The Unplanned Visit

Note:

What follows is the start of a short story, which I haven’t finished, about a man who returns to his decaying, old home town and unearths a startling secret which he wishes he had not discovered.

I am not sure if I will finish the story so I welcome your thoughts, comments and criticism.

C-a-L

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You can’t go home again.  Isn’t that what Thomas Wolfe wrote a book about?  Every time David made the turn north of Harrisburg, he thought about the fact that he wasn’t really going home again.

The town was still there, more a ghost town than a town.  The house he grew up in with his older sister was still there – vacant.  The elementary school building was still there – also vacant.  The two block downtown was still there but most of the buildings were either boarded up or struggling, except for the bakery, the florist and the bank.  David guessed that, even with death, the relatives of the deceased had to eat, get flowers and pay bills.  The bank and florist had undergone some revisions, from name A to name B to name C, but the bakery, strangely enough, stood in the same spot, with the same name, the same curved glass front window and the same glass counter shelves, unchanged since David was a kid.  The baked goods were fresh but David suspected that the servers were the same, ghost servers in a ghost town.

The high school was still there, too.  It had been added on to when David went there, the renovations completed just in time for the population to peak and subsequently decline.  It looked the same but, inside, the corridors echoed when the remnants of the town’s youth marched down the halls to class.

And his sister and her husband were still there.  He was on his way to see his sister now, bringing with him the old chair from their childhood house along with him.  Why she wanted that old chair was beyond him.

“It’s a nice old chair and it would fit in my living room,” she said, “especially after you clean it up.”

The clean up was part of David’s job.  The chair had sat in David’s garage collecting dust, bits of paint, bird droppings and God knows what else for decades and now, suddenly, his sister gets a craving to see it, sparkly and fresh, in her living room.

David had spent the better part of two months, slowly scraping all the old wood flakes and chips off, using wood filler for old holes and worn spots, then sanding and varnishing until the chair lived up to a semblance of its former self.  It was a simple Queen Anne style chair reproduction with curving back and straight legs and both David and his sister had spent many hours sitting it in the living room of their old house.  It held no particular memory for David and he was happy to fix it up and give it to her.  He wasn’t sure why she hadn’t asked for it when they had sold and emptied the house years ago.

Hours earlier he was making the drive along Interstate 81 near Harrisburg with seemingly endless chains of semis and RV’s rumbling by west to east.  Where were they all going?  To Allentown?  Eventually, David came to the turn north on 81, where 81 separated itself from Interstate 78.  He noticed then that his was the only car making the turn.  He called it the turn into the “empty quarter.”  Even now, in early fall, the landscape seemed to alter rapidly, from green pastures, rolling hills and dairy farms to bleak mountains and gray horizons.  David always hated this part of the trip.  It was at best dreary and, when the weather did not cooperate, downright frightening.  Fog, driving rain and snow over the ridge of the Appalachians always made a long ride longer.

David braked slightly down the grade and made the turn from interstate to local highway.  It would be about 20 more minutes from the turnoff.  He would pass through the old town on the way to his sister’s house and the thought struck him that he might have time to pass by the old house before going to his sister’s.   Detours in this part of the world never amounted to more than a few minutes.  He turned off the local highway at the sign for the town, drove through the nearly deserted main street and headed north up a hill to his street.  Fourth from the end of a string of lower-middle class houses, mostly wood or stucco, he recognized his boyhood home.

How could homes vary so much and still be the same?  Eighth acre rectangular plots, a small or non-existent front yard (some house fronts abutted the sidewalk), a porch, generally two stories with a driveway on one side or the other.

The house had belonged first to his grandparents and then to his mother.  It had undergone some changes.  The porch was now enclosed; the old garage on the side, built by hand by his grandfather, had been demolished.  It didn’t meet the town’s building code for some reason or another.  You would think that a town with little or no architectural standards, as evidenced by the polyglot of house patterns and styles, wouldn’t pay much attention to self-built additions.  The garage always seemed study enough to David.  But, no, the town required its demise so down it went.  Nothing had replaced it so, if someone were occupying the house, their car would be sitting in the driveway alongside.

David pulled into the empty driveway, turned off the car’s engine and sat back, letting out a sigh of exhaustion.  Not liking long car trips always took a lot out of him and it would be good to stretch his legs for a moment before moving on.

And then it struck him; in an odd way, he had come home.

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26 responses to “The Unplanned Visit

  1. I really like that you’re using a chair. More than just memories, a chair actually holds a person. We interact more intimately with chairs than with lamps… not just the sight of a chair, but the sound of a chair creaking when sat upon, the feel against the body… so many triggers may trigger more memories, different memories for different people…

  2. C-a-L,
    I think this is wonderful, and I would definitely want you to write more. You do fiction well… And there is no better fiction than the one that is close to home…
    Le Clown

  3. C-a-L,
    I like this very much; and not because I was born in Bethlehem, PA and remember my grandparents house just as you’ve described. I hope you do continue the story; I would like to see how it develops…
    Red

  4. This has so many possible directions it can go. Your writing is good, and the story is compelling. I thought, when the cars were turning off the highway, that they were going to a large flea market, where perhaps the precious chair was placed for sale.

    • I appreciate your comments. I have several alternate possible paths for the story and I’m mulling them over.

      The chair is a device that lets David look into the past where he finds something ithat s very upsetting.

  5. Waiting for the rest… 😉

  6. I think you’re off to a good start. I noticed a few typos, but I found the narrative intriguing and I’d like to know what happens next. The highest praise I can give you is that I was never bored. Keep working on it.

    • Thanks for the comments. I will start searching for those damn typos.
      The chair – and it may ultimately not be a chair – is a device that lets David see into his past and find something very unsettling.

      • Interesting idea — and I like that the chair could be the device, but if it serves that purpose what happens that triggers its “powers”?

        Have you seen or read August Wilson’s play, “The Piano Lesson”? Your work-in-progress story brought it to mind. It’s the story about a brother, a sister and a family heirloom, a piano, that they both own. He wants to sell it. She wants to keep it. It has powers. It’s a brilliant play. I highly recommend it.

        • The trigger occurs when the item is placed in the same position in the old house (but it doesn’t provide all the details at once).
          I’ll look up The Piano Lesson.

        • I like your story very much thus far, so just keep working on it. It seems to be that you’re on the path to having a work that will be quite nice when you’re finished, not that I ever feel I’ve finished anything I’ve written. I just reach a point of feeling tapped out and I need to move onto another tale before my head explodes. Good luck!

  7. You didn’t even post the most important part!!!

  8. Returning to a former neighborhood is always strange. Everything seems different, and yet at the same time, the memories flood back, and you can picture things as they were. At least such visits trigger my memory, anyway, which otherwise is a pretty poorly functioning entity…

    • The decay of my old home town has erased many of these memories – literally. Since my memory is a very poorly functioning entity, it becomes harder and harder to picture the town as it was, with all the original homes, stores, factories, amusement parks, etc.

  9. Why did she want the chair?

    • The sister had a fond memory of the chair and thought it would be a sentimental piece that would fit in her living room. The final story may not have a chair. It may be an old lamp or some other fixture from their old house. The key is some item or piece of furniture that the sister wants that came from their old house.

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