The houses on the street you grew up on are swaying. Mr. Wright’s big blue house on the corner is rocking back and forth like it has set sail across a stormy ocean, twelve-year-old Madeline’s treehouse dipping into the earth of the Peterson’s backyard next door. Her Barbie dolls, long forgotten, are landing in the tulips, raining down like hail into the fertile soil that Betsy Peterson digs into at the beginning of every November to plant the bulbs.
The sidewalk is uneven and never seems to end, and you keep stumbling across the spot in the road where Amy Berkovitz ran over Ed Sullivan’s dog in 2007, again and again, and it almost looks like the blood splatter is still there. The dog yelped once and then was silenced, and you remember because you were there, on your tricycle, with your mother rushing up behind you to cover your eyes. She kept saying that it was going to be okay. It was the first time you’d ever seen anything die.
It’s eight in the morning. Jimmy Rousch bikes past you with his fiery red hair, inherited from his father, his sweatshirt, also inherited from his father, flapping high in the wind, just grazing your face. He’s doing the paper route, just like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. Just like every day. He throws a paper in the direction of the driveway to your left. You reach out to touch the paper with your hand, but it passes you. Jimmy Rousch shoots you a mean look and bikes away.
You walk past the brick house, the only one of its kind on the street, where the Johnsons lived for six years before Cousin Jeffrey died of a heroin overdose in the middle of February, where the Harthworths live now. Twenty-year-old Kelsey Harthworth is on the front porch, knitting a sweater for the body growing in her belly. You wave and the bricks jump around her and she waves back, buck-toothed grin on her face. You try to remember what she looked like before the weight of her pregnancy rounded her edges, but all that comes to mind is her overflowing body and a rotten peach, oozing nectar onto her breasts.
You regain your balance against the stop sign, where you committed your first crime, spray painting a black X over the octagonal shape when you were fourteen and impressing your peers was all you dreamed of doing. It was slated to be scraped cleaned for years, but ended up being replaced altogether after that jackass Neil Broman hit it with his car while he was learning to parallel park. The home owner’s association never found out it was you who vandalized it.
Taking steps as though you are swimming through a river with a bag of stones tied to each hip, you cross the street and start walking down the other side, past seven-year-old Nathaniel Sharpe’s lemonade stand. He tries to call for your attention, but his voice sounds wobbly in your ears and the thought of lemonade brings bile up to the back of your throat. You look back for a second and the kid looks upset, his face lopsided, his silky black hair in his eyes. You see your gaunt figure mirrored in his glasses. You swallow the bile and keep walking.
The next three houses look identical to each other: same blue mailboxes, same rosebush hedges, same muddied white porches. The first holds the Grubers, a family of seven, living paycheck to paycheck. You used to tutor the oldest daughter, Mariah, in math, until she ran away from home. The second holds an elderly couple, Marie and Hubert Smyth, two lovebirds who have lived on this street since before you were even a concept. The final house in this trio holds one man, Lyle Haymore, a musician. This is where you spent your days in high school, in the basement of the Haymore house with your buddies, smoking bud and drinking beer. Now a “For Sale” sign sits in the front yard.
You stumble down the last few feet of sidewalk before it ends, and you’re standing in front of a massive red house with a sun porch and a snaking driveway. The first time you saw this house, you were five. Your parents walked you and Debbie down the driveway and showed you through the front door. You have never felt as safe as you did inside that house, inside that life. Now you’re twenty-seven and alone and the whole neighborhood is a magnitude five earthquake and you’re wondering what it really means to go home.
Kaitlyn Crow is an undergraduate student at Longwood University. Her works have been published at Apeiron Review, Vagabond City Literary Journal, and Bluestockings Magazine.
The Flexible Persona was founded in 2013. We are an independent home for emerging and established writers and poets.