Walking out the front door was always easy.
The yells were gasoline, pushing her feet silently across the ceramic tile, the house dark and cold save for the light emanating from the bottom of the door to her parents’ bedroom. She didn’t have a lot. She prioritized her wallet and notebook, along with an extra shirt and shorts, and tucked them all away in a pink, plastic Hello Kitty case. It bent and fought with her – it was made for crayons and crafts and things that brought smiles, not frantic decisions – but she buckled the latches closed and held it tight against her chest.
She walked across the hall, the sounds of bumping furniture echoing in the walls of her ears. Her legs were a spider’s, her toes balancing on the threads of tile cracks, leading a haphazard path to the front door. Her head barely looked over the lock. She took a deep breath, clenching her jaw as another fighting voice filled the pause. She unlocked the door, her small fist turning the knob and opening it out into the night. The humid, Florida air made the weather stripping on the door hiss, the pressure of the house exhaling, syncing in time with her own breath.
It was summer and she didn’t think to change out of her pajama dress. Despite the warm air, her knobby knees still buckled under the halo of the streetlight in front of the house. Fourteen. There were fourteen houses in between hers and her best friend’s. It was late but they would open the door for her. She just wanted to sleep. She didn’t want to come back, but she would. She just wanted the dreams to go away, to hear nothing but a ceiling fan and passing cars. She gripped the handle of the case, the sweat from her palms making it seem very heavy. The street suddenly seemed very long, fourteen turning into fifty. The smooth concrete on her feet turned into glass, piercing through her arches and heels. The asphalt of the street was the River Styx; she didn’t dare step in.
She battled her consciences, the pointer finger on each of her hands rubbing the skin around the thumbnails. This was always the way. The nights when the street turned into Purgatory were often the worst. There was fear on both sides of the door. The plastic on the latches suddenly gave way, her minimal supplies dropping onto the driveway. Her body dropped, skinning her knee, as her hands reached out to them frantically. A couple of coins dropped, the corner of her notebook bent. Her eyebrows furrowed – she would never get the crease out of the paper. She folded her shirt back in, and clasped her hands on both sides of the case, forcing it shut. She brought it to her chest once more, her arms circling across it as she turned around and sat on the front stoop.
Tears began falling but she was used to the sensation of the salt water on her face. Sobs didn’t come anymore but she rested her forehead on her knee and forced it out. A gust from the west kissed her cheek. Her chest rattled one more time before she looked up. There were only fourteen houses. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the quiet. The house had fallen asleep, the fog of anger still hanging but thinning out into empty spaces. She stood up and turned back around, the street of unknown perils snickering at her back. Walking out was always easy, leaving was hard. She opened the door with one hand, the other carefully holding the broken case. She brushed her feet on the mat, careful not to track the concrete dust. When she made her way back into her bedroom and closed the door, she tried to rub away the weight in her eyes. Her bed looked unapologetically comfortable. Her friend’s was comfortable too – but it wasn’t home. It would suffice until the next night. She would have to find another case or a bag for her things, though she hoped she wouldn’t need to.
She crawled under the covers, her scrape brushing against the cloth and staining it with the smallest signature of blood. She ignored the pain, holding onto her pillow, the snores now coming from the next room. Wants and needs were two different things and she knew she needed to be there. She wasn’t the only one in limbo; the house wasn’t empty after all. She would escape one day, when the street held less dangers and more promise. There was hope, hidden away in dark corners, waiting for the opportunity to consume the dark, to consume the fog, to make her forget how many houses were in between.