by Samuel Skuse
Long drive home. Roads blur into hours. I pull over twice for coffee but I’m not really tired, just bored. Roads blur into hours. I said that already.
A name comes sharply into focus on an approaching road sign. A warmly smiling face in the crowd, the only face that makes any sense. That was home, long ago. My indicator is flashing now. Did I do that?
Narrow lanes alleviate pressure. It rises from me like a giant plucked from the clouds. Each overlapping arm of green that reaches into the road and tenderly brushes the window seems to wave. Hello again, old friend. Did you lose your way?
The mouth of the final turn opens wide in my mind long before the road. An estuary greeting the lapping ocean. Rural homes ebb into view. Preserved ruins of my childhood, now restored. Years have passed, and not a day.
My car floats through the memory. I see the old couple who ran the flower stall, long since passed. Their stall, driftwood on the tide. The post office lady, the butcher, the postman, the drunk at the bus stop. One by one, they all drifted off too. Take a right.
Right again. There.
The cottage looks over the graveyard. Welcome home, it seems to say.
The cottage looks the same, save for a strange car parked in the driveway. I resent it for denying me the shameful satisfaction of pulling my own car into the drive, the same way my dad had pulled his in every day after picking me up from school. The strange car jeers at me, amused by my petty mind. You are not nearly the man he is, it gasses. Textbook Mercedes obnoxiousness.
A small slate tile perches against a low wall, with the house name painted upon its face. My dad made it when we first moved in. All the owners since had kept it there, perhaps only I could see it. It sat, patiently, from day to night, night to day. Wind. Rain. Waiting for me to come home. The paint is still wet.
The street is quiet and still. The last house on the left is up for sale, or so the sign tells me. A girl had lived there who would laugh at me and occasionally throw stones whilst I did my paper round. In brutal retaliation, I fell hopelessly in love with her.
Clinging to the dusty road lies the graveyard, and the small chapel beyond. This had been the view from my bedroom window. I still recognised the names on the nearest gravestones. New names may be laid to rest, but the old ones never leave. They are constant, unchanging, reliable. The unknown frightens me, but the graveyard never did.
I can hear my dog barking. I wonder if they know he is buried under the patio.
Doorbell chime like a burning choir. The new owner is a squat, greying woman with a smile wider than her face and bright pearls for eyes. She invites me into my house.
The hallway is an echo of the old one, familiar shapes like a half-remembered dream. We really wanted to make it our own, she says. A pang of possessive frailty tugs at my chest. The rooms have changed beyond recognition, the walls begin to crumble around me.
Instinctively, I open the door to my old room. Inside, a teenage boy is furiously pleasuring himself using a yellow marigold glove. He screams and attempts an evasive tactical roll off and under the bed, the glove flailing like an exotic bird’s plume. The mother of the boy, stood in the same spot as me, flings the door shut in horror. I decide it may be time to leave.
On the way out, from the living room window I can see the damson tree is still in the garden. I smile. One summer’s day my little sister had climbed the tree and sat on the lowest branch. When I went over to her, I saw that she was covered in ants. An entire nest’s worth festered over her face, hair, arms, everywhere, like TV static. She just stared at me, vacant and unmoving. Not smiling or frowning. She didn’t fall, she didn’t even flinch. I plucked her off the branch and called for mum who hosed her down without a moment’s thought. My sister laughed and danced wildly in the stream while I looked on in awe. I asked my sister about it once, but she had no memory of it ever happening.
Cut through the park. Follow the crude path into the trees. They sway and sigh like they used to, or least as close to as they can remember. Keep walking until you come to a glimmering river of crystal green. It rushes and rants, or trickles calmly, depending on whatever such things depend on. Nestled in the centre of the river, like an abandoned world, is Pinball Rock.
I stare at it, somehow taller than I recall. Echoes of fevered, excitable cries as we climbed the rock and leapt off into the shallow waters. I wade across and try to climb it but the mossy mould of the peach’s skin prevents my grip. How we would climb it all day without falling and breaking our necks is a miracle, but danger didn’t really exist back then, did it?
I stay until dark colours the leaves and my breath begins to shroud the apparition of my face.
I leave the place I grew up in, for the second time. The gates creak closed behind me, and over the rusted frame grows twisted, distorted undergrowth so thick and high that it is concealed beyond recognition. It all somehow looks more beautiful than it did before. As it fades out of view, I wonder if I will ever find it again. Long drive home.