Shishir 2022 Stories -Peyton Kullander


Putting It All Up
By Peyton Kullander


Bella stood on the church steps and let out a sigh that many would think too bored for the occasion. She felt lost in the crowd of people dressed in black, milling around and looking extra hard at her. She didn't look back as she walked to her car.

She threw the church program on the passenger seat and her fingers hovered over the radio dial. Did she want sound? Would alt rock be sad enough? Or would it just make her feel corny? Do they play classical on the radio? Is that cliché? Is that trying too hard? She settled on silence.

She pulled out of the parking lot with her fingers wrapped around the pendant that her brother gave her 3 years prior. It was just an egg-shaped mass of something gold plated, but she picked the habit of rubbing it whenever she got stressed out due to its smooth exterior. She reached over and opened the glove box to pull out the directions to the cabin. She was going to their family's summer cabin by Poughkeepsie that hasn't gotten much use in the past years, especially now that she was the last one. Her husband, Julian, saw her as a sobbing drunk mess throwing plates at him at the news of her brother Samuel's car crash and recommended that she spend some time alone to clear her head. Plus, she needed to decide whether or not to sell the cabin that was now legally all hers.

The cabin was on a small lake with not much around it; the nearest sign of civilization was a 30 minute drive away. They had a long boardwalk that she and her brother would backflip off of and that their dad liked to use for fishing. She tried to recall a memory of Fourth of July at the cabin, when she and Sam ran up and down the boardwalk with sparklers. She figured she should be thinking about him as much as possible.

About an hour out of the city she pulled into a gas station to fill up her tank and get something to drink. Her heels slid on the linoleum floor as she walked up and down the aisles and tried to determine if she wanted anything to eat. Did she want chips? Some high sugar pastry? She settled on a plastic wrapped croissant paired with an energy drink and made her way to the attendant. She pondered buying cigarettes. Do people start smoking after these things?

She paid the attendant and turned to walk out the door, but a flash of something tall and dark passed by the corner of her vision, sprinting from behind the counter into the open door behind the attendant. She turned back and looked behind the counter, trying to find him.

"Yes?" The attendant said, raising an eyebrow at her. She paused for a few moments.

"Could I also get a pack of cigarettes?"

She rolled down the window with the quite frankly disgusting cigarette hanging out of her fingers. She thought of Sam some more. She thought about his wedding day last year and how she finally became a sister in law. He started crying when giving his self written vows and the steak they had catered was really good, it was served with asparagus and this sort of mushroom sauce that she's been trying to figure out the name of. Bella still doesn't know her sister in law, Elizabeth, well but she figured she was nice enough. She got an English degree and volunteered at the animal shelter on weekends. Overall her opinion was that she was utterly quite plain, which was an odd pair to Sam's lively, and active personality and life. He really was trying to settle down, she figured.

As she neared the house she started bracing herself for the house to look different. A couple of years ago, before her father died, he had it remodeled and updated so they could sell it quickly if the money got that bad. She remembered signing her and Sam's name under a shelf in one of the upstairs closets. She wondered if maybe they had missed it. The roads progressively got more sparsely populated and the roads longer. She looked down and double checked the directions the whole way, only somewhat sort of having déjà vu from car rides as a child.

She found the right side street to pull off onto and heard the gravel crunching underneath her car tires as she drove off the paved road. The first thing she noticed was that the house was now white. Last time she was at the house it was farmhouse red, according to her grandmother's original request when her grandfather first built the house. She and Sam were throwing a party for labor day and Sam got one of his friends to get a keg. She and her friends tanned by the lake while Sam and the guys played beer pong and tried to fish with the rusting rod in the shed. Sam ended up puking in the bathroom and Bella had to put him to bed before confiscating everyone's keys so they couldn't drive home.

Bella got out of the car and opened the trunk, where she had 4 cases of beer and 5 liquor bottles waiting for her, along with her luggage and a collection of instant noodles and canned tuna. She even caved in and got some microwave dinners that were packed under ice chests this morning before the funeral. She didn't want to go home before. Julian, as kind as he was to her, could be a bit oppressive during times of grief and crisis. He kept on asking her if she wanted to talk and what stage of grief she thought she was on. She had started missing having a roommate, because at least then she had a separate room and door to shut.

She started grabbing the various boxes and bags and setting them on the porch. She broke out in a sweat in the process and opened one of the beers. She had planned for this to be a personal drunken getaway. She could leave the city and her husband and all of her responsibilities, mill around and try to figure out why she can only cry when she's drunk.

Her face was dry at the funeral that morning and had been except for when she would stop by the liquor store to get two bottles of wine to drink while laying on the floor and looking at the ceiling while Julian was at work. Three glasses in she started to feel the urge and by four the tears were finally coming out. She wanted to cry. She needed to. And now she had the chance to drink herself into oblivion and sob as much as she wanted to.

She set the beer down and fumbled with the key as she tried to open the door. She finally got the right one and opened the door to a living room that surprisingly looked pretty much the same. She took a couple of steps in and froze. She felt like she should feel something right then. She waited. She took a couple of more steps. After a couple of minutes she ceded and started to focus in the room around her. She could tell that they did something to the floors, but they still were the original wood. The walls were also the same shade of pale yellow, but the kitchen did get a major facelift with new countertops and appliances. She started to bring the alcohol and food in, knowing that if she didn't before going upstairs to see the bedrooms she was liable to fall asleep and leave it on the porch.

After she grabbed her suitcase and awkwardly tried to pull it up the narrow staircase. Upstairs there were three doors. One leading to the bathroom, one to her parents room, and one to her and Sam's room. She opened the door to the bathroom and found it completely remodeled and felt a bit of relief realizing that she wasn't going to have to deal with the shoddy toilet that never flushed. She opened the door to her parent's room and found a new bedspread and carpet, but all of the furniture was the same. She set her suitcase down in her parent's room. She then moved to open the door to her and Sam's room, but her hand didn't turn the knob. She paused for a moment, and waited again. She opened the door and her fingers curled around her necklace, mechanically rubbing the pendant.

The room looked almost exactly the same. They kept the twin beds and the dresser with the etchings that Sam and her did, just because they wanted to mess something up. She opened the closet and found all of the things that they kept in the house stored away: their board games, the deck of cards, various books at various reading levels, and their original comforters. Hers was a purple with moons and his was blue with stars. By the time they were in high school they weren't at the house enough to actually care about the childish decorations.

She moved everything a bit to see if her and Sam's names were still there on the bottom of the second shelf. She craned her neck down and saw the black Sharpied "Bella and Sam were here" along with a smiley face. Her throat started to close up and she moved to the center of the room, overwhelmed. The wind blew outside and she faintly heard her name from the closet. Her arms tensed up and her hairs stood on end and she reached for her phone. Julian only agreed to allow her to go alone if she would call him every morning, afternoon, and night, to make sure she hadn't killed herself or something, and he promised to always have his phone on him in case something went wrong. She pulled her phone out and finally looked around. She found that no one was there and felt a bit slighted, as if someone had questioned something she had seen. Nevertheless, she put her phone away and settled on sleeping in her parent's room that night after going down to mix some of her liquor with one of her various mixers. She returned to her parent's bedroom to do her nightly ritual until she passed out and forgot everything that happened the night before.

When she woke up it was dark out and her glass had tipped over, staining the comforter. She panicked for a moment, afraid of what would happen when her parents saw it, but she quickly reminded herself that they were dead, and this was her comforter after all, so it doesn't actually matter. She stretched out her limbs, tossed a towel over the wet spot on the bed, and brought her glass down to the kitchen to eat some dinner.

She dug through the bag to try to find something that would be a little appealing to her, and settled on making a bowl of plain pasta. She put the water on to boil and pulled out the box, then refilled her glass with another drink. She thought that the room was too still and creepy, silent in the dark, so she turned on the radio in the corner. Some station was playing coffeehouse music and she figured that would balance out the weirdness enough. When the pasta was done she dug chopsticks out of one of the food bags, since she had picked up the practice of eating with them constantly after eating an absurd amount of sushi in college.
When she came back home to visit for Christmas and Thanksgiving her mom started freaking out, after hearing about it being some anorexia thing and Sam called her a freak. When they would start to pick on her again she would pull out her headphones and play music, intent on getting across the message that she wasn't listening.

She was nearing the end of her plain noodles and had gone through 3 rum and cokes when she saw someone in the corner of her eye again. She put down her chopsticks in a more pissed off than scared manner and swiveled around. She looked left to right, determined to figure out what was messing with her.
She was passing her eyes over the room yet another time when she saw something on the wall. She took a sip and brought her glass with her as she went over to investigate, knowing that mentally she couldn't handle it sober. Etched into the yellow wall was a collection of sharp lines and curves.


She could tell that the figures were some impression of a word and she stared at it, trying to parse it out. She reached out to touch it, but it felt as smooth as the rest of the walls. She sat down and pondered and finally did start to get scared. What if this was a demon? What if this was a ghost? She started to lose her grip on things and figured she was probably dealing with the supernatural and that the best course of action would be to lock herself in her parent's bedroom with her alcohol. She hurriedly started packing the bottles back into the bag, wanting to get into the room and into safety as fast as possible. She almost broke into a sprint running up the stairs.

She let out a sigh of relief at the close of the door and made sure to lock it. She set the bag on the bed and also got on, now electing to save the time and drink straight from the bottle. She figured she would sleep with the lights on tonight with the curtains drawn tightly shut.

She remembered her promise to Julian and figured that hearing the voice of another human being would quell some of her fears. It only took two rings for him to pick up.

"Are you okay? How's it going?" He immediately asks, concerned.

"Yeah, just a little spooky being alone."

"Do you want me to come? I can leave right now."

"No, it's fine. Just my mind playing tricks on me."

"Okay, whatever you say, but just know that I am just a call away". At that moment Bella grew a bit disgusted with the conversation, which was an occurrence that started happening whenever she got close to someone. She never let anyone know because she couldn't figure out the cause of her discomfort. She quickly said goodbye to Julian and went back to drinking, laying flat on the bed and looking at the ceiling.

They apparently hadn't decided to replace the popcorn ceiling during the renovation, which Bella made a note to call someone about. She stared up and the little bumps, eyes slowly and thoroughly moving over the hills and valleys. She spent a long time doing this, and it wasn't until 5 minutes later that she recognized the pattern that was appearing to her eyes. She now quickly looked over the larger area and saw what the bumps were spelling out: a spotty "bitch".

It was at this moment that Bella finally started to cry, and soon she was overtaken to the point where she felt as though she were drowning. She thought of the day of the accident, the fight with Sam. Her memories fractured as they flooded her brain. She only saw little pieces and moments: the text conversation, her living room couch. Her fingers curling around the phone the sound of Sam yelling. He called her a bitch for lying. She lied, but about what? His words continued to play in her mind as she tried to remember up until they reached the inevitable crash and Bella screamed and jumped on the bed as Sam appeared in front of her, for just a moment, looking the same way he did the last time she saw him, but with an burst of fear that shocked Bella to her very core.

She felt the adrenaline running through her veins and her heart started beating at a rate she figured not physically possible. She sat there trembling for a few moments, her eyes pouring out a never ending flow of tears. She lied to him about the day their father killed himself. It was summer and she was lounging around the house all day while Sam was busy doing his internship. Her heart sank and she collapsed when she walked into the office. A piece of paper was lying on the desk, under her father's feet, and she stuffed it into her pocket and didn't tell anyone. She finally told him at dinner and didn't have time to apologize before he stormed to his car. A tree branch fell outside and she jumped again, screaming and flailing her limbs. She could feel her body getting tired but still being powered by the adrenaline running through her veins, and once she had enough sense, she remembered who Julian was and called him, almost too hysterical to understand.

72 hours later, she was lying asleep, her head resting on Julian's lap as he stroked her hair, the discharge papers detailing the treatment plan of a grief induced psychotic break sitting on the table next to him. He looked down on her and thought of the promise she made him make, to never mention her family ever again. He figured this was exactly what his friends told him would happen if he started dating a girl who sees angels and should have a punch card for the asylum. But he was young and thought it was fun and had a lingering feeling that he was bound to stay with her. He opened a beer and tried to sympathize with her.


Peyton Kullander from U.S. is a fiction and cultural critique, hailing from New Orleans and now located in New York City. She received her Bachelors in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and previously served as Fiction Editor for The Sarah Lawrence Review..


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