The Laughing House

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

The story is about the undeniable insecurity that often accompanies marraige to someone who has a past that feels bigger than your present with them.

Angela Shearer
I don’t usually tell the truth, in fact, most of everything I say is a complete distortion of reality and other times I get by on downright lies. But today she is coming, my husband’s ex-wife, she’s coming to drop off the child to spend the day and every time she comes she brings the rotten truth with her.
Whenever she is on her way, everything suspends itself in midair and the air tightens like an over twisted elastic band choking the life out of itself. For three years I have learned to manage this by counting. I learned to contend with it up to a point but I have never actually conquered it. Funny that, the countdown to when the truth that I usually avoid so successfully will wrap itself around me, stick its tentacles down my throat, in my ears and force my eyes open to look at things that I really don’t want to see. The thing about the truth is that it doesn’t rely on words, no; the truth relies on much simpler structures and is a fluid thing that changes, sometimes more often than lies.It presents itself in the flick of a strand of hair, the curl of a lip or the glint in an eye. This is why the truth is ugly. It cannot be debated because it doesn’t often speak and it cannot be beaten because as soon as you see it, it’s gone again, like a whisper that leaves no proof but cannot be denied.
And so, on the morning of her coming I begin to count. I count my breath, the number of spoons of sugar that it takes to fill the bowl, the drops of water on the basin, the number of pairs of jeans in my cupboard and so it goes on, in blind hope that I will eventually win.
But no matter how many times I have counted, it always happens the same way. Every time I see her I end up with clenched teeth, white knuckles, waiting for when the air around me will again release oxygen. Once that happens I wait for the house to close its eyes and stop looking at me and then I peer out and wait for every blade of grass to retreat and become one big lawn again. Finally I hover in anticipation for the driveway to convert back into a brick structure as opposed to the unsteady bridge of rope and plank it becomes with jaded crocodiles lurking in the depths of despair below, when she is parked at the end of it.
She’s hasn’t been to this house before and today I count my steps, the cups in the cupboard and the freckles on my arms. I shower and stand in front of my wardrobe not knowing what to wear. Heaps of discarded clothes lie on the bed in a muddle, tormenting me. I finally surrender and find an outfit. Lacy top, low cut skinny jeans with knickers peeking out at the back and knee high boots. I’m not going anywhere, just staying home to watch some movies but she’s coming and I hate her. All I want is to make her feel the way I do, just once.
Our new house is a double story mansion, if you saw it you would know that’s the truth. My sports car is parked out front just as I positioned it on purpose. I designed the house with my husband and I furnished it with exquisite designer brands. It cost a fortune and is the type of house that commands a second and third lingering glare. One that inspires envy, resentment and hopefully outrage in the onlooker while rousing smug achievement in the resident. Quite simply, this type of house is designed and built to provide a benchmark that draws a line between life’s winners and losers. Today, as she parks at the gate she will know which one she is as the house presents her with its big concrete middle finger.
I’m counting olives, she’s almost here. I know that because she’s never late. I watch the clock, scooping the olives into the salad and the face of the clock on the wall and the one on my Rolex become animated, mocking me as they slowly move towards twelve. I hear the tick-tock, tick-tock, pounding through my brain and then the inevitable silence as the long hand finally clicks over the ominous hour of her arrival. An olive rolls off the counter in slow motion then bounces on the floor. A strangled pause, a second that lasts longer than it should and then an overbearing cuckoo and bong of clocks that belong to fairytales and horror stories collides with the ding dong of the gate bell. There are 51 Olives.  
Side by side, my husband and I walk up the long drive to the gate to collect the child. I never allow him to go alone and I’ve already told him not to invite her mother in. He humbly submits to my request, knowing that the alternative would only result in a heated debate and long silences afterwards. 
She emerges from the driver’s side, an ordinary car by my standards, and she smiles. She greets in her usually nonchalant way and her eyes pass over me, as if I’m a random neighbour or a distant acquaintance of his. I freak on the inside and start counting the pebbles at my feet. My husband moves forward to help with the opening of doors and the carrying of bags and I watch for a hint of inadequacy in her. She makes no mention of the house, no rounded shoulders, no envious glare. The wind plays with her hair, my husband smiles at her and that glint is there in his eye, a lustful gaze that has long since passed between us. The smiles exchanged between them are full of warmth, an exchange that suggests their interactions are more frequent and comfortable than he admits and that her knowing is more informed that I would like to believe. She wears no jewels, and it pains me say it, her clothes are stylish but display no labels and she wears only a hint of make-up.  I recoil as she commands attention through her presence and unintentionally makes everything around her look and feel small. 
I hear the grass stretching forward to listen, the rickety bridge behind me creeks to announce its arrival and I look back at the house that is my last hope, the ace up my fraying sleeve. But as I turn, the house opens its big gothic eyes like a demonised jester, throwing its head back, jeering and laughing at ME! I see its giant pink tongue wagging in the back of its throat and the bells on its hat tingling and ringing as I try to hold my composure. I hold it, for sure I do, on the outside but I suddenly feel so stupid in the high heeled knee length boots. The lacy lingerie peeking out the back of my jeans feels like it catches fire and the saying “plumber bum” springs to mind. I feel brittle and cheap and I can’t say exactly what happened between leaving the front door and ending up in the misty realms of torment when I stand in the shadow of another woman. My Rolex feels like it weighs a ton and my hair feels too blond. Every inch of my being is screaming for me to run and hide but I dare not, I dare not let her win. I want to count the trees across the road but I start talking instead, butting into their conversation to make my presence known, to make her acknowledge me and as I do I regret it because she looks at me like a mother might watch at a gawky teenager who talks too much, listening only with half an ear and a look of benevolent interest. I keep a smile evenly plastered on my face. I could spit. She doesn’t envy me, she pities me.
We all know that I’m the imposter but it’s never said. That doesn’t mean it’s not true.And they know as well as I do that it is my need for things that keeps me here punishing both him and myself day in and day out. It is my fear of failure, poverty and rejection that drives me to snoop through his email and cell phone, to nag him to death and fight with him to love me the way he loves her even though I do not have the capacity to love him the same way. Of course he never will because I lack the very qualities of simplicity, effortless superiority and independence that he admires in her. He once confided that he does not desire to have her but rather desires to be like her. It is a confession that haunts my every waking hour for I have never heard him utter a miserable word about her, not even once. This paranoia, this feeling of never being good enough, is just the way it will be for it is the lesser of two evils. This life might ultimately be a cage for me but it is better to be in a cage than to be nowhere.
She drives away, her ordinary tail lights casting their red glare onto the bricks and into my eyes. The unsteady bridge behind me dismantles itself. The house stops laughing and chokes on the olive I dropped, its eighty eight steps back to the door. I step inside feeling like a clown, a stranger in the house that was never meant to be mine. I don’t belong here but I will not give it up even if it kills me. The last laugh will be mine.

Submitted: November 23, 2010

© Copyright 2022 Angie . All rights reserved.

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