Michelle pulled up into her driveway and immediately knew that something was wrong. She turned off the engine and pushed open the car door, her heart picking up speed in her chest. She regarded her house, noting two broken windows and the front door hanging wide open. She looked around for any sign of immediate danger. The neighbourhood was still and silent in the summer heat.
"Brendan, stay in the car." Her tone must have frightened him because he obeyed without question.
She stepped out, absently tugged on her dress, and walked towards her house, cheap sandals clicking on the cracked pavement. She climbed the crooked steps and went inside through the broken door, preparing herself for the worst. Chaos greeted her. The table and chairs were knocked over, dishes smashed on the floor, couch cushions flung across the room, papers strewn everywhere. The TV had been pulled to the ground, books had been separated from their covers, wall hangings hung crooked or lay damaged on the floor. The phone cord had been cut - with a dull knife, apparently. Michelle ran down the hall. Her bed covers were on the floor, dresser drawers gaped open, clothes had been dumped out. Her closet was left open, and all the hangers had been tossed on the floor. She checked Brendan's room - some of his toys had been cut open, stuffing littered the floor.
Sarah's room was nearly untouched. There were some extra footprints in the dust on the floor, but everything else was intact. Michelle leaned on the doorway. Her hands trembled. Who would do this? Why?
It didn't matter. The message was unmistakably clear.
Icy calm crept over her. Michelle straightened and closed the door to her daughter's room. She returned to her own, picked some of her clothes up off the floor and bundled them up in her blanket. She went to Brendan's room and did the same. As she packed, her mind moved quickly and methodically. She needed only essentials. Clothes, money, toothbrush. No pictures or sentimental things. She wanted nothing more than to be rid of the past. She retrieved some of Brendan's less damaged toys and added them to her bundles.
In a locked box, she placed birth certificates, passports, and Sarah's photo. For a moment, she held up the note that had come with it. Do you want to play a game? She felt a strong urge to tear it up and burn it. Instead, she slipped it inside the box and shut it with a click.
She tossed the bundles into the trunk of the car, hid the locked box under the front seat, and went back into the house. Brendan didn't ask any questions, just watched his mother with wide, solemn eyes.
Back in the house, Michelle scanned the rooms one last time - not to say goodbye, but to make sure she had not forgotten something important. She did not open Sarah's door again.
Michelle looked out the window to make sure Brendan was still in the car, then went back into the kitchen and reached into the back of one of the lower cupboards. She pulled out a dusty bottle of vodka, left over from when her mom used to visit. She hurled the bottle at the back wall. It broke with a satisfying crash. Glass fell to the floor, clear vodka dripping down the faded flowery wallpaper. Michelle fumbled for the matchbook she kept in the cutlery drawer. She struck a match and held it to the glistening stain on the wall. It lit and immediately flames began to climb the wall. Some dripped onto the puddle on the floor. Michelle hesitated. Part of her wanted to stay and watch. For her children, she made herself step over the broken television, walk out the front door and slam it shut. Calmly, she climbed back into the old Mazda and backed out of the driveway. She drove down the familiar road; her hands had begun to tremble again. She turned onto the main highway that would take her out of the city.
After she had been on the highway for a while, she started to giggle. Appalled at her own inappropriate reaction, she covered her mouth in an effort to suppress it. This only caused her to snort and laugh harder. She laughed until tears ran down her cheeks. Brendan, who had been silent since lunch, laughed along nervously, not understanding why. Michelle knew she sounded like a crazy maniac, but she could not contain herself. She laughed and cried until the anxiety subsided and the throbbing began in the back of her skull. She cranked open the window, letting the wind dry her cheeks and tangle her hair.
"Mom," Brendan's voice was hesitant, but his eyes were serious in the rearview mirror, "where are we going?"
Michelle rubbed her neck and realized she was still wearing her Sunday dress. The giggles came back, tickling her stomach, but this time she controlled herself. "We're going to live somewhere else for a while," she told him, trying to be as honest as she could.
Brendan seemed confused, but resigned himself and leaned against the window.
He looked up again, his face squished into an adorable but sobering frown.
"Wanna play a game? I spy with my little eye, something that is blue."