Short-Short Story by William Cass

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Homecoming by William Cass

The author of this story has the following biographical information:


   By way of briefly summarizing my publishing background, I've had had over 150 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3.  My children’s book, Sam, is scheduled for release by Upper Hand Press in April, 2020.  Recently, I was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a Pushcart nomination, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal.   



            Frank paid the cab driver, watched him drive away, then stood on the sidewalk looking at the house in front of him, the home in which he’d grown up.  It was spring, 1919, and he’d just returned from France after serving as an Army corpsman in World War I.  The ship had docked in Hoboken that afternoon; he’d taken the last train to Hartford and then a cab to Manchester and the house on Benton Street.  Now he stood on the sidewalk in his uniform, his doughboy cap cocked at an angle on his head, holding his duffle bag in one hand.  It was a little before midnight, and except for the occasional bark of the next-door neighbor’s collie, the neighborhood was still, empty.  He smiled at the sound of the familiar bark.  The last time he’d heard it was three years earlier when he and his brother, Edward, went off to boot camp.  He’d been eighteen, and his brother twenty.  Edward hadn’t made it back alive.


            The house stood dark and silent.  No lights on either floor.  New buds dimpling the maple tree’s branches in the moonlight on the front lawn.  His father’s old Chrysler parked in the driveway.  Frank pursed his lips as he thought of the last time he and Edward had seen their father.  That had been in Brooklyn just before they shipped out with their regimen for Europe.  Their father had come down to see them before they’d left, and they’d walked to a park near the base.  They’d sat on an iron bench, he remembered, his father between him and his brother.  It was late afternoon, winter, and it had begun to snow.  After a while, when it was time for them to return to the base, their father began to cry.  He pleaded with them again in his heavy German accent not to go.  It wasn’t right, he said, to fight against the country of their birth.  Cousins would be among the German troops; they might shoot and kill one.  Their uncle was a Lutheran minister there who had baptized them when they were born.  Their mother, God rest her soul, was weeping with him from her grave at the thought of them leaving and fighting in this war.


 

            Edward extricated himself first; Frank watched him trot away in the gloaming.  Frank finally broke free a few minutes later, his father grasping at his coat and whimpering, “No, no, no.”  His last vision of his father was turning at the park’s entrance and seeing him sitting slumped in the light from the streetlamp above him, his shoulders shaking, snowflakes tumbling around him in the yellow glare.


            Frank wrote his father almost weekly overseas, but never heard back, not even when he sent the letter about Edward dying in combat.  Now he found himself blinking in the darkness, staring up at his father’s bedroom and the one he’d shared with his brother over the front door.  The windows at both were cracked open.  He blew out a breath, climbed the front steps, set down his duffel bag to free both arms for embrace, and knocked on the door.  He shouted, “Papa, I’m home!”


            Frank heard rustling from his father’s bedroom and whispering, but nothing more.  He frowned, waited a moment, then pounded on the door harder, and shouted again.  Quick footsteps followed, descended the stairs, and the front door opened slightly.  A woman’s round

face appeared in the crack.  She clutched at the top of her robe with one hand, and her glare was hard.


            “Be quiet!” she hissed.  “You’ll wake up my daughters.”  She glanced at the ceiling above her.


            “Who are you?”


            “Your father’s wife.”  Her German accent was thick, as well.


            Frank shook his head.  “I don’t understand.”


            “We married while you were gone.”


            He felt his eyebrows knit.  “Where’s my father?  Let me see him.”


            “He’s in bed, and he doesn’t want to see you.  He says he no longer has a son.”


            “This is my home.”


            “Not anymore.  Not since you went to fight in that war.  Not since your brother…”


            She didn’t continue.  They stood staring at each other until Frank looked up at his father’s bedroom and called his name again.


            “Go!” she said.  “Now, before I call the police.”


            She closed the door with a short slam.  He heard her footsteps pad off up the stairs and down the hall.  Once more, he called, “Papa!”


            But the house stayed silent.  He pounded again on the door several times and remained on the front step another handful of minutes before descending to the sidewalk.  He looked up at the bedroom windows again, shaking his head.  He picked up a rock, cocked his arm, grunted, then stopped and dropped it.  The collie next door began growling.  Frank felt his throat tighten. 


            He carried his duffel bag slowly up Benton Street.  He turned right on Center and then left on Main.  He passed the library and the hill above it where he and Edward had sledded as boys, walked among the darkened businesses, and stopped in the middle of the block at the old hotel across from the movie theater.  He rang the bell until the night clerk woke up, unlocked the doors, registered him, and gave him a key.



            Frank’s tiny room was in the corner on the third floor.  From the open window, he could see the spire of the Lutheran church his family had attended next to the green.  He dropped the duffle bag, took off his cap, and lay down on the twin bed on his back.  He folded his hands on his chest.  More dogs exchanged barks across town in the distance.  The stink from the chimney of the factory along the river hung in the air.  The tightness in his throat constricted and his lips began trembling.  Frank squeezed his eyes shut and thought about visiting his mother’s grave in the morning.  Beyond that, he didn’t know what he would do.

 

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