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The Homecoming

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The Homecoming

by Pete O'Brien

Maintenance

Nothing fancy

Just proper care daily

I've never been very poetic. I thought those lines would make a fine poem. See what I mean?

Sometimes I feel so beat up, so full, unable to speak, unable to think through the news of the day, forget the news, not that, a sort of lullaby for the mind? No! Not that either. I'm sort of hanging on to the thought that. No! Not that! And in a little while, maybe! Then! But. No! I will slow down and try to make some sense. I'm not young anymore. The slightest thing rips me through. My body is nothing if not a piece of paper ripped all over, the pieces hanging on by the thinnest of margins, the edges, the folds, the stains, Not like a piece-of-paper body of a youth, a guy, a man who, before he reaches 35 can do so much, can do anything really, that now, to be him, to be that young, I must do trampoline practice on the page. I write all over the torn page of me, to become the youth that I still am! Yes! 72! And still alive, by some miracle of fabrication? Eh? But you see whatever I say is off by 220 degrees! And. What? What! I tell you, this isn't the way to go about it. I am here after all. I must resign myself to my years, I must agree to be old and proceed as if I knew what I was doing. Oh. But the times! And the news! The body! The dance that is to me what? What is dance to the aged? You know? To me! The dance! I was going to write about it, to clear up the matter. Writing gets the head to know a thing. Those aren't the words. What is the sky? A deeper cleavage of cascades? No! Nonsense! Just words pouring out, but my arm hurts. I hurt it the other day, it discolors my words and phrases? What? What? What! Okay. I give up.

It was supposed to be easy. Follow the instructions. Do everything fast to override the censor. Outrun the mind of analysis and judgment. The last thing? No. Two things. One. It must be done in two pages, whatever that rule meant. And Two, you were, or I was, to be a guy by the name of Leopold.

I admit it. I am he. I am Leopold. He, him.


After the initial rush, the only thing left to keep everything going from start to finish, the only thing present to make something out of nothing, was a form of willpower. A simple will. But the idea was lost. So the forms loosened and collapsed in a heap.

Leopold was left sitting in a corner of the room. All the details that once were had turned to a sloppy mess that covered the whole floor. He was covered with the stuff.

"I need help," he said to the walls.

But this time there was no answer. In the past, if nothing came, he would accept it. He would lean into the emptiness. And then after a time an answer came.

He tried it again. But he was so tired! He had failed. Whatever was supposed to happen in two pages over two weeks was not going to happen this time. For that matter it was even possible he had slipped into a novel (he had heard that it too had been reduced to a puddle of slop by the demon of fatigue and confusion).

"But what am I to do?" he protested. "I am a man, I have introduced myself as a man, not a woman. I have said my pronouns. Therefore, it is clear I am a product of 2023, and I should be cleared to continue. You all know who I am, and where I stand. All are welcome here. I'm as tired as a bat. It's no wonder they sleep in caves all the time. It's what I'd do! I'm as tired as that!"

No response. Nothing but the beating of a heart.

It was a large heart. It was a large beating heart.

What should he do?

The greatest enemy of the story is the presence of a person who has no will or who can't seem to find it. Everything depends on him. He must act. Or he is lost. And the world is lost with him.

"I am lost! I must act!" cried Leopold.

"I am lost! I must act!" I cried. For I was Leopold.

I jumped to my feet. I brushed off my pants, I ran about the empty room. I discovered it had no door. The level of slop was rising, I was swimming in it now. I knew how to swim. That was lucky. My uncle had me take lessons when I was a boy. It was one of his best gifts to me! The level of the liquid in the doorless room rose and rose. I looked up and realized the room had no ceiling, the liquid slop once it reached the top of the compartment would spill over the sides, and I would find myself in Barbados.

In a little while then, I tumbled over the edge of the container, and there I was, in Barbados. I caught a glimpse of a pair of canvas high top sneakers.

Except I knew nothing of Barbados, so I wished for a change of location, and was granted a change. I had to call it in and wait for the flight.

So I stepped off the plane and into a more familiar city. I can't tell you the place, I can't risk your letting others know. I have found myself in the most precarious of situations. I allow you to . . . well, you yourself have uncovered the truth: that I am a spy. That I am here under the most extraordinary of circumstances, the mission is impossible, and I dare not disclose it either.

The fact is, you and I stand staring at one another on a street in NEW YORK CITY. Um. So I am there.

As you and I stand staring at one another outside the XYLOQUIRK BUILDING in NEW YORK CITY, a couple of Rectangles lope by, and one of them drops a small silver key on my shoe.

I drop my handkerchief and stoop down to pick it up, as well as the small silver key. I put my hand on the key, and you flop YOUR CLAW on top of my hand. For a moment neither one of us moves.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a Triangle pass, side over side, on the sidewalk.

It is NEW YORK CITY. The key in my hand, the claw on my hand.

You pull me along into a dark alley, and I scream when I see myself in the mirror.

"So the alley had a mirror!" I roar.

I had not seen my own reflection in the mirror for twenty-five years. I had been trying to make it to thirty-three. I wanted to set a record, or at least a new personal best. Now I would never do so.

Your claw is disconnected from you; you operate it by remote control. You throw away the remote control, and operate it by the electric impulses of your brain. You motion me to come close.

"I have something to tell you, something important to share, something major you'll not want to miss, some luscious details to describe, an announcement, some basic facts, some hints, and some thinly veiled reminders to divulge just as implicitly. Some of what I say may need to be decoded. If we are working for the same network, one or both of us should be able to determine that pretty soon. Are you ready?"

I stepped in and put my ear to his jaw. Or to your jaw, if you prefer.

Just then a great and violent wind tore through the area, throwing chickens and hamsters about with great abandon. The chickens had burst out of the urban chicken roosting stations upon the breaking of their cages. The hamsters had been scattered out of the flats via the doors and windows that the wind tore off their hinges and grooves. I had no idea that so many New Yorkers suffered to live with hamsters!

You too were quite amazed. It tied your tongue in the middle of the communications you had been shouting soundlessly in my ear (the sound stolen away by the ripping wind). I mean, why else would you have stopped speaking and closed your mouth, with that dumbfounded look on your face!

And I was amazed! Even if the law now finally did say that hamster owners would receive a huge tax deduction under the new rules that the very strange No Heat 3rd Party had succeeded into passing into law, and no matter that this is a 2023 reality that may seem strange to you, but not to me, in my alternate version of the current year, no matter, I say, that it may seem a bit odd, it was the deal whatever the tense was or is. And there were many hamsters running around.

I made a break for it.

I outran you.

I ran in a zig zag fashion, like a pickpocket, and picked a pocket or two as I went. As I was running, it came to me, I needed a vacation right away. I phoned in to my supervisor and requested that, since not much was happening at the office, perhaps he might give me the day off.

My supervisor said, "Agent 24053, I've been promoted. Here is Agent 95022, your new supervisor. Hang on, she's busy. Yes, she said it would be fine." CLICK.

A big smile then on my face, I proceeded to segue directly into a marathon run. And why not! It was a beautiful day. Don't let a good day get away!

That night I was very pleased. I'd run the marathon faster than Agent 43, and so had succeeded in becoming the fastest marathon runner of the clandestine bunch I am one of.

I spent the evening on the roof of my apartment, as you searched my flat and found it quite empty. I don't keep things. And you had no way of knowing I would be on the roof.

A little spy camera in my flat sent an image to a corner of my sunglasses.

I saw you standing in my kitchen, I would never return to it now!, munching on some grapes.

Ten years later, I was still the same agent. I was still making the same rounds. And you were still after me. You'd catch me, I'd slip through your fingers. Again and again. It would seem silly. Sometimes it felt like to me like it served no purpose. But 95022 knew exactly what I needed to do when, and I was quite capable of delivering the goods.

Thirty years later I retired from my situation. I took up golf and slept with images of golf balls rolling towards me on greens that were pink. I never understood what to make of it.

I met a woman and fell in love. We married and moved to a city I knew nothing about. I stepped out of the car and realized I was in Timbuktu. The people were friendly, I understood nothing.

Twenty-five years later, my wife Jessica Thornchopper died. She left me nothing. I knew exactly what to do with it.

Another five years after that, I came to Maryland. I'm not sure why I chose this state and not Muskoka, Canada, but I wanted some time to sort through my thoughts. My many years of service made it possible for me to move into a small house on the Eastern Shore.

The mosquitoes came to know me better than any person ever did. They dined on me daily.

On the fifteenth of June, one of them buzzed in my ear.

It was the first time the buzz of a mosquito seemed to have a message for me that I could make sense of. I got in my car and drove to the ocean. I stood on the shore, looking out to sea.

A man was taking out a raft. He waved at me to come join him just beyond the breaking waves. Naturally I did so. He said he was going to try to cross the Pacific Ocean after crossing the Atlantic. Would I like to come?

I said it was a very crazy and robust idea. Of course I would.

One of these days I'll have to tell you that story. It was an adventure of supreme masculinity. The dangers we faced, the incredible odds we conquered, what we saw, what we ate. The total experience of it cleared my mind of everything that ever happened when I was a spy. It was exactly what I was looking for in life. And when we finally did reach Córdoba by way of Sevilla, I had changed so much that no one could makes sense of what I said, and I myself seemed to have melted into a liquid in a compartment without a roof, until I calmed down a bit, and shut my mouth, and wondered what I should say and not say. So I sat down and wrote the story.

I met Patricia Dimenkiominta after my wife passed away (she had died of a very unnerving disease), and we swiftly married on a boat. I gave her the story to read. She opened her eyes doubly wide after she read it, and she said to me: "Let us go back in time."

I didn't understand why she said that, or what it meant. It took me a while to understand her. That's probably why we married; having to go the extra mile made the relationship more meaningful, and a journey.

I want to say the rest now, I want to continue. I hear the gulls crying at dusk. I see the bugs flying in front of my face. I am done walking, I am done running. I am standing still on the edge of the shore. I feel the hand my hand is holding. I am searching for a way into a certain sublime piece of knowledge I must attain.

I squint, I open my eyes wide. I hear the waves beat the shore. Someone is calling my name.

But am I mistaken? And how could it be! But the truth is I am alone. The wind is raging, the sand is flying in the air. The pellets of sand sting my skin. I know there is something more. I am going back to the beginning.


"The Homecoming" © August 13, 2023 by Pete O'Brien. All Rights Reserved. "The Homecoming" is a work of fiction. The characters, scenes, and situations of the story arise from the imagination. Any similarities to persons or happenings in real life are coincidental.

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