Enter At Your Own

Ava Chin

This is the house. The house on a hill in a part of town that no longer has a name. White, two-storied, and so squat it resembles the kind of box a birthday cake might sit in. Next to the house is a church (Lutheran, with a small, fluctuating flock) and an adjoining grassy parking lot with patches of brown where the tires have worn it to dirt. Behind the house and church is a gas station with inexpensive, diluted petrol sold to motorists stopping off the major thoroughfare, a street known for disaster—about 57 fatalities per year—and which has earned the moniker, "Death Boulevard." Taking Death Boulevard north eventually leads to a major expressway that links two separate sections of a very large city, to which the house, the church, the boulevard all belong.

Just east of the boulevard sits a small motel, which because of its discrete entrance and proximity to really nothing at all, made it very popular once several years ago, when it catered mostly to old men and their mistresses, and conversely, mistresses and their younger men. Now, only hip, engaged couples frequent it, popping quarters into beds that vibrate, their young teeth chattering as they embrace across quivering mattresses.

From the back of the house the motel can be seen, a fluorescent block cutting into the night sky surrounded by a moat of cars and speckled mica. From the front, there is only the appearance of a quiet residential neighborhood. Sometimes there is the cooing of a pigeon in the branches of a tree. The small electrical death of a car engine.

This is the living room of the house, wet with paint, windows thrown open. The chemical odor permeates each of the three bedrooms, through corridors, down stairs, into the basement, shifting through doorways. Underneath the new paint—an unforgiving white with a tinge of green—are layers of old color, including: yellowey white, bluish white, pale, pink elephant white, and her favorite, creamy white, the color of old photographs. This is the color remembered best, the color of the walls before they left. Since then, the rooms have been a pale cornflower blue when an old woman and her dead son lived here, and after that, a stark, gallery white chosen by a divorced couple, the ex-husband a housepainter by trade. She knows only the shade of white from when she resided here many years before. Now only she can see what is there under layers of old paint.

This is the doorframe. A side entrance from the living room into the kitchen once covered by a smattering of fingerprints and strawberry jam. Its surface is rough now, but several coats ago it was smooth as an egg shell, and cool against her head as she leaned against it, her grandfather marking her height, three foot five. Every year or so they'd mark it again. Three foot eight. Four foot one…His pencil would mark her visible height and age all the way up the wall until she was old enough to keep track herself. The chart ends when she was fourteen and exactly 5 feet tall, a skinny teenager with sloping shoulders and fuzzy vision. The only time she seemed to stand up straight was when she checked her own growth, chin up, back flat, the pencil in her quivering hand.

Later, when she grew to be an old woman living alone in a much larger house on a hill some three thousand miles away, she would still dream of herself as a young girl, running through these rooms, her grandfather chasing her, marking her. She would forget that she was an old woman with grandchildren of her own, a mother several times over, a generative woman, and concentrate only on the sound of her own breathing as she ran to the kitchen, catching the doorframe, the chart of her height under her sweating palms. She remembers then the humidity of a summer evening, the coolness of the wooden floors against her bare feet, catching her breath, hiding from him, pretending to blend in with the walls.

These days she can only keep track of the littlest things. The sound of the summer air in the evening. The ground stirring beneath her feet. Her shallow breathing as she struggles to remember it all. The house. The chart. Running.

Did you know that her hair has turned the color of paint? Tell her. She believes it's still black.