The house slouched between its neighbors, too old to lean out on its walls or keep its eaves straight. The siding had been replaced recently, the windows cleaned up and cared for. The flowers in the front box bloomed brightly and threw thick leaves over the sides. Still, the house looked empty, like it had exhaled whatever air it had a long time ago and never found the strength to take the next breath. There was no hard edge to the place, no severe straight lines, but the curves all bowed inward, gaunt.
Tarra sat across the street, bag slung over her shoulder and watched the front of the house. She fingered the strap of her bag, absently tucked the collar of her jacket tighter around her neck. There was no sound inside. The curtains hung limply in the upper windows. It was empty now, she supposed.
It was almost half an hour before she spotted Deidei making her way down the street toward her. The older woman walked slowly, carrying a large carpet bag in front of her in both hands. Her gray hair was combed back from her face and braided, neat, like always. She approached Tarra with a smile.
“You could have waited inside,” Deidei said. “Unless you’re that eager to leave us and get to your new ship.”
Tarra glared at her in a friendly way, knowing it was an attempt at a good ribbing. “I could have,” she agreed. “But Momma always used to say that it was hard for a house to change owners. It’s easier if one person leaves before the next one tries to call it hers, otherwise the house gets confused and no one really owns it.”
Deidei’s expression froze in the middle of her smile. She looked sad, even with her mouth still turned up at the corners.
Tarra held her hand out to Deidei and uncurled her fingers, like she was revealing a star at the center of her palm. It was just the key, handled too often to even gleam. “Welcome home,” Tarra murmured.
Deidei took the key from her. Her fingers felt light against Tarra’s. “It’s still your home too,” she told her.
Tarra wanted to agree. She gathered a lie at the back of her tongue, than couldn’t voice it. She just looked back at the other woman and breathed out. It hadn’t been her home in a long time. Not since her mother had gotten sick, sleeping every night in the lower rooms because she couldn’t take the stairs up to her room. Not since they’d knocked on the door to say her father wasn’t coming home. Not since her mother had died.
Glancing back at the house, Tarra tried to call it home. But home was the place everyone stayed, and no one she loved stayed between its walls. Even her little brother had left it now, and there had been a firm sense of finality in watching someone younger than her walk away from it. If they’d left in order, just grown up and moved on, maybe she could have called it home. But they’d all abandoned this building, out of order and at the wrong times. It was just a house.
It was time for Tarra to go.
“You will be back, won’t you?” Deidei asked.
Tarra nodded. “Both me and my brother,” she said. She readjusted her bag on her shoulder, itching to move. “Whenever we’re in port.”
“So, you won’t call it home. Just a berth now,” Deidei said.
Stopping, Tarra blinked. “Yeah,” she said hesitantly. “Berth.” The name fit better in her mind than home or house.
She glanced back at the house. The curtains swayed, fluttering at the corners. Maybe a breeze had just tiptoed into the house. Maybe the building had taken a breath.
My friend Bek is a thief! She stole the first line of this piece yesterday to write a piece of her own. Check it out here, on her blog.