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Walking through the old, silent house was like walking through one of the photo albums in the big wooden chest in Liesa’s room. It pulsed with the heartbeat of memories as time stood perfectly still. Liesa’s thoughts echoed in her mind as the cool, dark house danced with shadows from the sun flitting through the trees outside the windows.

It looked so… empty.

Liesa had been told weeks ago that this ancient house would be vacant soon, that it was eventually going to be demolished because of its age. Back then, the effects of the move hadn’t quite sunk in. But now they had.

Gone. The word was a common thread tying all the rooms together. Each one complained of its own losses. The television used to be here, reminded the living room—and the coffee table used to rest there. The old rolltop desk, always full of uncharted jungles of junk, had made the big indent on the carpet. How much bigger the room felt without it! Liesa continued tracing an invisible map in her head. Here—by the door. This was where the lamp stand had been situated. She remembered how often their dog would knock it over as he bounded, barking, across the room to the window seat to watch Liesa’s little sisters and brothers come home from school, day after day. Liesa smiled at the memory.

Moving like a shadow through the familiar rooms, Liesa touched each familiar object—a small nail hole, a crack on the wall that resembled the state of Idaho—trying to absorb every part of this finely detailed scene.

Where the Heart Is visiting the old house
Liesa saw the confusion in Chloe’s eyes as the elderly cat viewed what had once been her home

In the kitchen, Liesa was greeted by an empty floor where the table used to be, the table around which she had sat with various people over the years—quiet grandmas bent over their latest crossword puzzles and knitting projects, loud groups of school friends, little siblings conversing over breakfast or struggling with homework alone into the afternoon.

In this house, everything had its place, Liesa realized. Take one thing away and the jigsaw puzzle is incomplete forever. The china cabinet, the coat rack, the comfy bright blue sofa; everything seemed to have a meaning. They all seemed to fit perfectly together to create a gentle rhythm, like the steady beat of a song or the carefully chosen words of a poem, all jumbled together to form a perfect verse that didn’t have to rhyme. Without each other, something would be missing forever.

Liesa could hear the dull hum of the truck outside. She had to go soon. The faint voices of her family drifted inside, sounding happy and eager to be off.

Nobody seemed to miss this house. Nobody seemed to care except Liesa. True, it was an old-fashioned, well worn home, but that was why she liked it. It had so much more character; so much more meaning… it almost seemed to be like a living person—different, one of a kind.

As Liesa reached the base of the rickety stairs, she turned away. She couldn’t go up. She couldn’t go and see the room she spent the first half of her life in, not when it was going to be demolished soon. It was time for something new—a new room, a new home.

The sounds of the happy commotion outside grew louder, gently beckoning Liesa to leave the silent solitude of the hollow, empty home.

Just a few more minutes, she silently begged, looking out across the backyard. Where were the little maple tree saplings her father had planted when they had moved in, years ago? Where were the tiny shoots, the bare fields? They had all grown since then. Before her mind’s eye, she saw in a moment every soccer game, sunset picnic, every sunlit afternoon spent underneath the old oak tree. She remembered every game with her brothers and sisters that had led them beyond the short stone wall into the ocean-like fields of grain beyond. Liesa sighed, turning away.

Just then, something in the doorway caught her attention. The little white-and-brown-spotted cat stood staring at Liesa, its wise, green eyes piercing Liesa’s thoughts.

“Chloe,” Liesa breathed, the sound of the name echoing through the bare room. Immediately a warm sense of familiarity washed over her.

Chloe had been there since Liesa was little and had watched Liesa grow up and leave childhood behind. The wise old cat had been there through good and bad times, always offering a gentle purr or an affectionate rub to those who needed it.

Where the Heart Is brown cat

Liesa saw the confusion in Chloe’s eyes as the elderly cat viewed what had once been her home. Where was her cat bed, her warm hearth rug, or the comfy armchair on which so many winter days had been spent napping?

“Oh, Chloe.” Liesa knelt and buried her face in Chloe’s warm, sweet fur. The scent was a familiar one, one that seemed to linger in the back of Liesa’s memory. Tears, laughter, storms, sunny afternoons— Chloe had silently observed them all, never saying anything, never being noticed.

Liesa carried Chloe outside onto the sunlit porch. Setting her down, she locked the front door, sealing off her old memories and beginning a new journey to a place she’d call home.

Chloe looked confusedly at the tightly closed door as Liesa started down the porch steps, then scratched lightly on its rough wood. Liesa shook her head, trying to pry the cat off of the doorstep, but it was clear that Chloe was reluctant to leave the beloved place where she had been born.

“Come on,” Liesa said softly, trying to coax her away. She tried to sound reassuring, but how could she comfort Chloe if, deep down, she really felt exactly the same way?

“Liesa, everything’s ready. Got the house key?” Liesa heard her mother call from the trunk of the blue minivan.

“Got it,” she replied, holding up the key before shoving it in her pocket.

Gently, carefully, she lifted Chloe off the welcome mat and hugged her close for one of their last moments together in front of the large house.

Liesa pictured their shiny new house in Montana and the beautiful fields and forests surrounding it. It was waiting for them, calling to them from far away over the mountains.

“Come on, Chloe, old girl,” she whispered, “Let’s go home.”

Where the Heart Is Amanda Valdovinos
Amanda Valdovinos, 13
Damascus, Oregon