The Miles from Here to Home
You wake to the dawn light as cold as winter. There’s frost on the ground, and there’s frost around the collar of the old tweed coat that keeps you from death some tough nights. The ground is aglitter. Sunrise promises sun, as pure and pale as mixed gold and snow. You breathe in the beauty at the same time you breathe in the ice.
Your feet are wrapped in rags, because the shoes gape with holes. And you catch a glimpse of yourself in the reflective surface of an office-complex window. For a little while you see what they see – failure writ large, ugliness on an epic scale; and not just your scars but your lank, greasy hair; a face smeared with dirt and scratches, and lined with all these hard years. Is this you? Yes, but how did it become you? Isn’t that what really matters?
You remember that it’s your birthday.
And you remember a time when you were all dressed in white and when you said ‘I do’ and you meant it with all your heart. And okay, he did too. And he was gorgeous, and bright like the sun, and always giving you things and telling you how beautiful you were, and if he could see you now and see what you’ve become and see the ugliness inside and out… You don’t know why he left, but you imagine sometimes that he looked into future and saw this image in all its horror and didn’t want to be married to it.
Chicken-Egg though? Chicken-Egg?
He always liked shiny things. After the accident, once you were no longer shiny...
You know about a bakery where the guy who works the mornings might give you a couple of stale croissants, or maybe the end of a loaf of bread, not quite big enough to make a whole loaf. He’s affable and awkward, trying too hard to convince you both that he sees you as something other than sad and slightly monstrous. But at least he does try. And at least the hard croissants fill that empty pain in your gut.
He’s not here today though. Instead there’s the young, white-haired guy. And he sees you and his face screws in unedited revulsion. “You move along,” he says, “you move along or I will call the cops.”
So you move along.
Later in the morning there are TVs all playing in a shop window. You stop to watch. And there are four American children – you can tell, you can see the difference – all walking up to a big old villa. And that villa, you’ve seen it before, not in reality, not that one, but another one. So much the same. You grew up in it. You were promising, you were going to make something out of your life. You were going to make them proud.
You wonder if they tell people you’re dead.
Through the door, four teenagers, into a kitchen that’s so reminiscent, into a kitchen where there’s pancakes being made, and maple syrup being swirled on them, and bananas, and a sauce that might be made of cherries. At home your mum would have been swooping a cheery pie out of the oven, and the radio would be playing too loud, and there’d be all of you talking at once. Heaven should be something like that.
At the shelter you can take a shower. A big line of showers, with no personal privacy, and the water is lukewarm sometimes, a bit less than that at other times. And you keep your bag of remaining possessions always within reach, even as the soap flows down, and you see the ravages of time and circumstance up close and confronting. Did you do this to yourself? You can’t even remember. You can’t even remember why you’re like this now.
You put on the new clothes you picked up at the op-shop where they looked at you like you shouldn’t be in there. You don’t know if you can brush all that mess out of your hair, so you just hack most of it out of the way with scissors. You count the money you’ve hollowed yourself out for – sitting quietly in a corner, eyes down, whispering ‘change, please’ to strangers as they walked past. This is enough. You think: this is just enough.
Lunch is scrambled eggs on old toast. You eat as much as you can. You wonder if they’ll notice if you go back for more. Please, sir…
You don’t know if they’ll welcome you with open arms. You don’t know if they’ll slam the door in your face. Where you’ll keep going to if the do. But you know this: you’re young enough to start again, you’re young enough to give life a second chance, to let it give you one. You know: Enough! This is no way to live, and if you let it, it’ll become no way to die.
So you wait at the bus stop. You sit in the highbacked seat and watch the road go by, and the city slide out of view. You watch the grass snap by, and the sheep graze in the fields. At the bus stop you wrap your new scarf around your neck, try to tidy your hair. And you walk those three blocks to where the villa is waiting, where you think it’ll be the way you remember it.
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work