House by the Sea – Part 1

a digital image of a door flipped on it side. The door is white and cracking in the middle, showing brown wood behind it. Above the door reads 'House by the Sea', and below it reads 'Wen Yu Yang'.

Wen Yu Yang works with the UNSWeetened Literary Journal and is a regular contributor to Tharunka.

Content warnings: mental illness (Dissociative Identity Disorder), non-explicit domestic violence

You saw the farmhouse for the first time in ten years.

            Radio static buzzed in the car. The grey hills blocked out the reception in these parts. You’d forgotten to switch it off, and didn’t bother to now. The car had stopped, but you still had your hands on the wheel. You and Travis stared at those hands. For once, it didn’t matter whose hands were on that wheel. You were in this together. 

            Trevor, are you sure—?

            You shoved the door open and slammed it shut, cutting Travis off. You knew it took significant effort on Travis’s part to refrain from objecting to your violence. 

You had counted on the rain, but it failed you that day. Its absence left an erratic buzz in the air, ghosts of an earlier downpour. The rain should be here to wash away the grime, the smell, the invisible blockage. You knew full well that you were fooling yourself into thinking it was your friend, when it was really plotting amid dark clouds from miles away. 

You drew closer to the house. There were the rusted parts of a small bicycle, owned once by a child. Limbs of smashed crates and shards of broken beer bottles were discarded along the walls of the house. The abandoned trailer that was once used for collecting corn from fields leaned awkwardly against the railing. The fields stretched far out, now dead. The silent shed cowered beside the house. It used to hold chickens and roosters, now it only held a faint stench. And then, there was the house itself.  

The house was smaller than you remembered. The years had transformed it into something black, unfathomable, that sank into the crevices of your thoughts and emotions. But you see now it was just a farmhouse, windows layered with years of dust and dry corpses of flies and a porch devoured by rot and mould.  The whole place smelled like dried dirt and dead rats.

No one would believe that anyone was living here, but you knew otherwise. You stepped over the ruined stairs and came before the barely-door, raised your fist and knocked. 

Silence. You knocked harder. You couldn’t hear exactly what Travis was muttering, but it was enough to make your patience fray. You spaced out your knocks, timing the pauses between them just long enough to get on their nerves. From past experience, you knew this technique worked best with clients who overstayed their welcome at your hotel. 

A man jerked the door open. His eyes were bloodshot; you couldn’t remember a time that they weren’t. His pupils weren’t glazed over… yet. The contents of the bottle in his hand were only half gone. It’d take a few more hours before it came to that, you knew.

The man took an intoxicated second to marvel at the fact someone was actually at the door before growling ‘get lost’ and moving to slam it. You held a hand to the ruined wood.

‘I’m coming in.’ 

Travis’s disapproval punched into you, but you ignored him and stepped in as the man stared. He was going to take a while to get over his incredulity before remembering to be irritated. You gave yourself a moment to regard the house and kept the man in the corner of your vision out of habit.

It was the same dingy hole you had left ten years ago. There was still the dinner table that took up half the space; the memory of the dent in that table leg throbbed faintly near your temple where a scar sat. There was that rocking chair in the corner. It was broken – most of the things in this house were. 

‘Get out of my house,’ the man growled. You could tell from the look in his eyes that he was too drunk to recognise you, though you doubt that he would even without the alcohol. You ignored him. 

Your eyes settled on another corner, where the red and black pieces of Xiang Qi sat on the patched-up board. You’re surprised it hadn’t been thrown out. 

You and Travis had found each other there when you were six. You had been playing the blacks, Travis the reds. It had always been that way. The game had ended in what people called ‘the dilemma’. You had Travis cornered, only to be forced to watch him slip away every time. Travis had the power, but not the means, to finish you off. So, you danced around each other that day, chasing each other’s tails until light faded and Father had found you in your game and smashed the board to bits with his drunken fist. 

You had pieced the board back into one piece after your father was finished with you. 

It was hard to say if it was you who found Travis first or if it was Travis who found you. Once, you both thought that whoever was first had default right and power, and power meant control. There was a time when it was something you fought over above all else. That was before you both decided to put the matter behind you.

Travis wanted you to have this day. Travis would have been the obvious choice considering the circumstances. But he insisted that if you were to walk away from all this, you would walk away together, if not, then together you would perish. Regardless, you had never let Travis down before and you had no intention to do so any time soon.  You ignored the man people called your father, drawing up dust dragging your finger across the table, a match catching fire. You turned to him to see that he was still scowling at you. Time gave you distance to see him a different light, and you marvelled at how this shell of a man terrorised you back then. 

You used to hate how you were a spitting image of your father, but now you were this close, the differences were instantly apparent. His stubble masked the sharpness of the strong jawline you shared, his hairline had receded far back, and the broad shoulders had long curved in. Dark amusement made your lips twist. His scowl wavered. You held his eyes as you drew up a chair, letting  wood screech against wood before settling down, your hands folded on the table, waiting. 

Your father drew a massive breath, rearing to strike, when a woman emerged from the kitchen door and froze at the sight of you. 

Yes, you were expecting her. Your Rolex said five p.m., didn’t it? You kept to routine, too, when you were here. It was the only thing that kept you sane, just enough to not snap entirely. 

Her hair was in disarray, and you found it difficult to swallow when you noticed the greying roots. Her apron was tattered and scarred in the same fashion of every apron before it, with burn marks that matched the colour of the bruises along her scarecrow-arms. Oh, she recognised you, the way you’d always recognise her. She was holding a pot of steaming stew.  You were almost surprised that she hadn’t dropped it and burnt herself. 

 Her mouth formed a word: Travis.   

Your heart lurched. You shake your head. ‘No, mother. Trevor.’

Part Two will be up this time next week. Stay tuned!
Until then, you can find Wen at UNSWeetened’s Facebook and on Twitter.

If this piece has raised concerns for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Lifeline: 131141
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Blue Knot Foundation: 1300 657 380 (Telephone counselling for adult survivors of childhood trauma)