Been thinking about this one lately.
Published by Down in the Dirt magazine in April 2017, this prose piece haunted me for five years before I wrote it and nine years before it got published.
And now I’m home, and I’m glad I listened.
It’s here. It is sighing and singing for me. I can hear it unfolding itself and laying down, waiting for me to open the door and take it into my arms. But I will not. I am leaving today, and I will not be persuaded to stay, no matter how it whines and whimpers for me.
I will not.
This place is not what it once was. We tore down the memories of the tragedies and built a façade so the tourists don’t know of the brittle bones hiding deep in the closets. We hope the movement of the earth will break our bones. But we are cursed, because if they shatter, they turn into sand, dusty particles that seep into our senses and bleed into our skin.
It is not only the skeletons we can’t bear to see. It is also the ghosts that linger around every bend, in every field and forest, on every mountain top, and in the halls of churches and schools. It is those who pierce into our veins who haunt us. They lurk on back roads and dim-lit street corners, their eyes down and their images blurred.
But they are there.
I wonder if he is still there, still driving past my old home, or sitting in that coffee shop, leaning back with one leg up on the booth and his head tilted back, his bright eyes sparkling as they once did in my direction. If I could lift back the pages of time, I know he would be there, smiling at me without any ill will or accusations. If I could re-write our story, I would change what I said to him and then maybe he would not be a specter in me, a fragment of my life.
But I do not think I’ll hear his voice again, because the only sound here is noise. Trucks bellow their way down our main street; they roll through without looking back at us, or stopping for us, since our coffee shop is now an Italian restaurant. No one born and bred here who still sees the image of a small farming town wants phony Italian food. But the tourists do. They are the only ones who want to stop in our shops, because the gifts we sell are worthless but over-priced, depicting images of what we once were. The shouts to friends no longer come from the other side of the street; they come from strangers in cars passing by, cursing the traffic that now clogs the central artery of the town.
This place is too much for me.
My bags are packed and my car is loaded. I can’t stay here any longer. The trees I had played in are gone. The acres and acres of free fields are developed and built up with people who never knew what once roamed there, who never laid down in the sweet grass of the field and stared at the airplanes buzzing overhead. Those are the fields I had held his hand in. That is the grass that his fingertips touched, those fingers that were stained with all the years of his young life. No, they do not know he was once there.
I stand, for the final time, in the last surviving field my family owned, one that would be cut and divided into lots too small for a yard but big enough for a house. The road leading out of town is so inviting. There is a world beyond this place, one untouched and unmarred by me and the spirits that tag along beside me. I give one final sigh and open my car door, but I feel something creeping . . .
I cock my head to the left. My eyes travel the expanse of my valley, across the mountain tops, into the waters of the lake, into those green fields whose seeds have not yet left me. I want to shut my ears to the freight train of longing, waiting to drag me back down its tracks. I do not want to hear it calling me back.
I do not want to be carried home.
I stand there in silence, because I know it is coming.
The wind sweeps from the edge of the valley; it rolls in like the tide and gathers every ghost into its outstretched arms. They glide along within its grasp, stretched and sprawled, larger than life and not life at all, but a heart pulses inside it. I feel it approaching me although I cannot see it. But I hear it. I brace myself for the roar and the growl and the ferocity of the phantoms inside it, but it reaches me as a calm before any storm does, like a warm whisper. It simply slips into my hair, lifting the locks away from my ears, and whispers to me, asking me to listen.