Spaces On The Wall

When Dirk came home one day to see the paintings missing from the hallway – sailing ships; a lighthouse; a sunset on a beach – he did not understand what had happened. He was twelve years old and had just come home from waging an imaginary war with his friend Rüdiger. Even when he saw that there was no blue coat in the closet, he was not unduly worried. His father often worked late.

"Mom?" he called through the house. "Are you redecorating?"

Then he heard a sob from the living room, and he understood.

His mother was sitting on the old green sofa, the one she had threatened to haul out to the curb so many times. She was holding a photo album across her knees, and when she saw her son standing in the doorway, she held out her arm.

"He's gone," she said. "You're the man of the house now."

He let her put an arm around his skinny shoulders and did not cry.


He was forty-eight when he last saw her white, sedated body carried out to the ambulance on a gurney. She had been threatening to put an end to her life with her sleeping pills, but the cancer had gotten to her first. The truck shrieked and wailed as it drove away. Dirk climbed back up the apartment stairs, one hand on the railing, white walls and gray tiles blurring before his eyes. Once he reached his mother's apartment, he sat down on the old green sofa with his head in his hands.

Around him were her books; her vinyl records of Grimm's fairy tales and opera; her china dolls with their real curly hair; her old wooden furniture that would always smell of coffee. There were framed photographs on the wall, more places which would soon be empty.

When she went – and it wouldn't be long now – he would have to call the family for help in packing everything up. He had to be calm, quiet, efficient, for his wife and children.

But in this moment, with no one to watch him but the photographs on the yellowed wallpaper, he put his head on the pillow and sobbed like a little boy.