A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 3

Step Back

I was married and had two kids of my own now. I lived in a pleasant Catonsville suburb of Baltimore, but I remembered what it was like living in the city as a boy. I remembered some of my old childhood friends, seeing their faces along with the face of that pathetic boy who'd been in my car with me that night, while walking the wet blocks of Little Italy as I returned to my car. For some reason that chance meeting had stirred something inside of me that had been sleeping for years. What had happened to my friends? Where were they now? Where was he? Why had he gotten into my car?

Instead of driving straight out Eastern Avenue to the parkway and home, I turned left, going through the middle of Patterson Park, going back in time and into my old neighborhood for the first time since leaving it behind me. Every block had its own memory, and my mind visited each one of them.

When I came back to reality, I was sitting in front of the row house where I lived. My mother lived in the suburbs of Dundalk now, having met Stan after I was out of the house. Someone else was living in the house where I was raised, looking from the window where life unfolded for me for most of my earliest memories.

I left home shortly after graduating from high school. My mother had stayed in the house until she married Stan, but I'd never come back to the house. I'd seen once after she moved. She called wanting to see her grandchildren; Little Tommy was three by then and Amy was five. She didn't say how she knew where I was or how she knew I had children, and I never asked.

There had been no conversation about meeting more often. There were no questions about where in the hell I'd been for ten years. I thought she had seen one of my bylines from one of my articles that had appeared in papers around the area. It just didn't seem important to me at the time. My mother hadn't changed, and I'd left home because I didn't like her.

As soon as she appeared that day, I couldn't wait for her to leave. It surprised me when I found out I really hated my mother. There was the can of holy water ever present as a reminder of the distance between us. I now found the smell of Budweiser almost intolerable. We nodded hello, maintaining our distance. I suspected my mother liked me no more than I liked her.

I guess, deep inside, I'd hoped for some kind of reconciliation. The visit had failed to bring back a single pleasant memory of my mother. She was always my adversary and some things don't change. She was there to inspect my reproductive talent, no more, and never again. I was thankful my own children didn't know her. In keeping with my life at home, I'd never mentioned their grandfather, but they knew they had a grandmother, and here was the proof.

My father had been killed after falling from a scaffold where he was working, dying instantly one October day. I was almost seven and the man of the house. I never really knew him and then there came the day they told me he'd never come home again. I thought I missed him at first but I decided I was mistaken. By the time I was ten I was sure I'd had a father, being the biological evidence of that fact, but after his burial he hadn't been mentioned.

Looking up at my bedroom window as I sorted through random memories, I had no idea how many times I'd looked down from there to see who was out playing baseball or roller hockey on the street. Timmy, Earl, and Keith were boys I was inseparable from as a child, but Keith became my best friend, as I grew older. The fact he was almost two years older made our friendship far better for me than it was for him. Being friend to the toughest jock on the block was cool. Keith was two years older but only a year ahead of me in school. It allowed us to remain close until he finally graduated, leaving for the military on the same day.

I'd done the same as Keith. I hadn't joined the military but I had found a job and a place near where I intended to go to college. I left the house the day I got my diploma in my hand. I knew I would make enough money to put myself through school, and everything went according to plan. I'd hardly looked back on my childhood or my friends, but suddenly I was sitting in front of a house I had all but forgotten about.

I wasn't sure what was wrong with me. I wasn't particularly sentimental, and my life had gone in a single straight line since leaving high school and my neighborhood. I'd never looked back and that created a situation where I didn't know what had happened to my friends. On the day of my mother's visit, I got my only clue.

"That boy you hung around with. That frizzy haired blond kid?"

"Keith," I said.

"Came looking for you right after you left."

"What did you tell him, mom?"

"Tell him? I didn't know from Adam. That's what I told him. He didn't seem surprised you would just take off. He had on a uniform of some kind."

"Army," I said.

"I suppose," she said, throwing her head back to empty the can.

I hadn't much cared. I mean it was ancient history. I'd lived over half my life away from there by then. We were all grown men, different people, and so I let it go. They were all in my past and I had a future to make. It was the only time I'd given any thought to them and to what might have happened to them.

My mother died before I got the job at the Baltimore Sun and long before my first book sold. She left this life still thinking her son was a fool and a failure, fishing for dreams he'd never catch. In the end my inability to prove myself to her was painful to me though I'd never admit it. I wanted to show her. I needed to show her, but even in this she had denied me, and so I denied her, not going to her funeral, and never mentioning her again, and I'd refused to think about her until now.

I drove back down through the middle of Patterson Park and out of my neighborhood. When I arrived at Eastern Avenue, I turned right toward town instead of going out to the Interstate. I drove through the lights listening to the water sizzling on my tires. The rain had stopped but the streets were still wet and glistened with the remnants of the rain.

I cruised slowly down the empty street toward the center of town until I passed the storefront where I'd last seen the boy. What was he doing out there? He was only fourteen or fifteen, maybe sixteen. Where had he gone and why did I still remember his face? Who was he? What was he doing out there? Didn't he know the dangers?

I couldn't forget those sad blue eyes, the dirty face, faded jeans, torn jean jacket and the dirty nails on the hand that locked my car door once he had accepted my rejection of him. Was that what was bothering me? Rejection had always been hard on me? I'd not dealt with any rejection at all in years. Maybe with my writing but I rationalized that away. I was paying my dues, and they had been paid.

Was I reacting to my fear of him? Was my cowardice the issue here? He'd startled me. I had no idea it was a boy. It was logical to think he wanted to rob me. It was logical for me to want to protect my work that had taken a year to complete. What had he thought of me? Had he seen my fear? Of course he had, he tried to reassure me. He needed money but he wasn't there to rob me. How curious was that?

I sat on the far side of the street watching as a few people walking on the street near the store, but he wasn't there. I circled the block as I had earlier in the evening. There were parking spaces everywhere, when I wasn't looking for a parking space and what I was looking for wasn't there. I drove down past Anthony's but it was well after eleven and there were few people still circulating. Most restaurants had the front doors propped open as cleaning crews got them ready for the next day's clientele.

Had he been real or had he been some apparition sent to disrupt my life? And even if he were an apparition, why was that past, which had so neatly been placed behind me, come back on me in such an uncomfortable way. I took care of my wife, my kids, my obligations. I was a good person. A bit wrapped up in my own life and my own career, but someone that cared and gave his all to everything he did, even when it was obsessing about things that made no sense.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead