The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 22, No. 3

Past Coming Home

by David Hayden

Where the garden was stands a startled hand. A naked tree deep in snow.
    Janie has stopped in front of the doorstep shivering in her summer dress, her feet bare, purple and blue. She carries white heels in a plastic bag. A boy shuffles past flapping his dirty laces and drumming on his school bag. Janie shrinks forward expecting to be noticed. Nothing is said.
    When the boy is gone she leans to the door. The works and the wires of the bell have been torn out so she lifts the foxtail knocker, there is a creak, and she brings it down with a crack.
    Nothing happens.
    “Rob. Rob. Let me in . . . Let me in, you bastard.”
    Rob, sitting in his chair far back in the gloom, looks through the gauzy drape at his wife. She is standing, a long time back, with her eyes closed leaning against the red brick wall of the hotel, her head inclined to the gentle, reaching sun, one folded arm raising her breasts, the free hand holding an unlit cigarette, the thumb absently tapping the base of the filter. Two of the other commis, one fat, one dark, are next to her chatting and smoking.
    Rob stands gazing at her, seeing more and new, thinking, This could be endless.
    The boys look at Rob. They smoke up and come over. The dark one holds Rob’s elbow for a moment and mutters: “Fall in, mate.”
    “She’s all yours,” says the fat one, who pushes past.
    The girl lights her cigarette and breathes in. Her eyes close again.
    Rob walks to her and stops. She flickers but stays shuttered. He can see the blue tip of a bird’s wing, delicate feathers inked and fresh on her breast. He imagines the rest of the bird—the bluebird—flying, not nested. He supposes the feeling of holding the bird, the breast, the girl, the breast, the bird.
    He thinks of openings.
    “I know who you are.” Sinister.
    “I went to school with your cousin.” The girl who set fire to the teacher’s car.
    “Aren’t you going out with Darren?” The fat one. Not anymore, it seems.
    “Do you swim in the sea?”
    She smiles.
    “This sea? It’s not clean, is it?”
    “It’s the only sea we’ve got.”
    She takes a minute to concentrate on finishing her cigarette, burning it down to the filter.
    “I have to go back in. See you later?”
    “Yes. I will. Can I?”
    She laughs and holds out a plain hand, which he takes.
    The sea turns white. The hotel falls away and outside, in the cold, is a woman. Rob stares long before recognizing his wife.

“Rob. It was what you thought. I’m all over it now. I don’t want to be anywhere anymore, Rob. I just want to be home.”

In that earlier time, love of Janie had overtaken Rob and remade every part of him: his distractedness; his aimless, churning anger; his mother love; his inner voice; his eye for distance and proximity; his mental numbering; the sudden realization of self that he felt on breathing the cold, pungent air of the fell forest. He walked and talked and gestured the same but it was all changed from the inside, lighter but more solid, shaded but side-lit from a hidden source, a love that could never be fallen from.
    Immediately, naturally, he wanted to join with her, but most of all Rob needed her to break away the dry mud of his body and find the solitary life buried inside, to take this raw, bright stone into her mouth and hide it in her darkness, where he would never, never, never be dead-alive again.

Rob cannot see her anymore, cannot see the chair or the room. He is elsewhere, below a sun with the fuzz and color of a peach, above a city meadow made festive with the cries of children playing happily. On a blanket Rob and Janie are into each other, keeping quiet until they have finished. At the moment that they are most present to one another each vanishes, but together—they are nothing together for as long as it happens. The world comes back in trembling, and they fold back in whispering.

To read the rest of this story, and others from the Fall 2018 issue, please purchase a copy from our online store.