“An empty room in miniature,” by NeilGHamilton

Each morning, Elaine would stand by the doorway of the old coral room and glance briefly around and say it was an ugly room, a terrible room, that she ought to repaint it if she ever had the chance. She’d say this and bang her fist on the wall and chuckle, but I always believed that maybe she was thinking again of Cheryl. So, I’d tell her just forget about it. Everything’s going to be fine. And Elaine would rub her forehead and storm out. On certain days she’d sit on the floor of Cheryl’s empty room, right beneath the windowsill where she’d fall asleep and wake up complaining that there wasn’t any furniture, that we shouldn’t have disposed of her old things, that maybe she was coming back. And I would just look at her, but I wouldn’t say anything.

Two weeks after Christmas, a car crash outside the house at night drew neighbors from the whole block to the scene. They came out still slipping on their coats and fumbling for their phones as they neared the fumes and the detritus. Two neighbors were helping an injured man from a pick-up truck, the bumper hanging on like a loose limb. The Prius, though, was irreparable. Some were frozen silent when they saw the girl in it. Her eyes were still open, but she didn’t move, and the neighbors knew what it meant when they heard her silence.

Jackie from across the street ran towards Elaine, who was standing beside the Prius, saying my god, my god, are you alright? to which Elaine replied why wouldn’t I be? and looked on without another word. When the police and the paramedics arrived fifteen minutes later to clear the neighbors away, some had already taken their leave with the dead, their sense of rescue numbed by the quiet elegy of the wait. I stood behind Elaine, who seemed almost dead still as she stared into the window where the girl lay hunched over the steering wheel, her eyes staring but not seeing.

When we came back in, Elaine couldn’t sleep at all. She covered herself with a blanket and her eyes veered off to a distant point, her mind so far away she couldn’t even hear me when I told her that everything’s going to be fine. That’s what I told her. Maybe I believed it, or maybe it was the only thing I could believe in that moment, that nothing else seemed plausible except to simply acknowledge that it happened. I said nothing else, and fell asleep.

When I woke up an hour later, she was no longer in the living room. She was standing in the doorway of Cheryl’s room and saying how nice it would be if the walls were sea-foam. She asked if I was in the mood to haul a few things into the room the next day, like a bed or a mahogany desk. She said that Cheryl would like that when she comes back. She asked me what I thought about that. But I didn’t respond. I told her that maybe we should just let the thought go, that maybe we should let Cheryl go. And this time she didn’t storm out. She didn’t frown. She just stood there, watching me, with a look that told me we were both hoping for something that neither of us really believed in at all.

About Kai W. Li

Kai W. Li is an aspiring writer. He currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

Kai W. Li is an aspiring writer. He currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

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