I never knew much in the way of coming home. Not in the way that I feel like other people mean it.
When others say it, it seems to imply there’s someone there.
My youth had been spent coming home to a house that was often silent. Empty in its own odd way, even when people were there. I was never really home…even when I was there.
It was a world of strangers living mutually. A shared existence with basic, civil pleasantries to connect all the dots so that the string spelled out the word “family” in about the same was as the constellation for Cancer actually looks like a fucking crab.
Years later, my time had been spent alone.
I feel like I can always remember all the people that left, but none that stayed there waiting.
Whatever sorrow those thoughts might have normally instilled, they were crushed immediately by who was waiting this time.
I could hear the cigarette grind into my table even from the living room. I walked in like a dog that’d beaten too many times but also knew when to come when commanded.
My kitchen table wore a slew of burns like a pyromaniac polka dots. I couldn’t remember how there’d gotten to be so many. Even looking around my home, things seemed…off. As though time had shot forward without me knowing about it. I looked outside through a window and it looked much the same as it had when I’d entered.
“Sit,” he said.
I moved, but slowly.
“Sit. The fuck. Down.” he said with the tone of a man who would not say it a third time.
I sat, head down, eyes averted.
“I like to save this talk,” he said casually as he pressed another cigarette into the table, though I never recall him lighting it. “I’ve found that if I say too much too soon, everything gets fucked up. Better to let them wander out into the world and step in shit before I tell them to watch where they’re walking. They come back, shit on their shoes, and they have this look like I set them up to fail. You think I set you up to fail?”
I shook my head, but never looked up.
“Of course you do. But now we can have our little heart to heart. We can answer some of those questions that you want to ask but you can’t because you’re like that guy in the Matrix when the agent gets him into interrogation,” he blew out a billow of smoke, “I mean, not literally. You still have a mouth. Kevin something…”
I looked up at that.
“Here’s the abridged version. First, no, I’m not the devil. You think Bill Gates is still giving interviews? No. He isn’t. Secondly,” he stood up from the couch and walked toward the flat screen TV, his reflection barely visible under the dust.
I put my hands down as if I were falling, fingers sinking into soft cushions in the recliner. I had no idea when we’d changed rooms.
“You’re not a superhero. It’s fifty-fifty. Get these idiots that think they’re that guy from Die Hard or that lady from the vampire movie. The one that always wears the leather…brunette…”
“Kate Beckinsale,” I said…regrettably. The static was worse than before. It physically hurt this time, like a tumbleweed made of syringes and ball bearings was rolling around inside a skull made of rusted metal.
“ot ko atni mod ve,” the static seemed to say. A slurred and grinding sound like a snake speaking latin through a walkie talkee.
“Third, there’s no winning, and trying to game the system doesn’t work. You think you’re the only one that thought he could ride this out in a cell?”
He took a sip of his coffee while the waitress walked away.
The diner was sparse, a few random people scattered in booths and on barstools. The smell of cigarettes and cheap coffee as thick as perfume on a hooker before her first John.
“Fouth. No one knows you. No one ever will. This face isn’t yours.”
He was shoving a cigarette into the kitchen table. The whole top was more burn mark than glossy wood. I was standing by the doorway, the world outside looked so much like it did before I’d entered.
“Fifth, and this is the most important thing of all,” he said with his hand on the doorknob. I watched him in his delayed departure from the table where a crumpled up cigarette let off phantom lines of old smoke from its freshly terminated life. “Everyone thinks it’s about the big fish.”
When I looked down I saw an envelope on a table that had seen better days. The sort of thing that should have been hauled off to a dump three yard sales ago. Some piece of refuse in a house that only a homeless man would be squatting in.
I couldn’t remember when I’d gotten there. I knew I needed to get home.
I opened the envelope as I walked the dark city streets. The light was sharp enough that I could read the words plain as day.
Carol Rose Nichols
5191 87th Street