The house was supposed to be empty.
The crisp-toned woman on the phone
said it was empty.
So did the flyer attached to the sign
on the winter-sodden lawn.
So why, when I step out of the chill breeze
am I met by a small child,
too intent on the progress of the yo-yo
she whirls between her fingers,
to give a proper welcome
to a prospective buyer of her home?
Her gaze is fixed on
the toy’s fluorescent traces:
Down. Up. Swish.
Back. Forth. Swish.
Swish goes the skirt
of the brisk-toned woman
as she leads me into the kitchen
to begin my tour.
The scent of cultivated despair
prevails over lemon-fresh cleanliness.
Greasy leftovers of spoiled hope
hide beneath the illusion
of shiny new appliances and granite countertops.
Even the carefully drawn pencil scratches
bleed through the fresh coat of paint on the walls.
The highest mark rests at the height of the child
who now sits in the dining room,
her yo-yo discarded on the table
next to folded hands with chewed fingernails.
French-manicured nails point towards the window
as the curt woman comments on the ambience
of the sun’s golden rays shining in.
They cast a halo atop the child’s towhead
despite her watery eyes
lowered in shame.
Shame is what I feel
as I imagine my family
enjoying an evening of laughter
in the living room
even as I stare in pity
at the blank-faced man
who sits in ignorance
of the child’s marker-dotted fingers
tugging at the hem of his shirt.
Her own shirt whooshes lazily along the railing
as she follows me down the stairs
into the freshly carpeted family room.
The fluffy fibers rest under my feet
with the weightlessness of clouds,
but as I watch the child’s vacant eyes
absorb the love that radiates
from an electronic parent
the heavy threads drag me down
into quicksand that spits me up
in the master bedroom
where a crying woman sits
atop a rumpled bed.
Her tears render her oblivious
to the child sitting at her feet,
despite the pale hair
that blankets Mother’s knee
as she rests her weary young head.
The brusque-toned woman’s head
bobs matter-of-factly as she apologizes
for the draft in the smallest bedroom.
But it isn’t the draft that raises the hairs on my arm
as I stare out the window
at the rusted swing set in the backyard.
The child stands next to me
with a frown on her face
despite the cookie crumbs
that linger in crevices of chapped lips.
A lone swing sways in the breeze:
Back. Forth. Swish. Swish.
Slam goes the front door behind me
as I step into winter air warmer than the house.
I walk past the sign: For sale. Open house.
Past prim and properly dressed young couples
waiting to view the sought-after home.
Perhaps one of them will buy the house.
This one isn’t for me.
I want one that’s empty.