Go Home, Son, Your War Is Over
By Robert John Miller
Michael drove through the crispness of an unusually cool August afternoon, windows down, a preview of the too-few weeks in the coming autumn, down Stellhorn Road, turned away from the interstates, out by corn fields, down past a bowling alley and a cemetery, turned back toward a state road, stopped paying attention in an attempt to get lost in his own hometown but unconsciously pulled into his parents' driveway, and parked. He was back for good, or at least for a while, partly because he was finished and partly because he had nothing else to do. He could get a job. He would get a job. He was proud of what he'd done but also not, and was looking for a place to fit, or at least earn money.
He jiggled his key into the deadbolt, pulled the door toward him, jiggled the key slightly out of the deadbolt, made the bolt finally click, cranked a few times on the handle, and walked into the house. No one was home despite it being a Sunday, the paper spread across the table, the coffee carafe half full. He picked the same cup out of the cabinet that he had always picked, filled it, added a slug of watered-down whiskey from the cabinet above the refrigerator. He knew it was watered-down because he was the one who had added the water, in high school, the bottle still at the same level it had always been, half full. He poured another shot to compensate, slurped, enjoyed the buzz and the burn and the relaxed awareness. He made another, and another, and read the headlines. The news he wanted was buried in the back, the pages stuck together, some of them slightly uncut. The photo above the front fold was of a child playing in a fountain.
He walked down the hall and into his boyhood bedroom, untouched except that the floor was clean and the shelves had been dusted. He opened his closet, home to a number of boxes, things packed up for no obvious reason, perhaps sentimental value or the thought that he might want them again, eventually. He pulled off the lid of the first box, and then another, and another, and poked through. He found a bag of plastic flies; bank statements from five bank name changes ago; his first drumstick; his first beer bottle; coupons won at after-prom but never redeemed; a newspaper from the capture of Saddam; world maps that included the USSR; Pez dispensers; fast food toys from the early 1990s; a plastic hot pink wallet; the Konami handheld game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Splinter Speaks; a small envelope labeled simply, "Extra Buttons;" a children's bamboo flute; penny collection books dating from 1921; his first camera, duct taped together, unexposed film inside; a parachuting figurine, with parachute; numerous keychains, complete with keys; a pen that shot rubber darts; notes from seventh grade girls that made him feel vaguely pedophilic, since they were notes to a him that he no longer was.
He felt he was somehow invading his own privacy, so many references to people and things of whom he had no recollection. He repacked all the boxes.
He left again. Out clean.
Robert John Miller's work has recently appeared in Camroc Press Review, Bartleby Snopes, and the August He lives in the Midwest. You can read more at http://bobsoldout.com. Contact Bob.