A couple of years ago, I decided to enter a short story competition offered through Writer’s Digest. The prompt was: You return to the house where you grew up, only to learn it has been condemned.
Interesting topic, so I brushed off my short story writing chops and sent one in. There were over 800 entries and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even come close with mine, but it was still fun to enter!The winning entry was amazing and you can read it here.
Here’s my attempt:
The day Mama died, I set aside money to buy a bus ticket home.
It took me eight years to use it.
My ugly green telephone was ringing when I unlocked the door to my tiny apartment. Tossing my dirty apron over the only chair, I grabbed the receiver on the fourth ring, resting the headset between my shoulder and cheek.
Aunt Judi’s voice crackled across the distance from Missouri to New York.
“Virginia, honey, it’s gotten real bad.”
And, that’s when I knew I had to go home. He needed me. Damn.
Twenty-six hours and four transfers later, I stepped off the bus onto the cracked pavement of my hometown, my back in spasms from the ride. Hasn’t changed much, I mused, looking up and down the quiet street. Like most small towns, the business had followed the artery of the highway and grown up far from where the town originated, leaving the old buildings lining Main Street filled with tattoo parlors and kitschy shops. I glanced in the direction of the old high school and reflexively put my head down amid the taunts of “white trash” echoing from my past. I gathered my worn bag and threw it over my shoulder. I would have to start walking now if I wanted to make it there by dark. Pointing my scuffed tennis shoes south, I settled into the comfortable pace of a body that runs food for a living.
It felt strange being back here, walking past the same fields and houses I watched from the school bus window so many years ago. I used to pretend that I had a friend – a white horse with a flowing silver mane and tail that would run alongside the bus in the fields, dipping down into ditches and popping back up through the dust billowing out from under the tires on the gravel road. He would nicker and I would feel happy, at least on my way to school. My friend never followed me all the way home, though. I don’t think he wanted to be there either.
I munched on a banana as I walked, the warm autumn breeze tinged on the edges with the promise of winter blowing through my long hair. I felt my stomach knot around the fruit as I walked onto the one lane bridge and caught sight of the back of our property. Tossing the peel into the muddy creek, I watched it bob up and down in the current before it disappeared around the curve. I thought back to my first date. We hit seventy in his Thunderbird going over the bridge, fishtailing and throwing loose gravel when we came down on the other side. I remember looking over and thinking that he could be the one, with his catching smile and wild sense of humor. He could be the one to get me out of this town. And, I considered as I walked, I suppose he had; in a way. After two years of marriage, a broken nose and three broken ribs, he had been the push behind my move out of state. I snorted, running my tongue over my cracked tooth. Yeah, it’s funny how things turn out.
Crickets chirped as the trees turned brilliant orange in the setting sun. I took a deep breath and rounded the curve, walking up alongside the broken picket fence. Once pristine and white, now I had to step over whole sections that had been blown over in the wind and left to succumb to the weeds in the ditch. As I crested the hill, I saw it. The roof of my childhood home peeked out from behind a mountain of junk. A flush rose to my face as I turned right and picked my way through what used to be a driveway but now was a parking lot for vehicles in varying stages of The Rust Death. Stepping onto the front porch, I found the front door buried beneath stacks of newspapers and boxes.
“Condemned: this property unfit for human habitation,” I read, my hand resting on the blistering paint of the doorjamb. I heard objects shifting inside and a bottle breaking.
“Who’s out there?”
I shoved the door open a crack and trash poured out. I sighed.
“It’s me, Daddy.”