THE EMPTY CHAIR Excerpt

The dark shape of the little bungalow lay quietly at the bottom. She wished she had put on a light or two before she left earlier in the evening.

Leaving the Jeep at the end of the driveway, she plodded toward the front door, the dripping ice bag in one hand. Even though it was a beautiful summer evening and the stars were shining brightly, shadows predominated the yard around her mother’s house. Across the bay, only a few lights were on in homes scattered along Peterborg Peninsula. A breeze off the bay caressed her face.

The front door knob turned easily, and she gave the door a shove with her body as she had done many times before. This time, however, the door didn’t open all the way. It got stuck on something just inside the door.

Peering into the shadowy little house, it was hard for her to see anything beyond the window in the door. She pushed the door harder, anxious to get inside. A strange foreboding came over her. Giving the door another push, more firmly than before, she created just enough room to poke her face inside, but she still couldn’t see in the dark. Using her body to push the door enough to squeeze through, she flipped the switch on the table lamp by the door then tossed the ice bag toward the coffee table. There was an odd sound when it hit the floor instead of the table. Pulling her camera up over her head, she gently laid it on the couch under the window.

At first it was difficult to make sense of what she was looking at. The small throw rug usually lying by the front door was bunched up and wedged part way under it. The coffee table was overturned and things were strewn across the floor from the living area to her mother’s studio. Papers. Photographs. Immediately she was concerned for the studio and broke into a run, straight for it.

Pausing in the doorway, she flipped on the switch and gasped. It took her a moment to survey the scene. Cupboard doors were left open exposing bare shelves. Drawers stripped from their rollers lay haphazardly on the floor, their contents spilled and scattered. The framed photos had been ripped from the walls and shattered across the worktable. Shards of glass, sparkling in the overhead light, littered every surface in her mother’s studio. Olivia reached down and collected photographs, picked up pens and pencils in an unrealistic attempt to return the room to its former condition. Before long, she stopped, completely overwhelmed by the extent of the mess.

“Mom, I’m so sorry.” As her knees gave way, she grabbed onto the edge of one counter while her back slid along the lower cupboard behind her, ending in a folded heap on the floor. “How could someone do this?” she whispered under her breath. “Why would . . . I don’t get it.” She was at a loss. Her mother’s beautiful work, destroyed by someone. A thug. This was not a careless, random act.

Her melancholy turning to anger, she sprang to her feet. Her hand slowly curled into a fist, and she swung at an open cupboard door. It slammed shut with a loud bang and then popped back open again. Olivia let out a scream. She pounded the door again. This time a stabbing pain shot through her hand. She didn’t care. Someone had awakened anger inside her that she had never felt before.

Unable to stomach the mess any longer, she headed for the bedroom and continued to vent her feelings. “What the hell were you looking for?” Her voice was loud and resounding, yelling at someone who was invisible yet becoming very real to her. She grabbed onto one of the bed posts for support. “Stay out of our house! You don’t belong here. If you found what you were looking for, then stay away!”

Pausing her rant, she sensed someone behind her. Her heart was racing, her adrenalin pumping. She spun around, feeling like her back was against a wall and there was no way out, but she was ready to take on anyone to defend her mother’s house.

© 2018 Penny Goetjen

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