The way the air smelled of must. The rooms filled with empty space. The engrossing silence. It was something Bianca had thought of often this last year, how she only really noticed the silence until something interrupted it: the dog making her whimpering sounds, the tea kettle—yes, she still used a tea kettle—squealing in a pitchy voice, the cacophonic vibration of her Device when it alerted her to a call or message, the churning of the furnace heat when it turned on, the way the floorboards creaked when she walked along them. How ridiculous it was to still be living in such an old house in such modern times. She bought it fifteen years earlier with the ex-husband from an older couple who were retiring to Florida. It still used oil for heat, which had become scarce and expensive in the last ten years, as nearly everyone else had solar paneled roofs or at the very least sourced wind energy to run their homes. It looked like a memory from the past with its dark siding and heavy curtains and angled, sloping roof, a dark cloud set amongst the younger families in their brighter, dome-shaped homes or compact houses with jutting slants to catch the sunlight. Everyone she knew thought she should sell it. Even her therapist wanted her to sell it, believing the house to be just another way Bianca was still holding on to the past. But Bianca knew this was where her therapist was wrong: she wasn’t holding on to her ex-husband through the house. The house, with its familiar comforts, its aged library-book scent, its reminders of the homes she could find anywhere back on the east coast, was holding on to her.
It was nearly three a.m. The dog woke Bianca up in her usual way and at her usual time, pulling Bianca out of the placid, floating unconsciousness of a dream, where she woke to remember none of the details, but all of the feeling: like something pleasantly old and familiar. The dog wanted to be taken outside. She had been his—Bianca never had animals in her home before—and when he left, he left them both, and it had been a slow realization for both the dog and Bianca that he wouldn’t be coming back, that they were now in this together. Bianca felt like she’d inherited someone else’s disabled child. The dog had bad hips. She couldn’t take more than a few steps without yelping in pain, so Bianca pushed her where she needed to go while the dog sat on a bed of blankets. By now she and the dog had a rhythm to their days and nights. A routine had inserted itself, giving structure to her life, especially the early months right after he left when the silence had been unbearable and Bianca’s only motivation for leaving the couch was to push the dog on her blankets to the kitchen, to the living room, to the yard.
But things were better now, at least in the structural sense. Eight months ago, her days were filled mostly with couch lying and television watching, eating only those foods that required microwaving as their main step. Now there was yoga and a lean toward vegetarianism and weekly therapy sessions. Bianca was technically still on sabbatical from the university where she taught English literature. She’d been off since a week after she received the divorce papers in the mail, and hadn’t yet felt the motivation to return. In a sense, the dog had done her own part to help Bianca, by providing something for her to care for.
When the dog cried and woke Bianca up, she pulled herself from the bed and moved to the living room where the dog slept, bending at the waist and pulling the blankets by the top corners. The dog sat placidly on her bed while Bianca stumbled through the house backwards, her eyes still closed, creaking the floorboards with every step. And now she was back in bed, waiting for the dog to cry to be let back in. So it was here, within the unfilled space of her old house, tucked back in her bed in the very dark, very still hours of the early morning, when she turned on her Device and clicked on The Huffingfton Post to wade through the near-constant flow of news. She squinted against the brightness of the fluorescent screen and paged with her finger through the headlines. Amidst the op-eds on the Chinese superpower economy, the articles on the cyber wars in Russia, the drone wars in North Africa, the blogs on the latest fresh-faced tech billionaires, Bianca stopped abruptly at the sight of an instantly recognizable face, the story attached enough to knock the air out of her lungs for several long moments—moments in which her mind dwelled in that subtle space of confusion that questioned if she somehow still asleep—until her breath returned and came spilling out in one big satisfying whoosh.
The photo that appeared next to the headline Dreah White Stumbles at First Press Conference featured two women, one slender with peroxide-blonde hair in a navy blue suit, her face revealing the same lines of aging as Bianca’s, and another younger woman standing at a microphone, her skin the color of warm caramel, her face a replica of the other’s. The Post article linked to a Buzzfeed Top 10 List, which featured Dreah White as number one on its list of People F*cking Up The World.
From there the information hit her like bullets: her cousin Jodie was connected to the same U.S.-made energy crisis Bianca had been reading about for weeks. This other, younger person, Dreah White, was at the heart of the crisis, the CEO at Energia, the company responsible for the mess in Haiti. And now the final pill to swallow: Dreah, as the article so clearly stated, was Jodie’s daughter, and Jodie, also clearly noted, now went by the hyphenated surname Cooper-White.
Bang. Bang. Bang.