“It’s so nice to have you home again!” she said as she hurried about the kitchen to start dinner.
“I know, Ma,” said Brian. “I know. It’s good to be home.”
“It’s just been so long since you’ve come by for a visit!”
Brian sighed. It was the third time they had gone over this portion of the conversation. “I’m sorry, Ma. I already told ya. I’ve been real busy, ya know? It’s hard to find a good job.”
To this, she nodded her head. A pot of water was put on to boil, and Brian’s mother began chopping vegetables. “I know, Brian. I know. Things have been hard for all of us. But what about your books? You’re still writing your books, right? I always loved how you could write.”
Brian rested his chin on the palm of his hand and began picking at the top of the table. “Sure, Ma. Sure. But that ain’t easy either, ya know?”
She turned to give him a sympathetic look. “Sure, sure. Don’t pick at my table!” she said, pointing her chopping knife. Brian stopped, and her momentary glare morphed back into a look of love. “But you know what your father says about those books, how it’ll never—”
Brian stood and the worn chair squeaked across the linoleum floor. “Look, Ma. I’m gonna walk around some more, okay?”
She frowned to herself, knowing she had already pushed her limits far too early in the visit, and nodded. “Sure, sure,” she said. “I’ll come get you when it’s ready.”
Brian made his way through the house slowly. His eyes inspected every wall and corner. It was almost hypnotic how much of the apartment he grew up in had remained the same. Even some of the clutter looked to be years old. He stared at pictures and relived the memories they stored. Rooms held the ghosts of events from years before, and he watched them all play out in strange detail. No matter how hard you try to forget, it seems some memories are cursed to remain forever. He came upon the back door that exited to the common area of the large apartment building, and a cold fist gripped his insides. He went to the window and looked out. His journey back in time was complete. The door opened with the same subtle sounds, and he stepped out.
The courtyard was nothing more than a stretch of cement that hid in the middle of the building. Brian looked up the side of the tall structure, reaching up six stories in all, and saw the same windows looking back at him. The courtyard was empty, quiet. His eyes continued upward until he saw sky above him.
The blue square, he thought. The air hole for my prison.
He sighed. Bitter thoughts of childhood came rushing back uncontrollably. His eyes saw the dirt and grime he was forced to play in. Water trickled down the same cracks. Runoff from the gutters had carved a channel into the cement and seemed to be permanently stained a dark green. In his mind, Brian could hear all of the shouts again, coming from those other windows, coming from his own. He felt the anger and resentment that poured from neighbor to neighbor, a collection of downtrodden people forced to live cramped lives within mere feet of one another. He saw himself as a child trying to find joy with other kids in such a vile place. And all the while, up there, that blue square was forever suspended above them, like a port for God to look through for momentary inspection. But the sun would never shine there, oh no. God was far too busy to show these children His grace.
Brian felt the poisonous memories soak into his veins. He felt the dull hatred and feverish resentment of his childhood existence. He remembered his fears of already feeling doomed at such a young age, as though the world had cast him away from the beginning. As far as he could tell, all of those fears had come true.