A House Is Not a Home
by Liz Colter
"Where were you?"
Darien regrets the shape of the question as it forms, tries to negate the unintended implication. "Did that spring squall affect traffic?" Accusation seems to dance at the corner of his words, no matter his intention. Men lack a talent for backtracking, he thinks.
Naria hangs her jacket on the stand by the door, her spine as straight and stiff as the post and peg receiving her coat.
"Yes," she says as he closes the front door for her. The ornate rectangle of mahogany and leaded glass resists. He lifts up on the knob, forcing the door into an angle that matches the frame.
She must hear how clipped her voice sounds. She tries for a more conversational tone. "It only snowed hard for about ten minutes, but it was enough to cause an accident and put the interstate at a standstill for nearly an hour."
"Sorry," he says, not certain to which of the things the apology belongs.
She brushes his shoulder with a hand. Like a game of tag, it transfers the role of victim back to him. The place they both feel it belongs.
She disappears into the office to check email or chat with friends. He opens the front door again, swings it back and forth. He wonders where he and Naria are on their own personal road--stuck behind an accident, unable to move forward, or still tangled in the collision of her affair?
He examines the top of the door, thinking a loose hinge might make it hang off true. The top hinge isn't loose. It's not there at all. The door is held by a frayed piece of rope, running through holes where the hinge should be, tied in the middle in a messy knot.
"I got back early," he says loudly enough for her to hear. He doesn't mention the absent hinge, the odd rope. They both need a respite from him uncovering hidden things. He'll fix it later, when she's out. "My auto theft client decided to take the plea at the last minute. I went ahead and got dinner ready. I hope steak is okay."
"Sure. That's great." Her voice drifts to him from the other room, distant.
Jayden entered the house quietly. His seventeenth birthday last month and school letting out for summer a week ago had earned him some latitude, but staying out all night would never fly. He hoped he could sneak upstairs, pretend he'd gotten home hours ago. If not, it was still worth the fallout to avoid the artificial chitchat over his father's new Sunday morning family brunch. Worth getting blazed with friends he wouldn't normally have hung with. Worth sleeping it off in the woods at the edge of the suburb.
"Jayden?" His father's voice.
His dad came out of the kitchen and leaned in the doorway. He'd shed weight lately, enough to look a bit lost in his sweatshirt and jeans. His casual posture couldn't disguise the tense lines of worry; the uncertainty of how to discipline without causing further distance.
"You didn't call. I thought we had an agreement about that."
"Sorry. I forgot. Travis and I were gaming pretty late. I stayed over there." He hoped his father wouldn't come closer, smell the pot or alcohol, see dirt or pine needles on his clothes.
"Did you forget to answer your phone, too?"
"Guess I didn't hear it. We had the volume up pretty loud."
His dad nodded. The gesture seemed shallow, resigned.
Darien pushes off the doorframe, watches his son vanish upstairs. One of the cherry wood boards in the floor shifts just as he turns to climb the wide staircase. Jayden doesn't notice, but Darien sees the tail of it lift.
Two months ago the front door started listing. Last month a faucet came off in his hand. A week ago, he discovered plaster broken around the dining room chandelier, the light hanging askew, cords showing.