The sky outside was gray and it was difficult to see without high beams, despite it only being 10 in the morning. My mom opened the car door for me. She motioned for me to get out. I reluctantly shifted my body around, accidentally slamming my brand-new leather combat boots right into a mud puddle. “My boots!” I shouted.
I sprayed my new shoes with stuff that would protect them from the rain. She said, her voice a little too cheery, “I do that with all my leather goods.” I watched as the many tiny droplets of dirty water rolled off my shoe.
“See!” my mom said. “There’s a way to fix everything, Kiddo.”
I rolled my eyes and lifted my backpack onto my shoulder. As I made my way up the stairs, a small piece of cement fell off the stop and shattered once it hit the ground. I shut the door, the doorknob fell off into my hand. I placed the knob on the coffee table and walked into the kitchen to wash the black doorknob goo off of my hand. I sat on the ugly brown sofa and lay down on a throw pillow.
“Greta!” my mom called, handing me a box full of plastic bottles. “Can you take these to the bathroom please?”
I took the box from her and began making my way to the bathroom. I opened the cabinet below the sink. As I reached my hand in, I found a naked Barbie doll; the brown hair of the doll was a big clump behind her head. The Barbie’s wide, hazel eyes and salmon-colored lips were clearly fading away.
I went to throw the toy in the trash can, but I couldn’t do it. “Maybe the kid will come back for you,” I said to the hunk of plastic. I placed her back in the cupboard.
I washed my hands and the water smelled like boiled eggs and was almost too cold to touch.
“Greta, I’m ordering pizza!” my mom yelled.
I walked out to the living room. I sat down on the old sofa and pulled my copy of Stephen King’s The Shining out of my backpack. My mom made me put the doorknob back in place after she left.
I woke up to my mom tapping me on the shoulder. “Food’s here, Kiddo.”
I turned over and rolled off the sofa and hit the floor with a loud bang. From the floor, I saw my mom pouring herself a glass of spiced red wine. I rolled onto my tummy and began to make my way up off the floor. I ran my hands down my leggings, trying to get the thick layer of dust off of them.
“Why is a red and green tablecloth with snowflakes on the table? It’s summertime.” I raised an eyebrow.
“I found it in the hallway closet,” my mom said between sips of sangria.
“Greta, I know you’re sad that we have to live here. I know, this place isn’t amazing. I know that your dad passing away is hard. I mean it’s hard on me too, but this is what we can afford. We will get some of our own furniture when I start a new job on Monday. We can make this place our own.”
She poured me a glass of wine too. “We can pretend you’re 21 today.” I smiled and took a sip of the wine. My mom let out a laugh–that big, silly belly laugh of hers. “The look on your face is priceless.”
“It burns my throat.” I coughed a little.
I told my mom goodnight. She was passed out on the sofa with an issue of People magazine spread out on her face.
I turned off the table lamp and went down the hallway. I opened the first door and saw a queen sized bed with an orange and yellow checkered blanket over the top. It look out of place with the flat screen tv and raw iron headboard. My mom’s only business attire was laid out across the bed. I closed the door softly.
I opened the last door in the hallway. What I saw on the other side of the door made my stomach turn. It was a little girl’s room, the walls were painted a kind of bubblegum pink. The bed was painted to look like it was made of giant red and yellow sharpened pencils.
I sat down on the bed and pushed my hands down on it. The neon orange blanket with purple flowers was rough on my skin, but I was grateful that it was a safe bet the bed would hold me. I curled up under the rough fabric. I let out a gasp as a stuffed teddy bear fell down and hit me in the face.
“How silly of me,” I said out loud to no one. I swear, at that moment I could hear a high pitched giggle. I moved the stuffed animal to the corner of the tiny bed. The animal fell over and hit me in my back. Tired and irritable, I simply slapped the toy off the bed onto the floor. I fell into a dreamless sleep.
I made my way into the kitchen. My mom was sitting at the table, drinking from a Dunkin Donuts styrofoam cup. My mother nodded, her mouth full of Boston cream, she pushed the box of donuts in my direction. I took a bite of a glazed donut. She handed me a couple of twenty dollar bills and told me to buy myself something cool for my room, then she left.
I walked into the antique shop, hoping they wouldn’t notice I was chowing down on a giant, sour cream and onion pretzel. An old lady wearing dangling ruby-colored earrings and a zebra print sweater came to greet me. “What can I help you with sweetie?” A genuine smile spread across her wrinkled face. She flashed her yellow and brown teeth at me.
“My mom, it’s been a really hard time for us. She’s going to her first job interview today and I’m sure she’ll get it. I wanted to get her something nice.”
“You must be proud of her.”
I looked through the glass case and frowned. “What can you give me for this?” I asked as I handed the eccentric store clerk the $40 my mom had given me.
“I can’t seem to sell this piece.” The woman handed me a tiny red velvet box. There was a silver pendant on the inside. The pendant was in the shape of a heart.
I handed the sales person the money. She simply closed the money in my palm and motioned for me to leave.
I sat, sipping on a blueberry-flavored iced latte and scrolling through my Twitter feed. My mom came in. A huge smile was plastered across her face. Her salmon-colored lipstick was an interesting addition to her ensemble of an emerald green velour business suit.
“You are looking at the first-floor sales associate at Bloomingdale’s!”
I hugged my mom. “I knew it!” I handed her the box.
She frowned “That money was for you…”
“I couldn’t help myself.”
She held the heart-shaped pendant up to the lamp. “Aww, baby. You had this engraved how awesome!”
“It reads Greta Loves Mom.”
“I wasn’t going to tell you this but…” My cheeks turned red as I spoke. “The lady at the antique store at the mall gave me this necklace for free. She said she couldn’t sell it. The name is just a little creepy, I will admit.”
My mom smiled. “I think I was supposed to have this. I love it. Thank you!” She gave me a big hug. “I hope you treated yourself to something nice, Greta.”
“I totally did and went shopping. I bought some new posters and a throw blanket.” I pointed to a Hot Topic bag, which was leaning against the couch. “Clearance sales are awesome,” I said smiling.
Later that night, after a rousing game of charades, my mom fell asleep reading on the couch as usual.
I was looking through the closet for packing tape. I found it sandwiched between two enormous cardboard boxes. The first box seemed to be a box full of children’s toys, mostly stuffed animals, some Disney princesses, and random hair products.
The second of the two boxes contained the stranger items. The box was filled to the brim with crucifixes. Some of these were made of wood, some of them appeared to be made of metal. And what was really weird was that a few of the crosses looked like they were made out of pipe cleaners and rubber bands. I picked up the mess and did my best to close the closest.
I giggled with delight as I took my new favorite poster out of the shopping bag. This was a thing of beauty, and I wanted it to be right above my bed. The poster featured a vampire with fairy wings; her body was green and her wings were sparkly. A little bit of shiny red blood dripped from the fangs of the fairy. I hadn’t noticed it before, but in a faint pencil outline there was the letter G, the letter M, and a heart. Underneath that drawing, there was another cross.
I knew my mom would be upset, but I left the light on that night anyway.
I woke up the next morning, the house was empty and silent. I almost choked to death on bubblegum-flavored mouthwash. I was scared shitless when I saw the creepy Barbie doll sitting on the outside of the sink in a sparkly swimsuit, as if she were sunbathing by a pool.
I finished gargling and scampered out of the room.
I was sitting in the library, reading some cheesy romance paperback. “I haven’t seen you here before,” an old man said. He smiled at me and I could tell his teeth were fake. His eyes twinkled in a way that made me think he’d be a great mall Santa.
“Yeah,” I said, exchanging a smile with the man. “We just moved into the duplex on Cedar Parkway.”
The smile faded from his face. “Do you like the top and bottom?”
“Honey, you do know what happened there don’t you?” I could hear the alarm in his voice. I shook my head. “Murder-suicide. I’ve lived in this town for a long time. Little Greta and her mom, they used to come in here every Sunday and check out Little Critter books.” A tear ran down the man’s cheek. “So sad.
“The story goes that Greta’s dad used to let her play in the bathroom by herself. One day, her dad had fallen asleep on the couch and the little girl drowned. Her mom became devoted to Jesus in a way that wasn’t healthy. She became convinced that God would give her back her daughter, and when praying day and night didn’t work, she went mad with grief. The courts said that Gretta’s mom beat her husband to death with a hammer one night while he was asleep on the couch.”
My eyes were as big as saucers as I listened to the man speak. The paperback was shaking in my hand. “Where’s her mom?”
“She OD’d on antidepressants. I can only hope she’s with her daughter now, but I guess none of us will know until our time comes right?” The man went back to his coffee.
“Did it happen around Christmas?” I asked.
“Yes, right before Christmas. The family went to visit Santa’s Workshop the weekend before the little girl passed away. I played Santa that year.” The old man pointed to a picture on the wall of him in a Santa costume.