Ralph Bland

House

 

     It was close to a miracle the way he just happened to come up on the Open House sign posted on the corner by his old street. It was chance and luck that brought him and his wife this way after church that Sunday afternoon, for usually they went home down the main thoroughfare to their house on the north side of town, but this day, for some reason, he’d taken the long way through the park so they could look at the spring trees and the lake and take their time before going home. As a habit he didn’t revisit his old neighborhood much. He didn’t hold that much affection for it and he certainly didn’t feel like he’d lost anything there.
   But there was the sign stuck in the ground at the four-way stop with his old address emblazoned in the square in the middle, advertising the afternoon’s open house at the 1300 square foot cottage at Rosewood Drive, and it was strange to see that address out here in a public place for everyone to look at as they drove by, like it was not his old personal home but a place now that could be bought and sold by anybody who took a notion to fool with it.
   “1109,” he said. “That’s our old house. I wonder what they’re asking for it?”
   “No telling,” Janet said. “Houses are going for arms and legs these days. It doesn’t matter if they even have a roof over them or not, it still breaks the bank to buy one.”
   Janet was his second wife, and as far as he knew she had only been inside 1109 Rosewood Drive one time, and that had been on the day the estate sale was being held, a month after his mother died, and Janet had not even been his wife then, for he had only begun seeing her a few weeks before. She had never met his mother by the time his mother died in the nursing home, and when she came to the house she did not see the rooms too closely or for too long, but had spent most of the time meeting his sister and her husband. He had not had the chance to show her around, point out his old room or where the den had been, but he hadn’t really thought about it much either, for they were just getting to know each other and he didn’t think it would be interesting to her because they hadn’t been together that often by then.
   “How about we have a quick lunch and come back for the open house?” he said. “I’d like to see what’s been done with it over the years, maybe show you some of my old stomping grounds. I had a basketball court and a place where I set up a pitchback machine. I could throw a ball into a net and it would ricochet back to me every time.”
   “Sounds like fun,” Janet said.


~~~~~


   They parked on the street so they wouldn’t block anyone using the driveway, even though the only car present was in the back and belonged to the agent showing the house. She greeted them when they came in the front door, and he found it strange how he couldn’t remember coming in the front door that much even with all the years his family had lived here. They had always come in the side door, by the kitchen, up the three steps with the iron railing where once he’d come across a snake curled around one of the prongs in the summertime when he was maybe six. He had been scared to death of a garter snake.
   “I used to live here,” he told the agent. “My mother was here until about twelve years ago, before she passed. I just saw it was for sale and was curious to see it one more time.”
   “Go ahead and look around,” the agent said. He could tell she knew they weren’t really buyers, so he was glad to see another couple pull into the drive and park, knowing the agent would leave them and start trying to sell the house to somebody who was interested in buying it. “I’ll sell it to you again,” she said brightly, “if you want to move in and relive your past.”
   “No thanks,” he said. “We’re just looking.”
   In the living room he could see that the built-in shelves were gone. There was open space on both sides of the gas fireplace, a table apiece in each corner of the room with matching lamps and pictures of children in frames. On the mantle above the fake logs were a couple of urns with pictures of dogs beside them, the names Arthur and Cricket etched on the containers. Beloved pets, he thought. That was nice. There had been dogs and cats here when he was a kid, always a small dog that lived in the house, a yard dog that lived outdoors in a house and slept in the garage when the weather was bad, and a cat that went in and out whenever it pleased. Dixie, he thought, that was the cat’s name. Dixie had lived a long time, finally disappearing when he’d started high school.
   Here by the front window was where the Christmas tree always stood. When he was small the trees had been real, mounted in a red metal holder with water in it, but as all the children got older the tree became first an aluminum apparatus with rotating colorful lights, and then an artificial one so his mother wouldn’t have to clean up needles all day and night for a month until it was New Year’s Day and the tree came down. One could stand out on the street and look at the trees through the picture window and see the colors change and the lights blink off and on, but to tell the truth he didn’t think any of them had ever looked that hot. There were other houses in the neighborhood with trees that looked a whole lot better. Those houses were larger too, with bigger picture windows.
   On the left was the dining room, and he stopped to imagine how his mother had filled this area with a piano and a stool and several hutches and a table with a leaf where eight chairs could be arranged around it, aunts and uncles and children packed in together like sardines. There was even a place for a console in the corner, where Daddy played his Tennessee Ernie Ford records while he read the newspaper. Bless your pea-picking heart. Mother at the piano fingering chords, lifting up her horribly out-of-tune voice:


       “Love lifted me,
        Love lifted me,
       When nothing else could help,
       Love lifted me.”

    “Come on in and sit down for a while,” Mama says. “You’ve got to where all you do is gulp your food down and then bolt and run. Even on a holiday, when your sister and brother and aunts and uncles are all here, you act like you haven’t got a minute to spare. Saying you’ve got work to do, papers to grade back in that apartment of yours. Surely, nothing can be that important. It’s not like you don’t have plenty of nights and weekends other than Thanksgiving Day to get your work done. To watch you somebody would think you don’t care anything about your family at all.”
   Sometimes as a little boy to prowl through those hutches and pull out songbooks, church bulletins, Kodak pictures of Mama and Aunt Eva getting their pictures taken on a long past Easter Sunday, holding bibles and baskets and wearing matching shoes with bows that looked white but could have been something bright and colorful so long ago. And one Thanksgiving when he was small, his brother asked Uncle Tony to pass the rolls and big laughing Uncle Tony from Indiana had reached into the basket and pegged a roll across the table at Jimmy’s head and Jimmy had reached up and snatched it, and Uncle Tony said he was the next Raymond Berry because that was quite a catch, and the men at the table all laughed and the children smiled uneasily and the aunts told Tony he was a bad influence and Mama just chewed her peas and had that cloudy look on her face she always got when something happened she didn’t understand. And every meal I took at that table from then on, until Daddy was dead and Uncle Tony was dead and we got to where we ate Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen, I always thought of Uncle Tony passing a roll when I picked one up to butter it, and it seemed like it was about the only time anyone in the family had been halfway alive on those Thanksgivings then, before I had to invent work I had to do so I wouldn’t have to stick around and listen to old family stories and think about who was dead and gone and get a big fat bloated feeling in my soul over being around too much of my people’s lifelessness for too awfully long a time. 
   Mama couldn’t hold a candle to Daddy when it came to cooking; it was a case of anything she could do he could do better, so usually he did all the cooking and we feasted on pork chops and pot roasts and fried chicken with mashed potatoes and hamburgers on Saturday nights that were better than any drive-in or restaurant in town. Always there would be a burger cooked up for Mabel, our mutt-hybrid terrier that lived in the house and sat in the chair with Daddy when he read the paper and slept in his bed at night and growled at Mama if she got too close in the wee small hours. 
   “Try some of this,” Daddy said, reaching under the kitchen sink behind a big pipe and pulling out a paper bag with a bottle in it. “Homemade wine from across the tracks,” he said. “Got it from a fellow I grew up with. He’s got a restaurant and he brews it up out back.”
   I was maybe twenty then and home from school on Christmas break. I’d never had a sip of alcohol inside our house before, so this was different. I’d had plenty at other places at other times, and I guess Daddy knew it. He had, after all, caught me throwing up by my car one night when I got home from a party back in high school, so he knew I wasn’t a virgin in matters like this. But this was strange indeed, him pouring me a glass of wine and sitting across from the kitchen table from my brother and me and us lifting a glass of holiday cheer together. Stuff like this just never happened around our house before this, and I don’t believe they really went on after this night either. We all had a couple of glasses of wine while Mama and my sister were out shopping, and before I knew it my face was hot and my tongue was loose and I was telling stories about parties at school and football games and girls in faded jeans like it didn’t matter if I had secrets anymore, like I was sitting with some guys I liked and it wasn’t my brother and father and I didn’t have to keep my life all to myself at all, I could actually say what I was feeling.
   And I don’t know why, but after that I found it even harder to say anything anymore. It was like mum’s the word and I couldn’t talk to my dad or my brother or anybody in the family after that, like if I divulged any more secrets about myself then the day was going to come where it was going to be used against me or brought up for examination or used as an example of how I wasn’t turning out the way I was supposed to, that maybe I was going to up and do something to prove unworthy and soil the family name, and the best thing to do was just be silent and make myself scarce and absent and keep the peace by not being around to screw everything up.
   Every time I walked through that kitchen Daddy’s sitting there with a cigarette going in the ashtray and a kitchen knife in his hand carving himself off a few slices of souse. It got to where I never stopped and talked to him about anything anymore. I don’t know why.
   My sister starts up as soon as we walk up the stairs to her old bedroom, complaining in that bossy voice of hers how the walls are painted a deep cranberry now instead of the pale pink she preferred before she graduated from high school and went off to college and got knocked up, even if it was never spoken and no one talked about it and always acted like it was part of the plan for her to get pregnant and get married and drop out of school and become a mother. I remember when she and Richard—that was her husband then, though she got rid of him in three years and found another fellow at the supermarket where she worked—moved in and lived upstairs for a year after the baby was born. Jimmy was already out of the house and didn’t have to deal with it much, the baby crying and my mother all the time telling Betty what to do and what not to do, but I was there and of the age where I didn’t want to see it or hear it and so made sure I spent most of my life at school or playing ball on any team I could find or running around with my friends or trying to date girls or just anything where I wouldn’t have to be at home. It got to the point that I’d have rather starved than go back to the house and eat supper with my family at night.
   “You don’t really have any business up here,” Betty says. “I told Mama I wanted you and Jimmy to keep away from my things. I’ve got to have some privacy around here or there’s going to be trouble.”
   “You already have your own room and bathroom,” I say. “I don’t know what else you’d want. At least you’re not having to bunk with your brother like me. You don’t have to share bathrooms with anybody.”
   “What do you care? You and him are hardly ever home anyway.”
   “That’s the reason why. Anyway, I have to find something in the attic, so I’ll only be a minute. A guy at school wants to buy my old badminton set. He’s offered me five bucks for the net and the paddles and the birdies, so I’m letting him have it. It’s not like I’m ever going to use it again.”
   “I thought that set belonged to me,” she says.
   “That’s the croquet set. The badminton stuff is mine.”
   “Just make sure you don’t sell off any of my things.”
   “Nobody would want any of the crap you own.”
   Betty had posters on the walls and her own TV and a record player that played two speeds. By her bed were numerous volumes of Rod McKuen poetry books in a pile for bedtime perusal. She had some of his records too. Sometimes at night I could hear her playing them when she thought the rest of the house was asleep, but I was always hungry and coming upstairs to raid the refrigerator. I’d stand there gnawing on a chicken leg and hear Rod’s raspy voice going on about lonesome cities and love affairs that didn’t work out.

    “Are you in for the night?
   Mama’s voice trails out to me as we walk past where her bedroom once was. I can see her peer up from the bed as I pass by, propped up on her pillows with her notebooks and her pen in her fingers, burning the midnight oil as she so often did, writing letters to aunts and sisters or making outlines for Sunday School lessons she planned to teach in the coming weeks. 
   I ran across some of her unsent letters and correspondences she’d composed over the years in those days after she died, and it was amazing the totality of words she had spilt out on paper over time, and these examples did not even include the letters she had mailed off over the years, but were rough drafts and ideas she meant to later expound on and snippets she’d decided were better not sent, items that perhaps needed further thought and reflection before she allowed them to be read. I knew she generally stayed up writing after she and Daddy went to bed, but Daddy had to be up with the chickens for his job at the post office, and so he went to bed a little too early for my mother to be able to sleep. It was a classic case of Daddy being an early to bed guy who was out to get the first worm, and Mama on the other end of the spectrum staying awake long after the TV stations had signed off jotting down her thoughts until the wee hours. When I came home drunk—which was fairly often those last days I lived there—I had to be careful coming in and making too much noise, because I knew Mama was probably awake, and if she heard me would get her feelings hurt if I didn’t poke my head in her door and say good night. Sometimes I would tiptoe so stealthily holding my breath that I’d start finding it funny and wonder what would happen if I tripped over something on the stairs—a mop or a broom, a carton of Diet Rite colas, a bag of dog food—and I and it went hurtling down the steps in the dark and awoke the house. I knew my mother, being awake already, would be the first to arrive to see if I’d broken something, to clean up the mess I’d made, and she would smell my breath and know I’d been out consuming beer and whiskey and vodka and just whatever I could get my hands on to insure I’d be out of my mind and not be walking the straight and narrow anymore.
   “Sleep tight,” I hear her whisper. “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
   I want to wave my hand at her and smile and tell her I’m all right, that I didn’t turn into an alcoholic like her brother, my Uncle Tommy, did, or a drug addict like Jimmy, that I’d finished sowing my wild oats already and was spending the rest of my life as a clean-living respectable grownup, so she didn’t have to worry so much about my fate anymore. I was all right, I could tell her now. I was planning to stay that way.

    I can already hear my brother’s voice when we come down the stairs to our two old bedrooms. The larger bedroom was his, but it didn’t used to be that way. For a while it was a den and the two of us slept in the other room on bunk beds. I always had to be on top for some reason, I guess so he could lie on his back and take his feet and push upward in jerks and bounce me up and down until he thought he could make me cry, but he was wrong. I wouldn’t cry for anything, no matter how many times I went soaring toward the ceiling. When Jimmy got in junior high Daddy took the bunk bed apart and moved him out to the den. Finally, we had our own bedrooms and we could concentrate fully on ignoring the other and only acknowledging each other’s existence when Jimmy felt like knocking me around some and I felt like defending myself with whatever I could pick up and bounce off his head.
   “Close that door behind you, punk. I’m taking a smoke.”
   Jimmy started sneaking smoking when he was fourteen. I was four years behind him, but he couldn’t really hide it from me because we shared the same bedroom and downstairs together and I always seemed to be around. He would open the back door that led to the backyard and stand in the doorway, blowing smoke out into the night. Sometimes he stood in the garage with the door up and sat in a lawn chair reading hot rod magazines, trying to decide what kind of street car he could buy when he started working and making money.
   “You ever decide to tell on me,” he’d threaten, “I guarantee you I’ll beat the living shit out of you.”
   “Try it and die,” I’d tell him. “I’ll kill you before you have the chance.” 
   Jimmy quit school in the eleventh grade so he could start working construction to make money to buy a car and have his own place, but it didn’t take long for him to decide the money he made would first go toward buying alcohol, beer and whiskey and such, and then drugs to top it off. What I remember mostly about Jimmy from then until a year or so after I graduated college was he was constantly in and out of rehab and moving around from place to place and state to state and marrying a couple of women my mother considered “rough” and getting into the fast lane at different locales and peddling coke and smack and stuff, and doing time and being on probation and finally kicking off on an overdose when he was twenty-eight.
   I look in my own old bedroom and I can see him going through my dresser drawers, trying to find any money I might have hidden away. Already he’d stolen my tax refund check and cashed it and sniffed it up his nose, and then he’d gone to rehab again and my parents told me how sorry they were and how they’d get my money back to me, but that never happened. I was seventeen and had worked at a car wash for a year and waited patiently for my check to arrive in the mail, and it never did. Actually, it did come, but Jimmy got his hands on it first. My $200 was gone from me, and I guess there was so much going on with Jimmy and my charmed little sister that my parents forgot to get the money to me. I guess they were worried about too many other things.
   But there’s my old room anyway, and it’s hard to look at before an avalanche of images start flickering before my eyes.
   There’s the single bed I slept in for at least ten years. A portable record player sitting on a table on one side, an alarm clock/radio on the other. Weirdo DJ back in the day used to play “Like A Rolling Stone” every morning precisely at six. First time I ever heard Dylan. Careful not to tell my friends too much about him, because that is who I wanted to be like. But never could learn to play a guitar, no natural rhythm and my fingers wouldn’t stretch or do two things at once. Had to be content with knowing all the words. Spout them out in public and make people think I was smart and wise, but never fooled anyone much. Good sometimes to lure a brainless girl to this room when my parents were away for the weekend. Flop around on this bed and it’s a wonder none of them got pregnant. Probably I was doing something wrong, which was lucky for me. Good thing I wasn’t the brightest of light bulbs in that sense back then. And all the nights I lay frozen on this bed, starting at the ceiling in the darkness. Eyes adjusted to know I was alone and the chances were good I’d probably stay that way. Despising the idea that I was groomed for failure and there would never be a way to change it.
   This room is a studio now. Recording equipment along the walls. Microphones and amplifiers and sound boards. Our old house occupied by a musician, out to make hit records from unknowns. Headphones and guitars and pianos strewn throughout the house. Walk out the doors into the garage where my mother parked her Oldsmobile. A barge, we called it. Size of a bulldozer. A big Harley parked here, and off to the back is where my dad’s workshop was. And a little cubbyhole where the lawnmower got parked. Christmas decorations in plastic tubs. Electric saws and hammers and toolboxes, all gone now. These days another studio for the next Hank Williams. When Daddy was here drawers were full of screws and nails, nuts and bolts. Mason jars filled with all sorts of implements, cleaned paint brushes wrapped in cellophane and buckets of paint stacked in the corner. A floor jack so he could change his oil. And a cabinet where he stored his shotgun and fishing rods, tackle boxes and fishing lures and lines and hooks and weights. Daddy gone on weekend mornings, out on the lake and in the woods. There was even a fishing boat parked outside. Never took us out in it much. Liked to fish alone, be by himself. I think I got that from him. The boat got sold one day to pay off my brother’s jail fines. Lawyer fees. If I remember, it was blue. Hard to know for sure. Long time ago that was.
   “You cut the yard every week and you get five dollars.”
   Daddy is standing in the back drive with the lawnmower, new plugs and all gassed up. He made a big deal every year tinkering with the mower each night after supper for weeks at a time, even before the grass started growing, because he wanted to be ready. Jimmy cut the yard first, he being the oldest, but he didn’t last at it, wanting money to come faster and easier than this sort of manual labor, and so the job was handed down early to me. I was twelve, and five dollars was a lot to me.
   “Five dollars is more than enough for a yard this size,” Daddy says. “If you could round up a few more yards to cut every week, you could make some money. All you have to do is pay for the gas.”
   But I wasn’t much for yard cutting. I didn’t like the insects that gathered around my head and flew inside my ear making that sick screaming siren sound, and I didn’t like sweating and watching where I stepped so I wouldn’t come down in a hole or plant my sneakers in a fresh pile of dog shit. Also, our yard wasn’t exactly level. It had a lot of rises and hills and canyons, and the back yard was rough with tree branches and acorns that fell from the limbs and flew out like machine gun fire from the blades beneath the platform and exited the discharge vent and I had to watch out or get peppered on the shins or hit in the face by debris. The side yard was a long hilly area, and I was basically standing sideways cutting it, almost losing my balance and falling down sometimes if the grass was still wet with morning dew. Needless to say, the five dollars didn’t remain too tempting to me, made me want to choose instead the option of being poor and consistently causing all kinds of strife between Daddy and me about the regularity to which I tackled the assigned task and the quality of the work I did with lots of zigs and zags and missed sections that always made the yard look worse after I finished than it had before I started.
   After a summer of arguments and harsh words, Daddy finally got tired of fooling with me and started cutting the yard himself. Mama did her best to make me feel guilty about it, but I told her it would save him twenty bucks a month, and since the two of them had been forced to pay out all sorts of dough to keep Jimmy out of jail then they ought to be thankful to me for not depleting the family finances any more. I could tell the both of them thought I was nothing but a little smart ass, so I didn’t push it any further, since I knew I was going to have to live there for at least four or five more years, but it was never the same after that. I sort of stayed apart from anything going on in the family from then on, and they concentrated on Jimmy’s rehabilitation and keeping Betty happy as the goddamn family princess, so time passed and Jimmy got creepier and Betty bought clothes and started dating and became a cheerleader and I stayed in my room listening to Dylan and the Byrds and the Beatles while I planned my getaway for as soon as I could make it happen.
   Daddy is changing his oil and Mama is writing letters and Betty is reading Rod McKuen and Jimmy is in jail. At least that’s how it is in their moments here in the past, and I’m standing now with my second wife surveying the backyard where once my basketball goal stood, the snatch of ground where I dribbled and played imaginary games in my head and shot baskets through a rim with a worn-out net until it got so dark I couldn’t tell if I made the shot or not, then looking off to my right to the down-sloped hill where I threw a rubber ball against the side of the house and had it explode in a huge bounce into a long fly or a line drive or a vicious grounder in the hole I had to backhand and make a strong throw to first to nip the runner by an eyelash. How many of these soul-induced games had I played out here those years before I could find a job or make a team or turn my thoughts to what it might be like to touch a girl?
   Look down towards the end of the yard and see the gargantuan oak tree still holding court over the grass and the house. It is twenty yards from the garage, down the sloped lawn to the end of the property. Jimmy and I built a tree house here with the help of some neighborhood kids. I wanted to live up there in the limbs, but all Jimmy and his friends wanted was to smoke Winstons and look at stolen Playboys. I wasn’t interested and didn’t know what they were talking about, and they didn’t want me around for any of their sessions anyway, so I got to where I only climbed up and sat on the boards when there was no one else around, when Jimmy was gone to the movies or off at another kid’s house or getting arrested. I started taking my baseball cards and a book when I climbed up the steps by myself, hiding them in crevices in the tree so no one could find them and they’d always be there, ready and handy. I memorized batting averages off the cards and read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer during one summer, and when school started back it became all mine, because Jimmy was too busy embarking on his life of crime to climb up in a tree house and be a kid anymore. I thought I’d maybe miss him a little, but I didn’t. I liked the house being all mine. I didn’t even invite any of my friends to come visit me there, but just kept it all to myself. Friends, I’d found, had a way of getting noisy and nosey and never give a guy time to do any thinking.
   I leave Janet standing alone and walk down toward the tree and examine the bark. Amazingly, the wooden steps we’d hammered into the wood are still there, rotten a little, ready to crumble if somebody put a foot on them and attempted to hoist themselves up to where the treehouse was, but the fact that they are still in existence all these years later is amazing to me. I reach out my hand and run my fingers over the wood and the rusted nails, and the fortress speaks to me, like it has been holding its tongue all this time until I finally came along again. I want to apologize for being so negligent and tardy, because this was once a hallowed place for me.
   “You don’t have to tell us where you’ve been or what you’ve been doing,” the tree says, “because we know already. It wasn’t like just because you left with your body and soul that you signed off completely from what you’d left behind here, or threw away the boy who lived here. No, most of that stayed behind with the baseball cards and Tom Sawyer. I bet you don’t remember how you left a shoebox of cards up here when you stopped coming, or that the old paperback was still stuck under the big limb with them. We knew you’d accidentally forgot about them, what with the way you had to suddenly worry about what you wore or girls or if somebody was going to discover what a scared little weirdo you were. We knew you had a lot on your mind. And we weren’t even worried about whether you were going to come back anytime soon, because we knew you wouldn’t. We knew how it was, how it might be quite a while before you got your head together, and even then we were pretty certain we wouldn’t be in your plans anymore. But we kept your shoebox of cards and Tom Sawyer for a good bit anyway, until so much rain fell and the wind blew and the summer sun shone down and the snow came and killed the leaves and wore everything down and we couldn’t hold them anymore. There came a day when everything just collapsed and slipped and fell, tumbled down to the ground when a squirrel climbed up and started digging at the box and what was in it for food or shelter. We watched that box fall and we were sorry for a long time we hadn’t been able to hold it for you until you got back, but after a few years we realized that was just the way things went, that things just grew hollow or wasted away or rotted or got knocked down by lightning and wind sooner or later, and that nothing, not even us, was going to last forever. We just decided to stand here as long as we could and maybe you’d be back someday and maybe you wouldn’t. But either way, we still knew all about you. We had a good idea of where you were.”
   I walk on down to where the property ends and see all the houses spread out in the valley below. There used to be nothing to see but farmland when we moved in, but finally the land was bought and subdivisions popped up, houses and streets and lanes and circles, kids playing in yards and the sounds of lawnmowers in the afternoons and bulldozers breaking new ground and cars and motorcycles going up and down the streets to new destinations. Here there were once grapevines we swung out on being brave, holding on for dear life so we wouldn’t make the long drop down the steep hill and break a leg or maybe even die. But you had to swing out on them. You had to do it, or else you were chicken. You were a baby. You were a scaredy-cat and you never would be as tough or cool as all the others. Grapevines gone now, fences and new houses in their place, hill leveled off to where all is even and safe. Must have taken a lot of dirt to get it this way. Load sixteen tons and what do you get? Hear Daddy singing Tennessee Ernie again.
   “Others have moved in and called me home,” I hear our house say from behind me, “but your family was the first to live here and so will always be the real owners, no matter who else comes and goes. Even those who are dead, your mother and father and brother, it does not matter if they are no longer on this earth. They are still inside the walls here, inhabiting the rooms, sitting at tables and in chairs, listening to the tick of a clock on days and nights that never end. Your sister is upstairs, even if she is in another state now, living in some other house with a husband we never knew. We can still call her whenever we want. We can conjure moments from the closed past, some remembered, some not, and we can have each of you inside that instant in the beat of a heart, in the blinking of an eye. Nothing is impossible with us and you and all of your family, dead or alive, we are all in the moment together. Whatever has lived within you once never truly dies, but remains as a flicker of a ghost for all-time. All of us are a part of you and you are a part of all that we are, and that is the way it will go on forever, no matter how much time has passed or water has flowed under bridges or sunsets or sunrises, months and years and lifetimes—we are all a part of each other and always will be. There is no making what once was into something that never was. All of us remain. All of us blow with the wind back to where we started, for where we were is where we are and that is where we will always be. Time goes on forever, whether the eye sees it or not. You are what you are, and so is all that has passed before you. There is no escape or getting away. We are all of us here forever.”
   I walk back toward Janet, wondering if I should even attempt to explain what I am feeling, to try and tell her what lessons I have learned by walking through these old haunts. I have never been good at sharing thoughts and secrets, so probably the best thing I can do is paste a grin on my face and act as though this has been a walk in the park, that this stroll through the past has served to remind me what a wonderful life this has been, how my childhood was a blessing and something to be treasured, and how it is nice to go full circle and come back to take a peek at where all the wonder began.
   Yes, that’s what I’ll do. We’ll go home and spend a nice Sunday afternoon and there won’t be any need to wonder what’s inside the old house anymore, what part of me might still be there, for I know now it may always remain in my memory and my eye will always catch a glimpse of a life that was, but in the end I know all of it is lost to me forever. 
   
   
 

tiffany jolowicz Monday on Michigan Island, Yesterday, the Day Before, Two Thousand Years