I step into the hallway, bare feet touching cold tile. I try to ignore the cobwebs dangling in corners where the low ceilings and walls meet, the specks of dirt that stick to my heels. Christine, the Scottish cleaning lady, comes twice a week, but I have no idea what she could possibly be cleaning. To my right are the see-through walls of the abandoned sitting room, its chairs and couches covered in white sheets. Light pours into the room from floral blinds. Once I’m past, my mother’s elementary school portrait follows as I go, her dark eyes wide and mouth expressionless. Even though I’ve seen them a million times before, I study the other mementos – an illustration of a red-haired cat with yellow eyes, an acrylic painting of a boy with his back to me, holding onto a fishing rod. It’s an abandoned gallery, old relics preserved under thick layers of dust.
My grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary guest book sits high within a glass case. I’m reminded of that party – sitting in the back of Los Olivos with my parents, surrounded by groups of people I didn’t know and decorations of parrots and colorful flowers. Seeing the video of memories that my parents and I were absent from, our history erased from Dick and Libby Halleman’s wonderful years together.
I’m about to reach the kitchen when I hear jingling and the erratic stomping of long, skinny legs. Poppy approaches, her perm bobbing, and her drool lands on my bare legs. I wipe it off and pat her head, then turning the corner into the kitchen. She doesn’t follow.
I hear my mother and grandmother’s voices coming from the den downstairs and feel my chest tighten. There’s no sign of my grandfather. I sift through the cabinets as fast as as I can, attempting to find something with an expiration date that didn’t pass twenty years ago. I grab a box of crackers but jump when I hear him.
“I need to get out of here.” I can’t tell where his voice is coming from. There’s movement on the stairs, and I duck down behind the island.
“Richard, it’s me,” my grandmother tells him. “It’s Libby.”
“I don’t know who that is!”
“It’s Susan, your daughter.”
“I don’t know why you’re here, either of you,” he says, but he sounds calmer this time. I’m frozen in the kitchen, afraid to be pointed out if he comes closer.
“I live here, and Susan and her daughter, Hannah, your granddaughter, are visiting. They’ve been here for a week,” my grandmother says.
“Granddaughter?” he asks, pausing as if something has flipped. But then it’s gone. “I need to leave. I have to go – now.” I hear his loud footsteps heading in the direction of what I assume is the back door.
Poppy stumbles into the kitchen next to me, but I grab onto her collar. I don’t want her getting anyone’s attention that I’m here.
“No, Richard, you have to stay. You live here.”
“But someone’s outside the house. I can’t stay here.”
I hear the glass door slide. Peeking over the island, I see my grandfather attempting to get outside while my mother and grandmother grab onto his sides. Then the phone rings.
“Richard, I think someone’s calling for you,” my grandmother says, letting go of him but carefully patting his shoulder. He looks at her hand and then to the phone.
I keep watching as he steps forward. My mother shuts the sliding door, locks it. There’s a loud beep as one of them answers the phone.
“Hello? I’m the Sheriff,” my father says on speaker. “What seems to be the problem, sir? Is something wrong?”
“I’m trapped here. I don’t know these people, and there’s someone outside,” my grandfather responds.
“Sir, we’ve checked the perimeter of your house, and no one is there. Everything is okay – your family wants to help you.”
My grandfather stays quiet. I feel Poppy’s hot breath on me.
“You have to stay calm, sir. Everything is fine.”
“You’re the Sheriff?” my grandfather asks.
“Yes, sir. You can trust me.”
His hesitation hangs in the air, but then he finally speaks. “Thank you, Officer. I appreciate it.”
I hear footsteps coming closer in my direction. Picking myself up, I release Poppy and hurry back through the hallway, my mother’s portrait watching as I go.
Hannah Montante is a writer, reader, and animal lover. She is currently in the process of acquiring her MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English at Chapman University. She lives in Orange County, CA, with her cat, Eloise.