It is the kind of day that you could dance in. You could pull your best friend into the middle of the road and celebrate in the rays of early autumn. The gold and whisky coloured leaves gracing the trees as the sun sits low atop the houses, pleading for summer to stay.
You and your sister have just pulled into the driveway after a long tiresome week. You turn the key in the ignition and the engine stutters to a stop, marking the start of a holiday weekend.
You come inside, drop your bags, and kick off your shoes, humming blissfully whatever song was playing in the car. Your house is empty: your parents, brothers and dog left for a weekend break that morning. The hollowness is peaceful. No little brothers to pester you, no mum to nag you about packing for your trip, no dad to ask how work was.
It’s the same every day. I take out staples, Dad, you would moan, avoiding eye contact.
Engagement cards from your recent announcement hang on a string draped across the wall. All are different pastel colours exclaiming a lovey-dovey phrase that you’d never say yourself.
Engagement: the coming together of two people who love each other.
Some things are meant to be.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer couple.
You walk past them, smile and toss your bag on top of the table, noticing the side door is wide open.
You freeze, momentarily. You think it’s strange but not too strange. Your mum is forgetful and your dad is oblivious.
“Rachel,” you call to your sister. “Did you open the side door?”
“Nope!” She calls.
It doesn’t play on your mind. You’ve lived in the neighbourhood for four years and you have never been aware of anything suspicious, paranormal or dangerous.
And the house appears normal: a laptop and handbag are on the table. You close the door and lock it.
You prance around the house, collecting bits and pieces to put in your suitcase. You are in charge of ‘movies’ so you gather a good selection, find a sleeping bag, head to your room and begin packing clothes.
Your room is a mess, just the way you left it. Clothes scattered on the floor, lights left on, neon post-it notes stuck to your wall to remind you to live your life with the right mindset.
But one thing is out of place. Last summer when you worked in a café, you collected the leftover coins that people hid under plates and you put them in a tall glass jar.
This glass jar is now lying on your bed, empty. The latch is broken and not a single penny in sight.
You frown. The door open, money gone… Your mum must have been in a panicked rush. You slip your phone out of your back pocket and dial her number. She answers, excited that you’re calling. You waste no time.
“Mum, did you leave the door open?”
“No?” She says, defensive.
“Did you take money from my room?”
As she is thinking and responding, you walk out of your room and notice that something else is gone.
A ceramic jar of ivory white is missing from the shelf in the hall. Someone gifted it to you and your fiancé to collect scraps of change and small gifts of money for your wedding ‘and a little bit extra for the honeymoon…’
“No,” your mum says.
You do the calculations. Money missing. Door open. Mum promising she locked all the windows. And it is in the ecstasy of fear and in the tremble of your voice that you rush to admit…
“Then Mum, our house has been robbed.”
You can almost hear the string orchestra playing dramatic minor chords as the scene cuts and your audience is left on a cliff-hanger for the next week. There is silence down the phone. Suddenly, the house feels like it’s caving in on itself, shrinking in size and trapping you in the small prison of uncertainty.
You can feel the tears that you’ve saved from the week crawling forward into the rims of your eyes, trying to stay brave. You feel watched and targeted. Your sister has overheard you and runs to your side, knowing that you wouldn’t exaggerate a situation like this. Mum tells you to check every room.
“What else is missing?” She asks.
You find out that the only other thing gone is an orange piggy bank that used to be on the windowsill in your parent’s room. Your sister and you stand in the doorway of their room, glancing around for what else could be gone when she gasps.
“Beth!” Her voice breaks and you feel a pang of horror embrace your whole body, as chills writhe up your spine. She is pointing to the window across the room. It is open, wide enough for a slender body to slither through. Your sister hides her eyes in your neck, shivering with sobs. You throw your arm around her and phone the police, promising your mother that you’ll call her back.
The police come, take statements, agree to a crime report on Monday when you’re home and you are left alone again. Your sister was going to stay home alone this weekend but she is coming with you now. You refuse to leave her home alone. The window is shut; the police have assured your safety.
But the house is echoing, like a cave. You can’t leave each other’s side. The clean walls now tainted with sin. Someone else’s fingerprints have touched your things. Someone else’s selfish desires have destroyed your peaceful wedding planning. Someone else has been through your bedroom, their feet treading across your floor. Someone else knows where you live, what you own and how to break into your house. A house which doesn’t feel like a home anymore.
In between the silences in your conversation, you listen out for unfamiliar breathing, uninvited footsteps, or a rustle from under the bed. You feel as though you’re being watched. Every move you make is cautious and robotic, like your limbs have been frozen and you need to thaw them out. A burst of tears is stuck in your throat but you swallow them down for your sister’s sake.
You can’t stay here this weekend. No matter how unsafe your home may be in the untrustworthy hands of the universe, you are longing to get away. The elements of safety that once made up this house have all disappeared. You toss things into the back of your car, glancing over your shoulder every few seconds. As you reverse out the driveway, you look at the window and imagine someone forcing it open, wandering through your home, ignoring the photos of a happy couple behind the money jars and racing out before they got caught and with this vision, you feel a searing fever of hatred.