Filed under: Main Artery.
[Grass at Night, by Elliot Moore, 2007]
The engine idled beneath him, its occasional cough and sputter mirroring the hiccups in his own head. The lights were on inside the house. His mom would still be up, watching the late show; his dad likely passed out like a drunken uncle on the couch. There was still time to change his mind. Still time to go back to the airport and pretend none of this was necessary.
“Yo, buddy, you want to close this thing out or keep the meter running?” the cab driver jarred him out of his decision-making.
“Here,” Henry pulled the plastic from his wallet and offered it through a slot in the Plexiglas partition.
“You ain’t got no cash?” the cabby asked with no small accusation.
Henry shook his head and the man snatched his credit card. As the driver mumbled under his breath, Henry pulled his things together. He hadn’t brought much; his saddlebag was packed with exactly one change of clothes, a single book of Kipling, and the small sundry of hygienics you might expect. He wrapped the scarf around the neck of his coat and hoisted the bag over his shoulder. Outside the vehicle, the cold night wind felt clean against his flushed features.
The cabby shoved the card and crumpled receipt out the window.
“Thanks,” Henry whispered to the spiral of exhaust the taxi left in its wake.
He stood there, at the head of the long driveway, waiting for something to happen. The gaze of the stars from above; the layered shriek of a siren in the distance; the cold babble of wind over his collar; none of it was enough to dissuade the inevitable. He’d made this long trip for one reason only. A singular, unavoidable responsibility.
The frozen grass crunched beneath his feet. It was still quieter than the click of the pavement, he supposed. He reached the front doorway, casting about for fast fading distractions. All that he remained was a heavy wooden door ripe for the knocking.
The light in the front window went out then. His mother must have finished with the late show. He thought he heard the tired tromp of feet shuffling up a staircase. Well, he’d missed his window. A real tragedy. He was already considering which hotel he should take for the night; where he was least likely to be recognized.
He turned his back to the door and escaped across the pavement. The light click of his heels snapped along to the staccato beat of his heart.
“Who’s there?” the ragged, swollen voice barked out from the suddenly open doorway behind him. It was a voice that had just woken, likely been shaken awake by his mother’s frightened hands.
Henry turned slowly, clearing his throat to stave off the darkness. “Hey, Dad.”
The flip of a switch; the blaze of an exterior flood lamp. Henry closed his eyes against the wash of blinding, white incandescence.
“No,” came the high, strangled shriek of his mother.
“You son of a—” came the low snarl of his father’s surprise.
They both rushed him then; his mother in her worn, peach robe, his father in a t-shirt and flannel boxers. He thought to run, to turn and bolt and never look back. Clearly he’d outpace these two; neither wore shoes and the hard, cold ground would swallow up their toes as he disappeared back into the open-ended night.
Instead, he stood his ground. He studied their anguished features as they reached for him. The pain of his mother was ugly and raw, her face distorted into a sob that reached up from her stomach and made no sound. The anger of his father trembled from elbow to gnarled fingertips; his reach had a clear weight to it, a heavy mix of desperate clutch and lunging violence.
They fell upon him in an awkward press of bodies and emotion. It was all too much for his skittish frame and the three of them fell over in a tangle of bathrobe and frost.
They all lay there for a moment, sharing a heavy breath and taking in the surreal beauty of the twinkling night sky.
“You’re alive,” his mother said, at last. “It’s really you.”
“Yes,” he nodded with an embarrassed smile.
“Damn you,” his father huffed.
I love you, too, Henry thought to himself and realized he actually meant it.