"New Construction" by Cassie Sheets

New Construction
by Cassie Sheets

 If your home is in the suburbs just outside of a minor city in Ohio, it will be large. The rooms in your home will be big and rectangular and have more space than you need, but you will fill that space with furniture that does not have a specific function, and you will buy trinkets from Pier One to cover the empty surfaces. Your home will look almost exactly same on the inside as all of your neighbors’ homes, but you will be struck by the way your neighbor’s home has a closed-off den where you have an open dining room, or the way your father uses the spare bedroom as an office but your friend’s father uses it to store camping supplies.

When you moved it smelled wonderful inside, like curry and basil, and there was a vegetable garden in the back yard. When you were six years old you played in the garden. Once, after cracking open a jalapeño pepper, you rubbed your eyes with your hands and they burned so badly your mother called the hospital in a panic. They told her to rinse out your eyes with water and wait. A few months later your parents tore out the garden and planted grass that never quite took in the space.

When you were seven years old, you begged for a dog. One night at dinner, you stared off into space with a smile on your face and your parents asked you what you were thinking about. You tell them how you imagined you and your phantom dog making snow angels together. The next week you visit the pound and bring home a mutt with long, curly hair that sheds in massive clumps in the summer. The hair collects in the corners of the entry hallway and rises in swirls when you walk past. Your mother hates your dog and his hair, but you never notice the mess. Sometimes you talk to your dog. When you are young, you whisper nonsensical things to him-- facts about bees and a story about the first time you tried ice cream. When you are a little older and a little more lonely, you wait until everyone is out of the house and whisper, “I am so sad.” Your dog looks like he understands. He twitches his ears and bows his head. But you know that he doesn’t.

Your home was built less than thirty years ago, and it was cheaply made. The plywood cabinets in the kitchen cracked over the heat of the stove, and the white peel and stick vinyl tile turned permanently gray from all the times you never took your soccer cleats off inside the house. Your father stripped down the kitchen and built it up again. He put down wood floors and put in heavy oak cabinets, and sometimes you worried the hollow drywall would not support the weight of nicer things. After the renovations, the smell of your home changed to something you thought was chemical until the year your grandfather moved in before his death and you realized what “chemical smell” really meant.

Your sister’s bedroom was next to yours, and when you were fifteen and she was twelve you eavesdropped on her through the vent in your floor. You heard her friend ask your sister why you played music so loudly, why you never said hello anymore, why you never left your room. It was silent for a moment and you imagined your sister shrugging. “She’s crazy,” she said, “and it ruins everything.”

Sound travels through the flimsy walls in your home. When you are in your bedroom with the door shut you can hear your parents yelling at each other, even when they’re in another closed off room on a different floor. You try not to listen in on their conversation, but you cannot help but catch certain phrases: spending, disrespect, try harder, separate bank accounts, and your name. Sometimes your father’s booming voice will shake your thin bedroom door on its hinges. When this happens you will crawl into your bed and pull the covers over your head. You will stick your fingers deep into your ears and you will hum very quietly. Your humming is quiet enough that they cannot hear you, but loud enough that you cannot hear them, and you will fall asleep this way most nights.

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