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This Is What You Left Behind

Story by Tod Goldberg (Read author interview) March 15, 2007

This is the house. Those are the plants you asked be planted around the tree in the front yard, though it’s true that they never lived as long as you hoped they would. So we replanted them every year and I continue to do so, mostly out of habit though also out of a desire to make things pretty and nice and inviting, suggesting that the person who lives inside is not some sort of serial killer, is in fact the kind of man you’d not be afraid to go home with if you met him at a bar, or at the Sun Valley Mall, or when he volunteered inside the snack shack at the Little League games, though he doesn’t have any kids.

This is the front door. I’ve replaced it because it never closed right after you left. I’m aware kicking it after you walked out was not the right thing to do. And, yes, I admit that every morning when I woke up and found you gone, still gone, not coming back, married to another man (a man named Dexter for God’s sake, a man who had the audacity to call me one evening to inform me that he wanted to be friends, wanted to put all of this shit behind us, because adults are capable of doing that sort of thing, and we were all adults, right?), I went back to the entry hall and replayed the event in question. Sometimes I was just a passive observer—not unlike the actual me as it relates to this particular experience—and sometimes I’d pretend I was you, tossing my head over my shoulder to look at Shelby (though of course you have the dog now, as you should—though I am still not pleased about you changing her name—so I toss my head back and look at where the dog would be), and then I close the door quietly behind me and I stand on the front porch and I sigh and I say something like, “That man in there is the most special, replete human I’ve ever encountered, but in order for him to truly blossom, I must leave here and then return and allow him to take me in whichever way he sees fit.” I don’t imagine you said that, precisely, because the fact is I listened through the door to see if you said something and you didn’t, you just kept walking and that’s when I started kicking the door. You should have said something.

This is the kitchen. I’ve found myself spending more and more time here, inventing new ways to eat bagels. I’ve begun dipping microwaved onion bagels into cereal bowls filled with heavy cream. It sounds disgusting, but it is very filling and I’ve begun to put on weight again.

This is the family room. I’ve turned the family room into more of a multi-purpose facility and by that I mean I sometimes sleep here on the futon my father made me purchase; this was when everyone was invested in me “getting it together” and “soldiering on” and so I bought it and I put it here in front of the big screen TV and though the room still smells of Shelby, from when she was a puppy and pissed all over the carpet, I find it comforting. If I close my eyes, it’s almost like it’s five years ago and we’re scrubbing the carpet on our hands and knees, trying to get that puppy piss up only to turn and see Shelby pissing on the Christmas tree that we left up that one year until February.

This is the hallway. I’ve replaced the tile. I’ve repainted. I’ve hung posters. I’ve turned the hall linen closet into a secondary pantry, so that when I’m in the office and get hungry I don’t have to walk all the way into the kitchen, though I can tell you that I finally bought one of those pedometers and the amount of walking I do daily is in great need of increase, so maybe I should consider turning the bathroom at the end of the hall into a pantry, too.

This is the office. I work from home now, which is silly because if there was ever a time I should have been working from home, it was when you were at home, too, but realizations like that never seem to happen when you’re in the middle of the kind of strife that leads to realizations, because realizations typically happen long after the strife in question has become like a damp towel on the floor of the bathroom that you just step over all day, avoiding it even though you know it needs to be addressed before it becomes an issue of mold, an issue of unsanitary conditions, an issue worthy of realization.

This is the bedroom. This is your picture by the side of the bed. This is your gray cashmere sweater that I hid from you. This is the pair of sandals you wore on our honeymoon that still have miniscule bits of sand stuck in the seams. I hid those, too.

This is your wedding ring. This is my wedding ring. Yes, I know that it’s weird that I keep them together.

This is a lock of Shelby’s hair that I snipped from her tail, back when she was still named Shelby.

This is the sliding glass door to the backyard, where the hole we dug for the pool is still unfilled, because you don’t put a pool into a house you’re living in alone. That would be a cause for concern.

This is my closet. Those are my clothes. Those are my shoes. Those are the Christmas, birthday, Valentine’s Day and anniversary gifts I’ve purchased for you since you left.

This is what you’ve left behind.

This is what I’ve kept.

This is me and I am not the kind of person who can just wait forever.

About the Author

Tod Goldberg is the author of the novels Living Dead Girl, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, & Fake Liar Cheat and, most recently, the story collection Simplify, winner of the Other Voices Short Story Collection Award and a 2006 finalist for the SCBA award in Fiction.

This story appeared in Issue Sixteen of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixteen

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