5 writers Group Story – The Opening Scene by Brad Windhauser
Gavin listens for neighbors on the sidewalk in the fall leaves, strains his ears for a car turning onto their street. A cricket chirps, and as he takes a deep breath, he can make out the rush of distant freeway traffic. The neighbor’s front door opens and he freezes, unsure if he should turn his head. Their bubbly voices grate as the neighbor’s teenage daughter—Wendy? Wanda? Whitney? Why, even after all these years, could he not remember her name?—leans forward to kiss her too-thin boyfriend with an exaggerated, too-long kiss. When they ply their faces apart, she giggles and he kisses her again on her neck. She watches him bound down the three steps from their porch. She turns to wave to Gavin, who returns the gesture. At the curb, the car starts, the boy taps his horn, and then races the car towards the stop sign. The front door closes behind her.
He holds his breath, closes his eyes, then exhales, looks at the patches of grass under his feet, and kicks a little dirt from the cement strip separating his house from next door’s.
In the house, he walks the first floor, checking to make sure every window is locked, then closing the blinds or drawing the curtains, depending on the room. Upstairs, his shoe catches on the strip of carpet leading into her room, the twin bed still immaculately made, the pillows fluffed against the white metal ornate frame, the hollow teddy bear, still standing guard by the tight fold to the top sheet, turned over the comforter their grandmother had stitched, panel by panel. To the right of the bed, between the bed frame and the lamp on the white wicker night stand, barely legible in pencil, Rachel had scratched her name.
His throat itches.
He opens her closet, and amongst the empty hangers swaying with the rush of air caused by his opening the door, the box of hers he’d discovered buried in one of the basement boxes, the one she’d asked and asked about over the phone in her entitled voice–Can you look again, it’s really important. Once they cart everything away, there won’t be another chance.
He’d found it all right—right where he’d stashed it all those years ago—and brought it up here, perhaps waiting for her to come find it herself. But that would require getting on a plane these days, and, well, no one expected her to stoop to that, much less Gavin.
He stares at the worn cigar box, which had felt lighter than he’d remembered it being. He crouches. He fingers the puffy, googly-eyed puffy horse sticker, the glued-down Duran Duran patch, the cross she carved into the lid. He flicks the lid open. Inside, her pathetic treasure trove of trinkets and miscellaneous garbage.
Inside, three Brownie badges, her junior high reports cards, her birth certificate, her picture of their brother before the accident. Underneath that pile, their grandmother’s rosary beads. The ones she slept with under pillow every night, the ones she replaced in her box every morning. He couldn’t very well have stolen them without taking the box too. After what she did, she didn’t deserve them anymore, and now she would never get them back.
He douses the box with lighter fluid, balls the three pieces of newspaper and sets them on top, then lights the match, watches the balls of paper curl into themselves. He wonders how long it will take those flames to cut through the box and reach the stack of paper underneath.
In the basement, with all of their mother’s stacks and stack of newspapers, he throws another match, and when he is satisfied that enough of the flame has caught, he gathers his coat, walks upstairs, across the dining room, and out the front door, but not before pausing to enjoy the cracking coming from upstairs.