By, Melissa R. Mendelson
The hour was late. A bitter wind smacked the kitchen window, echoing of the tension tightening inside. Warm aromas of coffee failed to lift the spirits now falling deeper into the dark waters below, and hands clenched porcelain cups. Stress tore at nerves, and bitter arguments drifted into quiet. And only the wind spoke a thousand words.
“I don’t know what else to do,” he said. “It’s out of my hands.”
Haley’s father look tired, resigned. Dark circles dotted around the eyes, and lines of worry creased his forehead. Clenched hands weighed down against the wooden table, and the world pressed harder against him. And he was falling fast into despair, and she could not save him. And he could read her thoughts as he stared down at the untouched coffee before him.
“I wish I could help…”
“You can’t, Haley. Nobody can.”
“What about the insurance company? Have they returned any of your calls?” He sat back against his seat, making a harsh grunt. “They should be covering this not you.”
“I haven’t heard from them.” He rubbed his eyes. “This falls on me.”
He was tired. She knew he was having restless nights again, and this was just another thorn ripping into his side. And he shouldn’t be the one carrying this burden, but there was nobody else to turn to. Everybody out there was suffering, and now so was he. And all she could do was sit there and watch him, watch everything fall apart.
“Was it the storm?”
The last storm that struck the Hudson Valley area buried the region for days. Bulldozers had to be used to dig them out, and tow trucks had to pull cars free from where they were stuck. Flooding ran across the roads and seeped into the ground, and a state of emergency was declared. And it would be the last straw for their old boiler that had led to this mess now before them.
“The snow finished the boiler off,” he said. “We thought we were lucky. We lost power for a day during that vicious storm, but our troubles were only beginning.” He now stared out the dark window. “And they are far from over.”
The company had arrived early in the morning. They wasted no time in digging up the twenty-five-year-old boiler. The sight was heartbreaking, and all hope fell through the million holes pierced through decayed metal. Their faces said it all as they carried it away in their truck, and the world pressed harder against the shoulders of my father. And the company said their piece and left, leaving this mess far behind them, and leaving my father alone.
“The ground’s polluted.” Tears touched his voice, but he dared not cry especially in front of her. “The EPA will be called in, and they will come here to evaluate the damage.”
“How much damage are we looking at?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t have a hundred thousand dollars. And that is how much it will cost to have them come here and look.”
“What about a payment plan?” He shot her a look. “What? They can’t possibly think that we have that kind of money lying around. As it is, we are barely getting by, trying to make ends meet.”
“They don’t take payment plans.” He rested his head in his hands, pressing his elbows harder against the wooden surface. “We may have to leave.” He glanced at her. “There may be no other way.”
“There is always another way.”
“Yeah? What? What other way?” She looked down at her hands. “There is no other way. If they want a hundred thousand dollars from us, then I don’t know what to say. I don’t have that kind of money. You don’t have that kind of money. We’re screwed, and we will have to leave!”
“Where will we go?” He didn’t answer. “How will we live? What about our jobs? What about our pets? We can’t leave them at the shelter. They’ll be put to sleep.” Tears choked her voice, but she struggled to not cry. “We just can’t leave. We can’t abandon our home!”
“We may have no choice,” he said. “I can’t worry about our pets. We have to put ourselves first, and right now, I don’t see how we are going to survive this.”
“There has to be another way,” Haley whispered. “There has to.”
“I’m still waiting on the insurance company to return my call.” His voice sounded empty. “Maybe they will help us.” The doubt was as harsh as the tension. “Otherwise, we’re screwed.”
Haley rose from the table. She picked up her porcelain cup along with her father’s and proceeded to dump the black liquid down the drain. Her hands rested along the sink, and she glanced back at her father, who remained sitting rigid in his chair. The weight of the world continued to tear him down, and these past few years were not gentle on him. And she shared his pain, never leaving home because she would not abandon him, and for awhile there, they both thought there was light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. But that light was now gone, and they were drowning.
“I’m going to bed.” He slowly rose from the table. “I had enough for one day.” He staggered toward the stairs. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Haley remained silent, watching him walk away. This stress was not good on his heart, and they both knew it. He had come a long way, and this was bringing him down. And what would happen, if they had to leave? Where would they go? How would they live?
“Damn it!” She slammed her hand against the counter, barely wincing in pain. “Why did this have to happen?”
It was just a matter of time. The house was old, falling apart, and it was not built for such a large family. But for twenty-five years, they made do, making a life here, and that life had now reached its end. But there was no future waiting outside that door but a black, oily mess that would pull them in and refuse to let go, and no warning lights had flickered through the past, telling that this day would come. But here they were with no answers and their backs against the wall, and time was slipping away into the late hours of the night. And tomorrow would be another day, but would it bring hope? Or would they stumble closer to the edge, looking down at the darkness below, and did it matter? They had joined the ranks of those left alone struggling to survive, and all they had were hard choices to make. And her family would have no choice but to walk forward, open that door, and confront what lies in wait.