re all Dad’s now. I still check under my mattress to see if you left me a five piece of weed to sample. And I still leave the porch light on for you when I go up to bed. I guess it’s because some part of me likes to think that you’re going to come home any minute now and just stayed out past your curfew, that’s all.
Some evenings, when I’m distracted, I still set the table for four. Then I have to hurry and bring the fourth set back to the kitchen as soon as I notice my slip. Before Mom sees it, says Dad, or else she might cry. And things are so quiet at home now that I sometimes fantasize about throwing a fit to compensate because no one ever screams around here anymore. But it’s not a good silence that reigns in the house; it’s a sad, resigned stillness. It’s awkward and unnatural and it makes everyone uneasy. Even when the Parents sigh and smile and say soft things like “Now isn’t this nice?” between two bites of supper, their eyes are empty and their faces are worn and I know they’re lying because they look at their plates and put their forks down.
There’s three of everything now that you’re gone.
And I don’t like odd numbers, Raph.
Born to a well-traveled Franco-Canadian mother and a well-read Swiss and Dutch father, Saskia Thibodeau-van den Berg was immersed in many cultures and languages from an early age on. But it was her love for the English language that pushed her to start writing short stories of fiction and non-fiction at the age of 10. Since then, she has been published in the Montreal Gazette, completed an internship with Montreal’s Nightlife Magazine and had several poems featured in online publications.