Anatomy of Absence 

Photo by Brad Javernick of Home Oomph

There was a hole at the table where her son used to be. Once he had sat across from her and made reluctant single-syllable conversation, his mouth full of food. When his father left, he stopped speaking. Then he stopped coming all together.

After the divorce papers were finalized, she enrolled herself in a cooking class at the local community center. It was something that she meant to do when her husband was still her husband and her son had sat with them at the dinner table and smiled. Now, she had no one to cook for. She made carbonara for herself and ate alone with a glass of chardonnay. She read the paper and her magazines, poured herself another glass of wine. Hours later, once her dish had been cleaned and she sat on the sofa she had only wanted to keep out of spite, she could hear the fridge open and the dull beep of the microwave as her son heated up the leftovers, the click of his bedroom door closing behind him once again.

She stopped going to the cooking class after three weeks.

Her son was a stranger to her now. Just like her husband. Ex-husband. The same dark hair, the same houndish eyes, the same callous silence. He had gotten the movies from her ex-husband too. She knew it.

They were borderline pornographic, so much so that she would rather he watched porn instead. That at least she could understand. But this, his obsession with horror movies – slasher flicks, zombie films, and monster features – disgusted and disturbed her more than anything else. A woman screamed and she would hear him laughing through his shut door. It was hateful. His father had been like that. Hateful. Towards the end.

One day, in the car on the way back from school, she tried to broach the subject of the movies with him. He responded to her tepid questioning with cutting, white-knuckled anger, his wiry arms crossed defensively against his chest. It was the most he had spoken to her in months and she was shocked by how deep his voice had become.

She wondered if her son talked to his father about the movies, or about sex, or both, or anything at all. Calling him about her son’s reclusiveness would have been an admission of failure that she could not afford. So she ate her dinners in the vacuous quiet, poured her anger into the hole her son had left behind, ignored the noises coming from his room. Privately, she was relieved to be alone.

She stopped greeting him when he slouched into her car in the afternoons, stopped listening for his shuffling footsteps late at night, stopped using his name. She let his absence close up until it was if he had never been there at all. No mouth, no anger, no sound.

Sometimes, she could still hear the women screaming.

Sofia Montrone is a Columbia College freshman and member of The Columbia Review editorial board. One day, she hopes to live in a haunted house.