I go back to the old house, down off Harper Road and across from the old bakery. The paint is green now and the shutters look as if they would like to peel off the sides of the windows and float down the street. I stand there on the curb. I say, “This is my childhood home,” and it sounds like a lie. Then, “I used to live here.” Finally, “I don’t live here anymore.” That one’s better, truer, but it still sounds like a warning.
I find a neighbor too, a little older woman with reddish hair and beautiful pearl earrings, and I ask, “Do you remember a little girl who used to live here?”
“No,” she says, “you know how it is with neighbors these days, no one ever stops to say hello.”
I resist the urge to say hello; we talk about the weather. When she asks if I was the little girl, I lie. I don’t have a particular reason for this, but the knowing glint in her eyes irritates me. I talk about a cousin, an old acquaintance I wanted to find.
“Genealogical research,” I say, “a hobby,” and I keep lying until the woman with the pearls is no longer curious, or paying attention. I do not remember what I say; there are certain kinds of lies no one is ever particularly curious about after you tell them once.
I wait a polite amount of time and then I go back to the Motel 6. The girlish, conventional corner of my mind is whispering sadly. What a shame, she says, no one here remembers you.
The rest of me is a woman, vindictive and satisfied. Good, she says, and means it. If she had her way, she would burn the house to the ground like so much tinder and be done with it. A better ending than this, she says. She’s smiling; she thinks I should have slapped the lady with the pearls right across her ugly face, there in the middle of the street. You and me, she says, we don’t get paradise, but we’re old enough to choose our own hell. You and me, baby, we get a choice.
I light a cigarette in the dingy motel bathroom. It’s the first I've had in days and as close to paradise as anything else I know. I study myself in the ancient mirror, unfortunately positioned on the wall over the porcelain toilet. I say it out loud, testing the words, watching them weave through the smoke. “A better ending,” I say, and I try very hard to mean it.