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When her mother died, she inherited this house, just like how her mother had inherited it from her mother. It was an old, two-story house who had stood through many generations of her family, of wars. Everything in it was nearly as old: the paint, the furniture, the appliances.
Coming home, now, after all this time, she felt like she might die as well.
She’d left this place as soon as she could. Any opportunity there was to go on a trip as a kid, she took. Any sleepover offered, she went, even if she didn’t like the kid that much. After school groups allowed her to stay out longer. With her first boyfriend, she stayed over at his place as much as possible, spending nights, even if she felt it was too soon and they would get in trouble because they were “too young” and “what would the neighbors think?” She studied abroad. She went away to college, took summer classes.
It would be the first time she came back since she’d left for college. She’d been travelling abroad, learning about the world so she had a better idea of how to run the family’s business of money trading. It was a flimsy excuse for never coming home.
But here she was again, standing underneath its looming shadow, dreading to go inside.
Stepping through the threshold, she felt all the air sucked out of her. The house itself was suffocating. She gasped for breath, but the dark walls the color of dried grapes seemed to suck it all up in an attempt to come to life. She dropped her suitcase in the mudroom, closing the door behind her, repressing the urge to run away.
This was her ancestral home. She knew she would return one day.
She moved through the house slowly, breathing purposefully as she opened all the shades, all the windows to bring in as much light and air as she could. The living room downstairs was crowded with outdated floral furniture—pretending it was a lovely garden when in reality she was trapped in this place. She saw herself in the glass tabletop as she leaned over, nearly jumping out of her skin at another person here with her.
The carpet was dulled from years of being walked on, from being cleaned after being dirtied. Ugly, dark colored rugs covered up the greyed whites of the carpet—a show of wealth rather than style.
The bedrooms upstairs had big beds and paintings—all of them mocking her with outdoor scenes or portraits of her mother, grandmother, great grandmothers, laughing at her fear of this place. There were bookshelves filled with pointless books and knickknacks the men of the house had insisted on to show their legacy, and the women of the family had used to improve their status in society. They got so far on the determination of her ancestors, while she could barely walk through the house.
Back downstairs, there was a room dedicated for the family’s work. It was more like a corporate office than anything, and it was, by far, the room she felt most comfortable in. It was clean, sterile, the raisin walls covered by shelves and posters and boards mapping outdated stocks and numbers her mother had been keeping track of before she died. There were piles of papers to sort through, filing cabinets filled with years of documents. There was work to be done. But not tonight.
The house had the musty smell that old houses always did, and it was giving her a headache.
She had to get out. Just for a bit.
So she went to buy groceries. She would make a nice dinner, take a long bath, set a fire and sit by it as she adjusted to the stationary life she was destined for here. She knew it had been fate, but she looked at settling down like it was hazy. A distant future. Instead, it hit her like a train.
She was not ready, but she knew now she had to be.
Somebody had to carry on her family’s legacy, her mother’s and her mother’s work. There was nobody else to do it. She had been, from a young age, told she would do this, and been mentally trained to take on the weight of her family’s work.
She went home with the groceries and found the kitchen proved to be a bigger obstacle than the threshold was. The oven was a large, traditional wood oven, built into the house. The refrigerator, at least, was more modern. But when she put the groceries into it, it still felt like she was feeding a wild animal—like it would bite down at any moment, and she would always be at its mercy, no matter how badly she wanted to be in control.
She lit a fire in the oven, her hands shaking. It was cold—so cold—like it was breathing on her, like a cave that would swallow her if she lost her way. The fire was nothing, couldn’t warm her, and she was tempted to stick her whole arm into it just to feel something other than being watched, cornered here, in the kitchen, into a place in life she didn’t want. She was trapped here.
She tried to reason: finish cooking or starve.
Die trying to face the beast or die without a fight.
She ran, locking herself in the bathroom. It was marginally better. There was a small window that let in fresh air. She took the long bath that she’d wanted until the water was cool, and she heard the quiet roar of the fire she’d left burning in the kitchen.
Everything was the same dark, muted purple color in the house. The color of dried grapes.
She took a deep breath and quickly quelled the fire in the oven, her appetite gone. If she ate now, she would throw up and give the house too much of herself.
She went upstairs, to her childhood room. It felt like a final walk. There were the books she’d read as a child, the stuffed animals that had protected her from the dark, monochrome of the raisin-colored house. Embroidery projects and paintings she’d been forced to do covered the walls, peeling off now, nearly falling.
Just above her bed there was a large window, and she could see the sky. She climbed into the bed and watched the sky change from blue, to orange, to brown, to black, while she was trapped in the purple of this house.
She was going to die here, she realized, as the sun went down.
Generations of women had always been between these walls. Born and died in these walls.
She was the first member of the family born in a hospital.
She was determined to be the first woman to not die in the building as well.
As she slept, she dreamt of the places she’d visited when she was free of her filial piety. She dreamt of open fields of golden wheat, swimming endlessly in the breeze. Of clear oceans meeting clearer skies, blue meeting blue at a horizon that curled out of sight. White snow piled taller than she was. The smell of fresh air—air that felt different than the stale air of this house—something crisp, refreshing, enriching, just to breathe. The way it felt to walk on new streets where nobody knew you, nobody expected anything of you.
She woke to her own terrified face in the reflection of her tv screen. Probably the most modern thing in the house—and it was still too much. It was too homely… too domestic.
She ran out of the room, slamming the door behind her. She breathed easy in the hallway, away from any semblance of the home.
She could pretend she was in any building this way.
Once she summoned her courage, she went downstairs to face the kitchen.
It was, as always, the most terrifying room of the house. The monstrous mouth of the oven, the height of the refrigerator that her mother had used. The matriarchs had crooned over it when they bought it. It was holding her food prisoner, and she was too much of a coward to fight for it.
She stared at the refrigerator, the stove, the oven like it was the first time she’d seen them, how frightening they actually were. It was daytime now, and they were reflecting the light. Shiny, like they hadn’t aged a day. Formidable, despite their age. She didn’t know how her mother, her grandmother had stood in front of them all day, had withstood the heat to provide for a family that wanted nothing more than to flee and get out of this damned house.
Her legs were shaking too badly to go into the kitchen.
She turned to leave. She needed some fresh air. That would help.
Fresh air and grass.
But she saw her reflection in the television, in the windows, in the frames. There were so many faces—all staring at her—laughing at her, judging her for not being able to do this, when everybody else had, for not doing what she had been born to do.
She couldn’t stand it.
She ran. Again. Like she had so many years before—like she always had.
She would not die in this house.
Up the stairs—to her room—to the sky. She jumped out the window of her bedroom, leaping off the bed, through the glass, towards anywhere but here. She breathed in the fresh air as she fell two stories down.