Going Home

by Helena Lönnberg

She rose from a pillow that smelt like last night, of cold smoke and rain on tarmac. The mirror was cracked but her teeth weren’t, so it was all good. A good morning.

Somebody knocked on the door just as she put on her rough jeans. The blue cotton slid over brown thighs, enclosed a waist that had changed size many times. Right now it was slim and bony, one could count the ribs if one wanted to. But there was nobody around to care, so it was all good.

She was barefoot when she opened the door, clicked the coffee machine on as she went to open the door. There was a kid on her porch. A kid with grey bags underneath his eyes and a proud wrinkle over his nose. He flicked it with his fingertips before he nodded, swallowed some air and murmured something that sounded like a both a whisper and a cough. She didn’t blink and didn’t shift her weight, stood in the doorway like she belonged there.

“I called you yesterday. About the bike.”

Her eyes looked him up and down but didn’t really see anything but that proud wrinkle. And maybe the skinny fingers tapping a nonsense rhythm on the strap of his backpack. She whistled and a brown, old dog came limping around the corner, dragging a useless chain behind him. It left a trail in the gravel and almost got caught on the stairs up to the porch.

“You’re early.”

He looked down to his boots.

“There’s only one bus heading out here, so…”

His excuse fell through the cracks on her floor and nestled comfortably underneath the stupid old dog that had gotten kicked too many times. She heard the coffee water boil, heard it drip into the empty pot. And maybe it was the dog’s sigh or the proud wrinkle or both. But she tilted her head sideways.

“Come in.”

He didn’t move one bit, didn’t shift a grain of dust, a breath of air.

“I’d rather just see the bike.”

She sighed and leaned down to put on her green boots. The boy stepped back and looked out over her valley, his fingers dancing and tapping.

“How much?”

He was staring at the bike, as if too scared to touch it.

“It has a lot of miles on it, but I’ve kept up with the maintenance.”

He didn’t bother repeating the question, it was still there. He reached out to the handle, stopping breaths before touching it. A child.

“I’ll give it to you for five.”

His hand disappeared in his pocket, took out a bunch of notes. How many weeks of work must that have been? How many hours? Perhaps he had taken it from his mother’s nightstand, disappearing through the blue light. It would take her a while to notice. He counted them out, carefully, getting his tanned fingers tangled. Held them up, not looking at her. The dog’s head went to rest on its paws, worn out by sleep.

She took the money. Put it in her pocket. Relished in the crunch of it against the rough fabric.

“Have you ever ridden one of these before?”

And the leaves were rimmed with gold and it was morning and the motor cycle’s hum made the boy’s legs shake. He looked weirdly comfortable, his spine relaxed and easy, his eyes clear. The weird furrows around his mouth might have been a smile. He didn’t hesitate, didn’t look back – was careful not to slip on the gravel. She stood on the porch until he took the last turn, didn’t know why. Told herself she did it because she wanted to make sure he knew what he was doing. The sun hit the boys back and she imagined a hint of warmth on his cheeks. A roar echoed through the valley, rustled through all leaves, the dog looked up. And now she was smiling, at that stupid runaway boy. Sitting screaming on that old bike, heading west. So young.

So young.

She turned around, went inside and poured herself a cup of coffee. Couldn’t stop grinning, the money crouching in her pocket, ready to pounce. It wouldn’t last her long, but that was not the point. That bike was gone now. And the boy would make it far, perhaps even reach the ocean.

by Helena Lönnberg

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