“Are you going to get out?” the taxi driver asks me. It’s a great question. Relevant, normal, unavoidable… a bit like reality, I think, pressing my hands against my face.
“Just give me a minute. I’ll pay you extra.” I glance at that all-too-familiar brown-bricked house. My home… My home. The word just doesn’t come out naturally anymore. It feels processed, like a generic potato chip buried inside a couch.
“What’s wrong?” the driver asks. His name’s Jerome. During the thirty-five minute drive from the Cleveland Airport to my home in Cuyahoga Falls, I’ve learned that he has four kids and used to box professionally: “Until my knees gave out… plus, you know how the missus might feel, getting your face busted in week after week.” And the one thing he enjoys is getting people from place to place safely.
But here he is, staring at me as if we’d been best friends for years. “Hey, buddy, what’s the matter?”
I look away and take a deep breath. I skip all the re-living going on in my head and just give him the bottom line. “I haven’t been home in five years.”
“This is your home? Your parents?”
“Well, you called ‘em, right? It ain’t a big deal if you called ‘em.”
I shake my head and stare at the house that kept me alive as a child. Dad must have put some metal railings in for the front porch stairs. Patches of the grass had died in the front lawn. The green swing set hasn’t been touched, and weeds are trying to overtake it.
They don’t even know I’m out here. For five years I’ve lived with a community of forty Inuits on a small island named Attu and learned how to hunt blue fox and turn salt water into something drinkable. We fished along the Aleutians, and after a storm I sat on the deck and marveled at how beautiful the sky had become. I even fell in love with a girl named Padiya, who taught me their language, but, despite my effort, passed away from pneumonia.
“What are you going to tell them?” Jerome asks.
“Um… well, if one of my kids didn’t talk to me for five years I’d beat the snot out of him.”
I smile. A part of me wants that reaction. It’s the part I’ve let run wild, ever since graduating college. I want to go into the house and let my parents just beat the living hell out of me. I want them to say, “What you’re feeling now will never compare to what you put us through!”
Jerome clears his throat. He’s finished his coffee and I can tell he’s getting restless. “Why’d you come back anyway?”
I’m shivering off and on, even though it’s hot. It’s like a battle inside me. I want to say that living on the edge is all I need. I want to keep believing in the search, the hunt, the adventure, the ideal, but somewhere along the way, the colors changed. “At night, I can’t sleep,” I tell Jerome. “I keep seeing Mom and Dad, and they’re crying. And I just can’t, you know… I just can’t.”
Jerome nods for a while. He clears his throat, wipes his lips, then nods again. “Guilt…” he says softly. He gets out of the car and walks toward my parents’ door. Something in my chest twists. I watch Jerome knock on their door, and I see that he’s left the keys in the ignition. It comes back like rolling thunder, like a fishing boat caught inside a storm, or the thrill of spotting a blue fox behind a tree trunk, or speaking to a lover in a language you don’t completely understand.
I hop into the front seat and roll down the window. “Make sure to say I love them,” I shout, then floor it down the road I once walked as a kid, back when I thought I’d live forever.
Patrick Parr‘s previous work has appeared in Byline, Every Day Fiction, Dark Sky Magazine, The Storyteller, and Amazon Shorts. He currently lives with his wife in Ellensburg, Washington and works as an ESL Lecturer for Central Washington University. He also contributes to The Nervous Breakdown.