For Old Time's Sake

5 min
Image of Short Story
He knew he shouldn’t be here, and couldn’t find himself a reason to step in the house. He couldn’t find any reasons not to either. So, against his better judgement, he followed her to the door. She walked up the familiar pathway made of large flat stone, some of which he placed there himself all those years ago. Everything in the house reeked of memories, ones he wasn’t sure he’d ever get to revisit, most good, one bad, and all of which bittersweet. They lined the walls, stained the paintings, and were falling out of the windows, slowly creeping into his mind once again. She shoved the door open, it resisted due to years of neglect. It seemed almost too clear a sign that simply stated one thing: he shouldn’t be here. Even with the girl, who used to be as close as a sister to him assuring they’d be fine.

“There was nothing to worry about, despite the car in the driveway. There was no one home.” She had said.

God, what was he doing? He slammed the door closed, using almost all of his body weight to do so. Immediately everything, or rather lack thereof, inside the house hit him. The emptiness, the newness, the almost non-existent familiarity of it all; nothing was rearranged, yet everything was different. The usual atmosphere of a happy and carefree family had completely vanished, replaced with something else that he couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t warm, despite the unusual change in weather. In fact, it was quite cold. Bitterly cold, actually, and almost unbearably so. He knew they were in the midst of a divorce, and the car-ride there was solely occupied with updates on how dysfunctional her family had become, all the things he’d missed since last time.

Last time.

Last time, she was so different... So innocent. She wore pajamas, winter boots, and a jacket she threw on before flying out the door to meet him. She’d used the flimsy excuse of fetching the mail while her mom was busy in the kitchen, only to meet and talk with him in his car over a cigarette. Flecks of white decorated her hair by the time she reached him and she greeted him with a smile. The embrace was just like it always had been, how it always used to be. She was rather mature for her age, he thought, and was starting to care about her appearance more. She stayed out short enough to avoid suspicion, but ultimately, it was a brief visit. A tale or two about the family, another embrace, then she was off into the winter winds clutching the mail close to her chest. She promised she’d give him a call soon, and that her parents were almost ready to make amends. Part of him felt a pang of guilt, her still sticking her neck out for him despite the amount of problems she could cause by doing so. He just wanted contact so badly, even if it was only with her.

She was much different now; hair curled, a hefty amount makeup, and overalls littered with colorful pins. It baffled him that someone in this situation could radiate so much positivity. At least out in the open she did. At home, he figured, she could open up.

She was developing a small drug habit, too, and he resonated with that. After all, he used to be just like her. That’s why they got along so well, why she stuck her neck out all the time; keeping in contact and all that. Arranging small things like this.

Small to her, at least.

To him it was unreal--surreal--everything but real. It was so much emptier, definitely a house that was ready to be sold. They needed it badly, her situation worsened by the day. They had lowered the price and had a few open houses, she told him. He nodded wordlessly, still processing that he was inside. It had been years since he’d felt the wooden floors against his feet, but even the floors were new. They’d had them replaced last fall, getting rid of all the scratches. Yet another one of their memories swept underneath the carpet. They’d gotten rid of the couch too, only two seats remained in the living room. Only enough seats for three--probably leaving out the mother--he thought.

He needed to explore, see everything, open every door, touch every wall. He needed to make sure this was real, he was actually here. It didn’t matter how different here actually was, he just needed it to be real. And it was. He began on the main floor, making rounds, starting in the kitchen, ending in the living room, muttering about how empty it was. He tossed around obscenities and comments, each statement more colorful than the last. She agreed with every one of them, usually following them up with a new story about the household’s recent descent into madness. She was talking about her mother’s new dietary plans as he peeked into their closets, remarking about how before all this, there used to be pictures in this part of the room.

Upstairs. Her room, the father’s room, the first-born daughter’s room. Like her, her room had matured, there weren’t flowers on the walls anymore, and she was burning incense. Photos of friends were shoved in the mirror, along with concert tickets and other mementos. A Beatles record rested against the base of the mirror, and plants decorated her windowsill. More or less content, he went to the bathroom. He found himself opening the shower door without seemingly having a reason to.

He wanted--needed--to see everything. He never thought he’d be back here again. He wanted everything back. Ping-pong in the basement, baseball on the gaming console. The marks from his paddle still stained the wall--the red one--he laughed at that. How could one mistake end with no contact from three out of the four family members that once considered him family? He peeked into the wine cellar, she made a comment about the blueberry vodka.

“I mean, you look at it, and you think it’s going to be good. Looks fancy and all. My dad likes it, too. He’s a vodka kind of man, I guess.”


“It’s not though.”

He closed the door, and made his way over to the ping-pong table. He couldn’t stay for a game, although he wanted that more than anything. So instead, he just held one of the paddles, and stood at the corner of the table. He stood there for a while, paddle in hand, twirling it against his palm, lost in thought; seemingly drinking in the memories it held in its handle. With a sigh, he let it fall back onto the table.

They were back on the main floor now, he was still looking around, scanning every corner of every room. The contents of each drawer, the pictures on the walls. Pictures displaying what used to be a happy family, all dressed in white shirts and jeans. The second born bore the brightest smile, her same out-of-place tooth as clear as daylight. It all seemed like a distant dream to him now, it did to them as well. They were happy, he was happy then, too. Now, that’s not to say he wasn’t happy still, his new marriage was going well. He shared a house with his wife and two dogs. He was just missing a piece of what always used to be there.

He picked up a house phone now, pressing down the buttons to only realize the phone he held was dead. He tried another, it was dead too. She gave him a different one, accompanied by a sympathetic smile. He did the same thing while she silently wondered what compelled him to do so. He must’ve been checking to see if the phones had mysteriously changed too. They hadn’t. One piece of the past was still intact. He glanced at the clock, the microwave hadn’t changed either, that made two pieces. It was getting late, he had somewhere to be but he didn’t want to leave. Would he ever be able to step foot in here again? He wasn’t sure, but decided that he wouldn’t be welcome. Not for a very, very long time.

He left after another embrace, like old times. Actually two, for old time’s sake.

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