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Short Story: Coming Home
I step out of the dim, air-conditioned bus into a parking lot shimmering in a mid-afternoon blaze. The driver, who has kindly extended his hand while I navigated the last step onto the pavement, is standing next to a fat woman with red hair whom I’ve never seen before.
“Beatrice,” she says to me, questioningly. I nod. “I’m here to take you home.” The woman, who looks as bewildered as I feel, hands a slip of pink paper to the driver, and hurredly explains in one long exhalation, “I’m a friend of your daughter and her husband, Sandra couldn’t be here to pick you up, she had to go somewhere and she’ll be back soon, so she sent me to take you home.”
I squint in the bright light. The trip from Michigan to Virginia seems to have gone by in a flash; I must have slept through most of it. The woman turns and shrugs, and I follow her into the building. It looks familiar, I think, but I’m pretty sure Sandra wasn’t living here the last time I visited. “Have we met before?” I ask the woman, but she says no, just like I thought.
When we get to Sandra’s apartment, I can tell it's hers by the doormat with the little dog on it that I got her for her first apartment. Luckily the woman has a key, because I can’t remember now if Sandra mailed me one or not, and if she did, where I’d have put it. “I don’t actually live here,” I tell the woman. “I’m just visiting my daughter.”
It’s been almost four years since I’ve seen her last, I wonder if she’ll have changed much. I stand in the doorway, politely thank the woman for coming to meet me. She is looking at me expectantly. I think she wants to be invited in, but I’m hot, tired, just want to find a place to sit down and collect my thoughts which are still in a jumble from sleeping all day. “I’ll just help you get settled,” she says, pushing past me into the unfamiliar hallway. “Keep you company ‘til Sandra gets home.” I sigh, follow her into this house where my daughter lives that I’ve never seen before.
In the living room, I sink into an old embroidered armchair. It curves around me in a familiar way. I think it’s one I gave Sandra a few years back, and I’m glad she's kept it around. I look around the house. I definitely haven’t visited here before. I know its bad of me not to remember if she’d moved since the last visit, but I’m a little long in the tooth now, and the mind plays tricks on you sometimes. Like right now. I can hardly remember the day spent on the long bus ride, the name of this woman sitting kitty-corner to me on the sofa. It’s clear she isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so tired as I am, I start in with the usual chitchat.
Lord, how did I get here, I think, while the woman fans herself and rattles on about the heat. Besides on the bus, I know that. It’s just the rest that isn’t making sense, a jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces will fit together. What am I doing here? I couldn’t have left Michigan today. It must have been longer. I moved since then, I remember now. But after a while, I guess, all the houses sort of blur together, until it doesn’t matter whether the carpet is beige or cream or you live in Minnesota or Alabama.
The pushy woman is blah blahing about family now, but I don’t have any left, I tell her. I was an only child, my parents are long dead now. “Well, you have Sandra,” she says. “And Bill. They’re such nice people that it’s enough for anyone.” She’s right, but it doesn’t explain the nowhere place inside of me, the feeling that nothing’s left. I know Sandra wants me to stay here, live with her, and I could do that. It's just that it’s hard being left floating in the middle, not belonging anywhere.
At this point Michigan seems far away, hazy like the trees outside the large windows. I can barely recall my house there, my little dog. When I was a little girl, because I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, my parents would send me out to the yard with our dog, Rex. Rex was a German Shepard, and watched out for me, I loved Rex more than you could love anything. He was my sibling, my protector, my friend. When I was sad, I’d put my arms around his massive neck and hold tight. I wish I could cry on his hairy mane now, if just to feel the sensation of belonging somewhere again. I have definitely not been here before, I’m sure of it. Where is Sandra? I’m not sure how long we have been sitting here, but already long enough that I can barely remember being on the bus, arriving, meeting this woman, whatever her name is.
There’s a noise in the front hall. A female voice yells in, “We’re home.”
"Who’s that?" I ask the woman.
“Sandra’s home. Your daughter. And Bill, her husband.” Its funny, I didn’t recognize her voice. I get up, and she walks in, a little tired around the eyes, but otherwise not so different than I’d expected. I grab her and hug, hard, holding it all in. A sea of memories floods over me, but I can’t catch any of them long enough to hang on. It’s not home, but maybe I can belong here, for this moment at least, and maybe the one or two after. I look over Sandra’s shoulder to Bill, whom I’ve always liked. He is pushing an old man in a wheelchair. The man doesn't look at me. He doesn't seem to be looking at much of anything. He reminds me of my husband, in a way. But he is on the elderly side of old, much more so than I am now. I’m not sure why the wheelchair man is here, or if I remembered to say goodbye to the red-haired woman, so I look back to Sandra, clasp her hands in mine, and tell her how happy I am to be here.