He inhaled the smoke thinking of the old man’s words on a scratchy connection.

You join up you’ll smoke more, cuss more, drink more and play cards like a damn shark.

Eighteen years and the fatherly wisdom offered fit in one cliché sentence. He inhaled trying not to cough and think about the flight tomorrow. He returned his focus to the house in front of him.

It sat on a corner across from the police station. Deteriorating, grungy and leaning to the left the house sat in a pit of blackened memories. The impassable porch warped into the evening hue. He recalled painting the porch years before. Pink Floyd and Double Cola from the dollar store one block away. He looked down the two blocks of Main Street and heard ghosts laugh amid two-story gravestones. He childhood scrawled in epithets on each intersection.

That day the porch was covered with green oil based paint and sweat. The house smelled of cat piss and kerosene and the stench of poverty to which he made angry love as tears soaked his pillows. Why? When? What? Who? Questions with no commas, no semi-colons, no periods. Questions that lingered like kerosene fumes in that Winter when the power died twice in one month. Here sat the house in which story after story was written. Slowly he fed them to the kerosene heater.

It was one of eight houses. He’d visited five with only a few more left. Each one the same. Drive over. Get out. And then let the memories come back without fear. He laughed. He cried. He ached as only memories can make one ache. Tomorrow around 8 am, it ends. The path long desired drawn on a bus ticket. Distant lands where everything was his creation. Every word, every memory, every Truth was his to create. A god of his life, finally. The dreams fade as reality takes over. The words he painted with silent fingers over his bed would come, he was sure. His dreams, his words, his feet; all aligned for the first time.

But tonight such philosophy was bullshit. Replaced with harsh words for memories long evicted from the house of his life. One house, a tall one with yellow trim. He visited this house earlier and here he remembered the old man’s passing. The first day he saw him in a decade was the last day he saw him forever. He showed up on the step while Mom worked another job the boy couldn’t remember. Their eyes were the same but different as one sought forgiveness and the one sought revenge. Silence floated as the boy answered.

I don’t know when she gets home.

Gets home, what?

Gets home.

Your Mom didn’t teach you any respect.

No, you didn’t.

The old man laughed.
A smartass. How about I take you over my knee?

How about you walk off the porch without crutches?

The old man takes a deep drag.

Let her know I came by.

No, I won’t.

He walks off the porch and the boy feels what it is to be a Man.

It was in this house where the boy heard of the old man’s death and wished he was old enough for whiskey so he could offer a proper salute.

His mother cried and spoke of the old days and of jazz and how once, way back then, once he was a wonderful man who danced like Astaire and made her laugh like Jerry Lewis and how one day you’ll understand son. One day you’ll understand.

No ma’am. I won’t.

They were living in the green house when the boy lost his virginity. She was an older woman (probably twenty) and he was a funny kid who used humor relentlessly. She thought he was cute and funny and being a large, and largely, unattractive girl, she viewed the boy as easy prey. He relinquished without hesitation as her wine coolers and affirmations floated through his room. She was older and unaware that the boy, like all boys, worried the words others used. When the night became morning, he dismissed her in the fashion the old man would’ve held proper.

There was another house where an Uncle visited. Here the boy knew only he wanted to make his fortune, return home, buy the home and burn it to the ground.

A car passed the boy as he leaned against his car staring at the abandoned cat piss house. The stranger waved and received no response.

He snuffed the smoke and dropped his narrow hips into the seat. Tomorrow would be filled with tears and love and all that jazz people held so dear when standing at a bus station. He felt no love. He knew few tears. This old town can rot, he thought. I never belonged here. Something’s always been off about my words and their words. My thoughts ridiculed. My life mocked. Fuck them and the preacher who forgives them. The car moved through the streets as if by memory. Each block. Each corner. Damn near every house is a memory of a thought, an action, a night, a time when his life was, for only a brief internal moment, all his. And then it faded. As it does now.

Here he stands before the last house. Inside the lights shine bright. The noise bounces from the windows. The night is crisp with hickory smoke and despite his best intentions, he smiles. It’ll be warm inside. He’ll be lonely, he knows. He’s accepted the fringe. Surround me with people, he thinks, and I’ll still feel lonely. The questions fade as he stares at the bright white moon. On the other side of that moon, he thinks, everything is the same as it was when Jesus was here, when Da Vinci walked. Those stars are the same stars every person who ever lived has seen. They’ve all felt this way. Maybe. Maybe some of them did.

He laughed out loud. He blew long and hard to watch the cold smoke spread before him.

It might be the last time I see my breath, he thought. Never know. That’s ok. I’d rather never come back than be caught coming back. Tomorrow. Panama. God knows what that means.

A voice calls from inside. I think he’s back. His mind races to come up with the introduction, the stories, the method of his personality mastered for years now. Maybe they all know. Maybe they don’t. Either one is good. Some day it’ll all come out, he thinks. One day.

He walks into the last of eight houses determined to remember everything he sees, everything he hears and despite his best intentions, everything he will miss.