I bit down on my lip forcing myself to stop. Fig Coxbury was no longer my problem. I had to let go. I had to let go.
By the time the police arrived I was shaking so badly the officer slung a blanket over my shoulders. I felt pathetic, weak. I didn’t want to have this sort of reaction. I was strong, but this hadn’t exactly been the best year ever. I was grieving. But her words were playing over and over in my mind: You stole her from me. You stole her … from me.
She’d spoken about her miscarriages, her struggle to become pregnant. Had she been angry with me for having a child when she so desperately wanted one? Did she think Mercy was hers? She’d obviously lost her mind at some point, just snapped. I didn’t understand. And how could you hide those feelings for so long? We’d been friends. Or in my head we had. All these months I’d been fucking one enemy and trying to save the other. What a freak show my life had turned into.
“I want to file a restraining order,” I said suddenly to the officer. He nodded, like he understood.
“Okay, we can help you with that,” he said.
“Against two people. Two people who are fucking crazy.”
In August I put the house up for sale. For privacy sake I requested not to have the standard For Sale sign on my lawn, and to keep the house unlisted, showing it only to couples the real estate agent knew had a specific design in mind. The very first couple who came by made an offer within the week. The newly married Broyers closed thirty days later. I scheduled the moving truck to come by on a Thursday evening when I knew Fig was out of town visiting her sister. I wasn’t sad to see it go, more like relieved. I’d loved the house once, but then it became the place where my husband failed me, fucked the neighbor, and texted dick pics to half a dozen women from the downstairs half bath. Too much bad juju. I wanted Mercy and I to have a clean slate to start over.
I bought a two-story in a quiet neighborhood outside of Seattle, a misty blue/grey house with a wide porch. There was space—so much of it—and a breathtaking view of the snow-tipped Cascades. The neighborhood had quiet stillness that rejected the city. It was not my ideal life, but it was Mercy’s, who on move-in day made friends with seven of the children on the block. We hung out in the cul-de-sac with the other families, grilling hamburgers and having s’more nights. We used our car to drive to the market since it was too far to walk. It was peaceful, and boring, and I didn’t like it except on days when I remembered who my neighbor used to be.
I’d not been there two months when a house on my street went up for sale. A single story brick with a blue door and a large fenced in backyard. A shame, the couple who had lived there before had a girl Mercy’s age. Mercy and I were walking our new dog one day, a husky puppy we’d named Sherbet, when I stopped to grab a flyer from the For Sale display. It was curiosity really, I wanted to see what upgrades they had, and what the backyard looked like. The flyer hung around the foyer for a bit, Mercy made a paper airplane out of it, and then it sat on my kitchen counter marked up with coffee rings for a few weeks before the house sold, and I threw it away. It was another month before I saw the moving van out front, men in blue jumpsuits carrying teal furniture through the front doors. I didn’t think anything of it until another month went by, and I was running in the rain to get to my car. There was a flash of movement on the patio, and I turned my head to look. A woman was standing under the awning staring my way. Her hand was lifted to her mouth as she took a drag of her cigarette. I didn’t recognize her right away, her hair was longer—almost as long as mine—and she’d put on some weight.
I should have felt more—anger maybe, or fear. It had been a month since the restraining order expired. She’d wasted no time at all. I stood dripping in the downpour, my white shirt soaking through, staring at Fig Coxbury in fascination. No doubt she was smoking my brand of cigarettes, the scent of my perfume on her neck. Inside her home were all of the things I’d chosen for my own, things in her own mind she insisted were hers first. And if anyone thought it strange that she bought another house so close to mine, she’d roll her crazy eyes and say, “Oh please, because I loved it, the neighborhood, the size. A coincidence! It had nothing to do with Jolene Avery. She’s a psychopath and a narcissist.” But, I knew different … we all did. Even Fig. What could you do? Life was weird; people were twisted. You had to make the best of it, or roll over and die. You could knit it out, or scrapbook it out, or CrossFit it out. My way was to write it out.
I sat at my desk looking out at the garden. My fingers lingered over the keyboard. They were itching to write, but I didn’t know where to start. I was quiet about the things I saw, but I saw. I thought of Michelangelo, painter of the Sistine Chapel. I’d been there once, standing quietly under one of the world’s wonders, my neck craned back and my mind wide open. Our tour guide had told us that Michelangelo was known for his bad temper, and in fact, his nose was broken at least once due to all the fist-fights he got himself into. He was nicknamed “la Terribilità,” or “The Terrible One.” During his four-year commission of one of the greatest works of art known to man, he faced terrible opposition because of the nudity in the fresco. He argued against it saying that our naked bodies were a thing of beauty, something God created. Michelangelo’s greatest opposition was Biagio da Cesena, the Pope’s master of ceremonies, who went to the Pope hoping to stop the painting of the Sistine altogether. The Pope, a lover of art, and Michelangelo, brushed Biagio off. But, Michelangelo wasn’t done with him. He painted a likeness of Biagio into his masterpiece.