by Ilene Dube
Drawn to the Other Side
Father died again in the middle of the night. His vapor evanesced out the window as if drawn by the halo of the gas lamp. There was a moon glow in the sky as he cycled into one of his own paintings, where he would live for eternity.
Long before I knew him, he was a painter at the turn of the century, cycling in and out of lucidity, shock treatments and sanitariums. He foraged art supplies—cigar boxes, old windowpanes—and his brushes were made from cat hairs. For paint, well, you’d rather not know.
He destroyed many of those paintings. The extant ones sell for tens of thousands, which funded this return trip. “It wasn’t so bad,” he said of the century and a half he’d been away, during which time his rural landscapes were archived in permanent collections.
In his lifetime Father had never been 30 miles beyond the city’s limits. He’d be soaking in the tub, then rise up, soap scum clinging to his wiry hairs, having seen something no one else could. Hours later his canvas would be a window onto a thorny path through the woods.
Along the way I was born. He was none too pleased to learn I had followed in his footsteps. Art making, he said, was for mad people. My drugs quelled the hallucinations just as shock treatments had his. One day I came home to find he’d cleaned out the medicine cabinet. I opened the mirrored door and there was the moon emerging behind the branches of a tree.
The Red Room
The alternative history teacher handed the envelope to my boyfriend, along with the keys to his house. As we walked the few blocks, it didn’t feel like walking a straight line. We opened the door and flipped the light switch, but the lights had already been on; the walls and furniture and bedspread were painted red—even the bulbs were the color of blood. The room throbbed. This was real.
Linda and Marcel were already there, asking for the envelope. We said we had it, calm down. We took turns with each. We had to spend eight hours in the red room, that was the rule. There wasn’t music. We weren’t allowed to sleep. My boyfriend kept the envelope tightly folded in his pocket.
Instead of a radio, we listened to the vents: the steady beat of the furnace, the sounds of shuffling feet a floor above, an occasional door slamming. Then the blood curdling screams. We braced ourselves, holding each other—there was no rule that we couldn’t hold each other. But as the screams went unabated, my boyfriend ran for the door. We were locked inside. He picked up the phone to call the alternative history teacher, who said he’d be home soon. “Don’t open the envelope.”
The screaming grew louder before it stopped. We never even thought about whether we’d be hungry.
Two Doors Down
The woman in the brown house was out walking her dog, a fluffy white poodle mix. Her own white hair was piled on top of her head. The woman who lived in the white house two doors down—her own hair was still brown—was in her car, driving by, as the dog squatted on the median strip. The white-haired woman looked up, embarrassed, as if it were she who was having a bowel movement on the strip of grass between sidewalk and street. Neither woman waved or said hello.
It hadn’t always been this way. More than 30 years ago, when Mrs. Brown moved into the white house, Mrs. White, who lived in the brown house, was out pushing a stroller. Mrs. Brown introduced herself—she, too, had a two-year-old son. She, too, had an advanced degree in psychology.
“You will find,” said Mrs. White, whose hair was then brown, “that the neighbors are not welcoming. You will find,” continued Mrs. White, “that this is not a good place to raise your children.”
Nevertheless, the White boy and the Brown boy became friends. Mrs. White was the one who worked to cultivate the relationship, inviting the Brown boy into her home to do all the things he was not allowed to do in his own home: eat macaroni and cheese from a bowl on a blanket on the floor in front of the TV. Mrs. Brown only allowed PBS, and only a half hour a day. Meals were to be had in the kitchen. Although she wasn’t thrilled with the practices of Mrs. White, she allowed her son to be happy with his friend who was, after all, two doors down.
They played together with a few minor bullying episodes until one day, in first grade, the Brown boy came home crying. The White boy had whacked him in the head with his backpack “and it was filled with bricks,” said the Brown boy.
That night, Mr. Brown went over to the White house, which was brown. “We don’t want our boy to play with your boy again,” he said. There had been other incidents. “This was the final straw for our boy.”
Mr. White joined his wife at the door. They began enumerating incidents started by the Brown boy. “Then you will agree,” said Mr. Brown and walked away to his own home, painted white, two doors down.
The White boy and the Brown boy continued to play together at school, but their parents never spoke again.