The Homecoming

The Homecoming

By Ricky

Coming home can be difficult when you are no longer a child.

When he arrived home he was greeted by the blinking red light on the answering machine. Shrugging out of his coat he thought "Probably some damn salesman". It had been a tough day, details nagging and pecking at his soul until his spirit sagged as deeply as the lines on an old man's face. With a weary shrug he pressed the button on the machine. A low, quavering voice broke the stillness of the room.

"Peter… Peter it's me. Please… Peter you have to come home. The doctors… Peter he's asking for you, there's not much time. Come home, Peter."

The tape hissed a few seconds until a warbling beep signaled the end of the message. "Got to get voice mail soon" he thought "Damn machine is abut to give up." Anything to keep the import of his mother's plaintive message from his thoughts.

Seven years. Seven years since he had set foot in his parent's home, the house he grew up in. Memories assaulted his mind, unbidden and unwanted but uncontrollable. He had vowed never to return to that place, to the man who he had once loved but had betrayed him. Yet his mother…her voice struck to his heart. How could he abandon the woman who had guided his life when she needed him?

Slowly, in a daze, he threw clothes into a suitcase, left a message of family emergency on his boss's phone and drove blindly into the night. It was a short drive, at least in miles; less than an hour; far longer in subjective time. Years in fact.

He arrived at the home of his childhood in the darkness of night. Unfamiliar cars were in the driveway, the front porch lamp illuminating the scene. As he pocketed his keys and locked the car door a man opened the front door and strode wearily to his vehicle, shoulders slumped in defeat. The bag in his hand proclaimed him a doctor. The fact that he was here and not in his office proclaimed him a most unusual doctor, indeed.

Slowly, with the hesitant steps of a child, the approached the stairs and ascended them, absently registering he scalloped edges of the step where his ten year old self had wielded the hand axe his father had left in the yard. The steps themselves were green now, not the gray of childhood. Other subtle changes marked the length of his absence, discordant notes of vision. He placed his hand upon the front door and stopped, overcome by memories.

Seven years ago, the old man's 80th birthday. The family was in a mood to celebrate, the grand party that had been so long in the planning was only one day away. Peter had decided to surprise his parents and took an extra day out of his busy schedule to arrive home the day before the party. It was to be a surprise, he greatly anticipated the joyful shock on his mother's face when he came home early.

An more mature younger self had bounded up these stairs and thrown open the door seven years ago, shouting "Mom, Dad. I'm home!" just as he had done as a kid. A clatter of china in the dining room drew his attention, he swiftly crossed the living room to he great French doors that separated the rooms. Then he stopped cold, speechless.

His father was setting the table, not a terribly unusual activity. But his father was doing so in a long, red skirt and white blouse. He wore a fluffy white wig — it had to be a wig because the old man was bald — on his head and there was the outline of a brassiere clearly visible through the blouse. He had tits, obscene mounds standing out from his chest.

"No. God no!" The strangled cry was wrenched form Peter's soul as he fled, crashing through the door, stumbling blindly down the steps. He could never remember how he made it home; the drive, his tears were a complete blur. He ignored the constantly ringing phone, the tearful messages that accumulated on his machine. They slowed and eventually stopped. Christmas cards still arrived each year to be dumped in the trash, unopened and unacknowledged.

He returned to the present with a start and opened the door. No bell, no knock, simply entering the home after his self imposed exile. Quietly, the old words came unbidden to his lips. "Mom, Dad. I'm home."

The low hum of machinery came from the dining room this time. He retraced his path of that fateful day seven years before to find the dining room transformed into a sickroom. His father lay on the hospital bed, looking incredibly, impossibly frail. His mother stood by the bed and old Father John was murmuring low and.. it could only be the Last Rites.

He slowly approached his mother and placed a hand upon her shoulder. She engulfed him in a tearful hug as the priest finished his ceremony.

"Peter, I'm so glad you came."

"I…" His voice failed him momentarily. "I am too."

Peter gazed at the old man, shrunken and wan, so different from his memories; so different from the lively 80 year old he had last seen. His thoughts and emotions in turmoil he stood there, not daring to touch the pale, translucent skin; fearful that any move on his part would hasten the inevitable. As the silence grew, at last the old priest turned to Peter. Funny, Peter thought. He's only ten years older than me, he's got to be 30 years younger than Dad but I still think of him as "Old Father John."

"Peter, welcome home. Come walk with me, son. There will be time. Perhaps in a while he'll return to us, he comes and goes as the Lord wills these days."

"If you want, Father."

"I want."

The air outside the house was slightly cool, they meandered down the old, familiar block, past the homes of friends and acquaintances, not speaking. The time was not right for speech, not quite yet. As the glow of a street lamp illuminated the younger man's face the priest spoke.

"Peter, may an old man ask what's troubling you?"

"You haven't changed a bit, have you? You'll never be an old man, Father."

"The Lord has been kind to me. I suppose He just might keep it up out of habit, if nothing else."

The silence stretched.

"You know why I haven't been back in all these years?"

"Gregory and I spoke of it many times. You realize that I can not reveal things I learned in the confessional, but he sought my counsel about his love for women's clothing many times over the years."

There, the subject was out in the open.

"Father, how could he do it? How could he betray his family, his faith like that?"

"Perhaps you're asking the wrong question, my son."

This was the last thing Peter had expected. They continued walking until he could gather his thoughts.

"What would you have me ask, Father?"

"You could ask why such a small matter should have such grave consequences. Could it be so serious as to ignore God's commandment to honor your father and mother? Remember, Jesus did not forsake His father when times got hard, even when he could not understand the reasons for what his father was doing."

"But it's a sin, Father! The Bible says so. How can you ignore that?"

"It's not a matter of ignoring sin, Peter. My brethren who take the Bible as true in every word might argue that a man wearing a dress is committing a sin, simply because the Bible makes passing reference to the subject. I can't take it quite that seriously. Don't get me wrong Peter, the Bible is the entire basis for the life God has chosen for me, but that same God gave me a brain and expects me to use it."

He paused to look at the troubled son.

"All I ask, Peter, is that you take the time to ask God for guidance. Your father will leave us soon, your mother will need your comfort and love. "

They had reached the house again. The priest took his leave, saying "God be with you Peter, on this night and all nights. I hope you can find your peace."

---

The night passed slowly, sitting at the bedside with his mother. Time ceased to have meaning, waiting became the whole of existence. Did the old man's eyes flicker gently, was there a spark of recognition in them before they closed again? Peter was never sure. At last he noticed the old man had ceased breathing.

"He's gone, Mother."

"I know."

Strangely at peace, Peter released the hand he had been holding and unclasped the small, golden locket that hung around his father's neck. He fumbled with the catch and was greeted by the face of a small boy, the boy he had been 30 years before.

Placing the chain over his own neck, he picked up the telephone and made the necessary calls.



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This story is 1530 words long.