Fiction 2011 / Volume 41

The Homecoming — Hailey Malone

The homecoming is coming. The prodigal daughter is returning. The youngest daughter. She’s leaving Allston, that south Boston bar complex of a neighborhood where she lives on the third floor of that sagging, crumbling red brick burrow two feet from the T, the noisy teetering late T that stops at red lights and wakes her up time after time at night and every morning when it fills with commuters and students, any number of the hundreds of thousands of students that infest the city with their backpacks and eagerness and young eyes so eager to see the Red Sox and the Charles and the old brownstones and all the bursting shit of life the city has to offer. She’s leaving that, that five story apartment pasted together by Irish hands with their knuckles bleeding and sweat everywhere, between the bricks, building that building where her downstairs neighbors would cram up seven deep: O’Brien, O’Sullivan, Doyle, Smith, O’Shea, Donovan and Murray-seven names on the mailbox, stuffed full of coupons and fliers windblown willie-nillie and scattered by the kindly deacons at St. Francis De Sales Catholic Church, coming to rest for Mr. O’Brien or whichever. She’s leaving that and coming home again. That real home.

She leaves early in the morning to beat the rush hour traffic that winds through that sprawling asymmetrical askew former home of a city like blood through the pipes, like a snake through her veins, and she goes. She doesn’t say goodbye to her roommate, the kind of kid who never makes the tea but always wants the tea, waits all night for someone to make the tea, to fill that pot so she can say, “Oh, are you making tea?” She leaves, she goes. She leaves that job at the pool that can never be clean no matter how many times she pours Clorox on the locker room floor, it’s never going to not smell like piss because that floor is piss, layers and layers of dried piss, built up and stratified over the years, sedimentary piss, igneous piss, you’re walking on years and years of fossilized, Jurassic piss. She leaves that oozing germ seeping nest of a job and goes. She gets in the car and goes, and as the city, that noisy, singing, sighing, heaving, coffeedrinking coffeevomiting, cock-eyed city disappears behind her, she calls, “Goodbye Blue Monday, goodbye Ruby Tuesday” and world weary Boston calls back cryptic, “It won’t be the same.”

It takes more than hours to go home, it takes tears and pain and headaches that hold your mind in a vise and hit it with the memory of everything that ever happened to you then, before you got old, sold plasma for quick money, got drunk on rubbing alcohol in a pill bottle, went to sleep with the trashcan by your bed just in case you couldn’t quite make it. They fossilize, these memories of before, those memories of you smiling out of the backseat of the van eating an ice cream cone and holding your sisters’ so she can buckle her seatbelt, and your mom smiling in the front seat at her little girls, promising to take you to the pool later if you clean up your room, knowing she’s going to help you because she wants to go too, loves how your skin turns the same shade as hers in the summer, how your hair gets lighter and you smell like chlorine all day, loves you no matter what. These things fossilize in your mind and your head gets so heavy and you may have to pull over. It takes more than hours to go home.

She pulls over many times, finding the nearest exit, her head so heavy with layers of memory formations growing clearer, bursting forth from their stony silence the closer she gets to home and filling the car with voices, voices of her kindergarten teacher, twenty one years worth of voices singing Happy Birthday blending into a symphony that saturates the car and will stay with her through all the hours and bleary eyed stares it will take her to get home, skipping when she hits a pothole. She’s been driving for two days now, stopping at hotels and motels with forest

green carpet and burgundy floral nature comforters, a table by the window looking out at the highway and the desk with the Bible in the drawer. She has done this to get home, slept in those beds with the sheets tucked in so tight, screwed in with a wrench, the edges nailed down and taut, with the headlights lighting up the window, filling the room with light and sound and waking her up from dreams where she’s always running, from something, towards something, legs heavy and time dripping and slouching its way to somewhere.

She goes like this for one more day, suffers the thoughts that when you drive alone for days are your only thoughts. It will all be worth it, this supernatural self-awareness, so intimate with the shapes of her knuckles and the bend of them on the wheel, how the skin stretches and sags, what her voice sounds like when she voices it for the first time in hours to sing along to the radio, shaking and cracking and arid, how her eyes look in the rearview mirror, tired, just tired, that’s all. A self-awareness of everything, not just the sunspots on her left hand below the middle knuckle, but everything, a realization of how much she has sea changed since that was home, a different skin on her brand new sea legs. It’s sunny outside. Everything looks green, golden green and shining like the ocean. The sunlight makes her squint, hurts, inflates behind her eyes and stings them like an eyeful of seawater, down into the sinuses and getting everywhere, the sunlight.

She makes it home, three big trees, ever changing door color to make it pop, brick and wood and sweat drip and spit and under the fingernail grime, painted blue-grey and built sturdy in the 1950s and charming with its hedge and well-fed cats in the window, mailbox full of glossy coupons and white envelopes that you don’t even have to open to know what’s inside.

Home. Home. Oh home, it can piece her back together. It can feed her a good breakfast, her mom can make her eggs the wrong way, she’ll eat them anyway, doesn’t matter, she’ll eat them anyway. Her mom can take her in those mom arms and not mom arms in that they are in some way old but in that they are all she needs. They are still all she needs and maybe they hug her too tight and too long but it doesn’t matter, she wants them to hold her anyway and say, “I know” and she will not wiggle out or say, “Mom” because it doesn’t matter. Home, it can’t make her young again, but it doesn’t matter.

Her mom sees her and is surprised but hugs her in those everything she could ever need arms and then asks her why she’s here, when she left, what about her job, what she’s doing here, and, again, why? Why is she here? But really, why is she here? Not if she wants breakfast, or how was her drive, or what a nice surprise, or Oh you’re home I missed you but why are you here? She shrugs and goes inside, feeling like she just can’t explain and makes herself some tea. “I’m sorry,” her mom says, “I’m just surprised.”   She shrugs again and looks at her mom’s face, it’s different, lines by the eyes and sad looking and she thinks of her own, it’s also different, sad looking probably, eyes and mouth and cheekbones and sad and older. Home. Oh home and her mom looks like she wants to say something and she wants to say something too, but what? The sunlight still comes through the back window the same, the house is the same, the everything is the same but something.

Her mom looks at her for a long time, clears her throat, says “Honey,” breathes steady like she’s trying not to breathe unsteady in gasps, mouth opening and looking for the words, closing then opening again and saying “Honey, I love you,” pauses again longer this time, “Honey, I love you, but you know you can’t stay here,” they stare at each other, “You have to know that.”

All those miles all those throat clears all those mini soaps all those grand gestures all that piss all those hours all those miles all that sunlight, after all that this. She looks at her mom’s face for some sign that it’s only a joke and says, “Why not?” Her mom sighs the biggest sigh that has ever filled this room, shakes its floor and rattles their bones brittle until it hurts, so final, and says in that voice that makes her voice shake, “Honey you just can’t. You need to figure this out alone.”

“But where am I supposed to go” she says, tears falling into her eggs and making them soupy like her mom just can’t do, her voice breaking and cracking and shaking like an eggshell being pecked through, pecked apart from the inside. “Where am I supposed to go?”

Her mom wipes her eyes and says “Honey I don’t know.” And then they stare at each other for a real long time, for twenty-one years maybe, or more, maybe it was always building-up-breaking-down to this. They stare at each other and she just cries and her mom says “You’ll be okay, you’ll be fine, I know you will” and sits down on the blue chair in the corner and they sit together on that chair, she curls up in her mom’s lap like the day she first came home. She curls for a long time, rests her head on her mom’s shoulder getting the collar wet and never actually says the words “I don’t want to go” but says it so many times.

She goes to bed that night in her old room with its new bed. Nothing is the same, the glow-in-the-dark moons are gone from the ceiling and she can’t see anything but she knows it’s different, knows it intuitively, felt it the moment she stepped foot inside on that wood floor with its well-fed cat scratches and the shag rug was gone. The magazine clippings were gone, the clutter, the everything, the bursting everything of her life that made it what it was is gone. The walls haven’t been painted over but they may as well be. She closes her eyes and pretends not to notice. What next? She won’t go back to Boston with it’s cold shoulder cryptic Charles flowing through everything, she can’t go back to that. And here, she claws her way to sleep and still dreams she’s running, wakes up startled and lost. Even here, even in this home, even in this room. She can’t fall back asleep after that, lays there in the dark and all the old things come oozing out of the floor, that stratified floor, peel it back and there’s one ring for everything that ever happened in this room, a ring for the tears the dancing the spilling the cleaning the changing the leaving the coming back the all encompassing everything things of someone’s life, too many rings to count and always more. Too many rings to see all of them, infinite and unidentifiable this close, she’d have to step a long long long way back to see the pattern of concentric circles, see how they’ve arranged themselves. She tries, takes a step back then another and then another, but it’s no use, she’s just too tired to do it again, legs heavy. So tired, dripping and slouching, she feels like she’s been awake for much much more than hours. It’s been a long life. A very long life.

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