At first, I thought Dan’s death would blow through the house like a storm: a day’s worth of rage and tears—two at most—and then the grief would be gone. Lots of things rolled off my tough old bunch; why not this?
But I sold them short. You’d think I’d know not to by now.
Stacy was mad for weeks. She’d shake her small white head and say, “I guess that’s it,” screw her face up in a pout, and look at big Paula, who—on cue—would say the same thing. Paula would pout then too.
Julia wept all the time. “I mith Dan tho much,” she told me most days, her blurred face red and wet. “I loved him.”
“I know,” I’d say, shocked that she still knew who he was…and who he’d been. “He loved you too.”
Carter said much the same thing each night. “Dan—was—a—dear…Dan—was—a—dear—friend—to—us—all,” he’d start and stop at least twice. “And—he—liked—us—a—whole—lot…I—liked…I—liked—him—a—whole—lot—too.”
“That’s nice of you to say,” I’d note as I passed Carter his meds. “I’m sure he knows that.”
Keith sat and stared, more out of it than I’d seen him since he came. No jumps; no fits. Just blank eyes and a fierce need to sit in the same spot on the couch.
Lisa made the most noise, but I’d planned for that: I taught her to hug Julia when the sobs came, so that they both had a friend’s touch to turn to. Of course, Lisa would have liked my touch, but Julia seemed pleased to stand in for me.
And Kate…Kate lost her spark. It was hard to watch. She still bossed us—up and down and left and right and back and forth—but there was no grit in it. Dan—when his head was clear—had been her Dan. “Old Dan,” she’d called him. “Old Dan, my old Dan. He’s my Dan, Charles. Where’s my Dan?” She’d wait for him to come home, just like she had when we could still trust him to leave the house. “I knew you’d be back!” she’d yell when you came through the door, hope etched across her face…and then she’d see who it was, fall back into her hunch, and give you a task. “The trash stinks, Charles. Take it out, why don’t ya?”
I did my best to help them through it. When Stacy’s face set in a pout, or Julia broke down, or Kate had her hopes dashed once more, I donned my mask and found the right words: “He’s with his dad, now; he’ll like that,” or, “You’re a good friend. He’ll miss you too.” Most times it worked for them.
But not for me.
It hit me worst at night, when the house was still and my shift was close to done. The job was…calm now. No one called me Fuck (in place of Chuck); no one talked up the Cubs; no one threw their pills in my face; no one asked me to watch John Wayne films with them; no one told the cops I was a “Jap spy up to no good;” no one asked me if I liked birds; no one told me they would “do for me” if they got the chance.
So yeah…I missed him too. We all did. Our door—the door to the street, the door whose hue marked us as “that house”—was still blue…but for months it felt black.
And that was our gift to him.
"House with a Black Door" is a flash-fiction followup to House with a Blue Door, my literary novel set in the Jarvis House group home. Get House with a Blue Door here.