An excerpt from a book I wrote once, one that will never be published. It just never came together. However, I like this piece and thought I'd share it. In a way, it has a life of its own and I wanted to give it a little air:
Picture source: Pixabay
JR Comes Home
A checkered cab deposited him at the corner of forty-third and ninth. He slipped an army duffel over his shoulder and started to walk the half block to his parents’ apartment.
“Welcome home, soldier, why be alone? Let's be friends, for a while...," JR turned to the woman who whispered this greeting. In the halo of the street light her face reflected a weary sincerity that years of night work had failed to extinguish.
“Don’t matter where you been, what you seen, I’ll make it better..."
JR searched in his pocket. “For your greeting,” he murmured to the woman, as he handed her a crisp bill.
The dry cleaners beneath his parents’ apartment was closed, as were all the stores along Ninth Avenue. Only parking lot attendants and shadowy figures bore witness to his return.
He climbed three flights to the apartment, taking the stairs two at a time, a habit established long ago in childhood. He had never lived anywhere else, until he was sent to Vietnam, and yet he did not have a sense of coming home.
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There was a sign on the third floor landing - Welcome Home, JR. He knew that writing, recognized its total lack of affectation.
His mother opened the door as he reached it.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph. You’re back.” Her long arm unfolded from its bony elbow and a willowy, etched hand found its way to his brow. JR allowed his mother’s hand to rest there a moment before he bent down and kissed her.
She was the same. Thick white hair. Pale soft skin drawn like a wrinkled canvas over high cheekbones. His mother embraced old age. No moisturizers or hair dyes cluttered her medicine cabinet and for at least twenty years she had adopted as her house dress shapeless shifts in blue and pink pastel.
“There’s corned beef waiting for you. And cabbage. Not the like you’ve seen, I’ll bet, for a year.” She placed her palm gently on his back.
He didn’t ask for his father, but she felt the need to explain.
“Your father would have been here, but we weren’t certain about the time, and you know how he can’t sit still.” Unless he’s on a bar stool. Then he sits as still as petrified wood.
“I’m tired anyway. Just wanted to see you and sleep in my own bed.”
“Have something to eat before you turn in. I bought Guinness, special for you.”
He laughed, at the Guinness. Nobody ate anything in his family without washing it down with brew.
“Thanks, Ma, but I really just want to get to bed. Everything will taste better tomorrow.”
And then the silence. Even now, after all the lost time, things he couldn’t say crowded out what he wanted to say.
“Well, good night Ma.” One thought they shared but neither of them would express: he wanted to be out of the way before his father came in.
JR was asleep when a familiar fumbling at the front door and stumbling over furniture roused him. Cursing punctuated the disturbance in the living room. JR’s father opened the bedroom door.
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“JR, you son of a bitch. They let you out. Bet you showed those bastards how an American fights.” The words were corrupted by a night of heavy drinking.
“I see you celebrated already.” As soon as he said it, JR knew he shouldn’t have. A year away from home and he had become careless. But, suddenly, he realized he wasn’t careless. He simply didn’t care.
“You got something to say to me boy? You come home to my house and lay in a bed I pay for and you got something to say to me?” He lurched toward JR and fell over the duffle on the floor, landing on top of his son.
JR pushed the dead weight off. His mother was at the door, rushing to make peace. A lifetime of watching his mother make peace and JR had enough. He got out of bed as his mother bent over her drunken husband. The man cursed and pushed his wife away, so that she fell next to him.
JR grabbed his father’s arm.
“You drunk bastard. Touch her again, ever again, and I’ll forget you’re my father. Not she, or anybody else, will be able to protect you.”
JR gathered his clothes from the chair and picked up his duffle. He pulled his pants on, hurriedly buttoned his shirt, slipped into his shoes and called over his shoulder before he closed the front door. “Ma, I’ll be in touch.”
He was halfway down the block before he remembered the toiletries that were still in his mother’s bathroom. A taxi brought him to one of the mid-town hotels that cater to foreign tourists and the street trade. The hallway reeked of communal living. Inside the room the stench intensified.
JR placed his duffel on a booze-stained rug and rested his head on a yellowing pillow. Sleep came eventually and with it a dream, which incorporated muffled noises from neighboring rooms, cigarette smoke, endless gunfire and the brilliant glow of exploding light.