The house was quiet when Sydney got home from school; this wasn’t really unusual, but there seemed to be a greater quietness. Almost a profound silence. Her mother’s car was in the drive, and as Sydney walked past it she could see the keys in the ignition. Her mother was constantly forgetting to take the keys in the house and lock the car. Sydney grabbed the keys, and went into the house.
At 17, Sydney had already lost patience with her mother, Janice. In her daughter’s perspective, Janice was an unmotivated and more shallow than normal suburban housewife. Their interactions in the last couple of years had devolved into fake displays of affection and conversations that contained no real content.
That didn’t make their last meeting any less shocking for Sydney.
As she walked down the hall toward her room, she noticed that the door to her parents’ bedroom was open. Janice always closed it, as she hated making the bed and hated people seeing that she hadn’t made it even more. As Sydney passed, she noticed the bed was unmade, alright, but that was not all. Her mother’s legs dangled over the side and Sydney could see she was naked. She walked further into the room, and realized that her mother’s nakedness was not the most shocking thing—her mother was dead. Sydney’s father’s 38 was near Janice’s right hand, and the covers blossomed under her head in a scarlet, almost black, stain. Sydney stood frozen for what seemed like hours. Then, she heard a strange, animal sound that she realized was her own screaming as she ran from the room to call 911.
Mark, Janice’s husband and Sydney’s father, was rather disaffected by the whole thing. His marriage to Janice had been one of habit, really. He did rush home when the neighbor, Sandy, had called him at work as she cradled Sydney, rocking her back and forth, as the police and coroner came in to deal with the scene. Sydney could hear him talking in low tones to a detective who was asking where he had been in the afternoon and whether he knew of any reason why Mrs. James would want to do this to herself. Janice left no note other than a message on the refrigerator with instructions for how to reheat the dinner she had left for them. At the end of the note, she’d simply written, “I’m sorry.” Without the corpse in the bedroom, anyone would have thought she was a housewife apologizing for not being home for dinner and nothing more.
What Sydney never understood was why they gave her family the gun. Apparently, weapons used in suicides are not the same as those used in murders. During the first year after her mother died, Sydney would lie awake in her room pondering the gun. She didn’t wonder so much why her mother committed suicide as much as she wondered why her father had not gotten rid of the thing. She assumed he still had it somewhere in the room where she had died. He had gotten rid of everything else—the bed, the furniture, the carpet—but he had kept the gun.
She had rescued some things from her mother’s closet before Mark hired someone to come in and box up her clothes and personal effects and take them to the donation drop. A shirt her mother had not fit into in years, a few pieces of jewelry, her watch. There was a box of papers that she found in the back of the closet, hidden. She had moved that to her own closet. She was too afraid to look at them, afraid of finding an answer to the question she wasn’t ready to ask yet. On nights when she tired of wondering why her father had kept the gun, she lay in the dark, staring toward her own closet doors, dreading the box as if it were the boogeyman or the ghost of her mother.
Within months of her mother’s suicide, she was packing her own things, getting ready to move to campus. Her father, on the other hand, was readying to move his “new” girlfriend into the house. Syd wasn’t stupid; she could tell this was no new romance. She also surmised that in some ways her own father had pulled the trigger that day. She moved her things to the attic, including the unread papers. She was alone in the house on the afternoon before she was to drive the several hours to Layfayette to attend school; the broom she was using swung back and forth, signing to her: the gun, the gun, the gun.
She went to the front door first—making sure it was locked and that the chain was on. She checked the back door, too. Just in case he should come home or someone should stop by, she didn’t want to be found in his room.
As she walked down the hall toward the bedroom, she could feel her heart pounding and she realized she was holding her breath. For a split instant, she saw the gory scene from before when she walked into the room, and she closed her eyes. Opening them, she saw only the renovated bedroom. She crossed the room and went to the closet first. She hadn’t found it there before, but guessed he might have stored it there after the clearing out. Once she didn’t find it there, she searched the nightstands, and even in the drawers in his bathroom. Out of desperation, she looked under the mattress—there it was. He had slipped it between the mattress and box springs on his side of the bed.
She slid it out, expecting it to be cold for some reason. It was hefty, and she popped out the cylinder, finding no bullets. At least that’s something. He may be messed up, but at least it’s not loaded. She slid the gun back in place and walked out of the room. It was comfort enough to know where it was. She suspected he would keep it there, feeling some kind of odd kinship with the gun lying under him each night. She wondered if he thought of it the way she thought of her ghost-box of papers.
Fifteen years later, her father died. Compared to Janice’s death, Marvin’s had been more of the boring and expected kind. He was never one to take care of himself, and his string of girlfriends who loved to spend his money had certainly made sure his glass stayed full of bourbon and that his plate was always filled with the down home foods he loved. In the years after Janice died, he had become slightly cirrhotic, very overweight. He died of a rather large coronary at the age of 68, leaving what little he had left to Sydney. In the end, the gun and the ghost box were all she really wanted, and she left the keys with the local realtor and drove away, telling them to get whatever they could out of the house.