The sun had set while he sat there. The rough linen of his car seat sometimes pulled at the hairs on his arm and the sharp pain would jolt him back to reality. He had to go, he had to leave. The love he felt was being assaulted by the guilt and it wasn’t going to get any better by staying here. Her voice on the other end of the phone had been broken and after a while he couldn’t hear her words anymore. Just the sound of her crying and sharp breathing as she begged him to say goodbye. He hated to spend time with her family. It wasn’t that they were bad people, but he was just never comfortable. Especially in the earlier days of their relationship, the concept terrified him. Nothing scared him more than the idea of going over to their place, during a party, dressed like an unwashed hobo, to say goodbye in front of everyone. He already had a puffy face and irritated eyes from the phone call and he hadn’t even attempted to fix his hair when he got up this morning. He looked quite dishevelled and absolutely distraught and as he ran his fingers through his silver streaked hair he decided he wouldn’t do it. Her cries would be in vain and with one last blow of his nose he then threw it in reverse. The trip had to begin at some point.
It had been a long time since he had driven these country roads. There was nothing gentle about the curves of the hot bitumen and the solemnity of the trip was interrupted as the resident wildlife played kamikaze with the car. This only added to the danger as the car struggled up the winding hills and he wondered how he had managed to get to school every day without decimating the local echidna population. The excitement of it all came to an abrupt halt as he reached his intended destination. The rough make up of his path forward reminded him of all the troubles to follow and when the car pulled up at the front gates he was overwhelmed by a sense of dread. The overgrown grass down the front of the property made you feel like you were about to disappear into some terrible unknown. The solitary gum tree to the right of the driveway’s entrance had amplified its reach. It had become mighty and impressive in stature. It threatened to reach out and scoop him up as he sat there staring up at the top of the hill. He might have welcomed such a fate if it weren’t for his need to be here today. There was a single dim light visible through the thicket of trees that followed the driveway up and away from eyesight. He shuddered at the thought of why he was here. The sadness of leaving her behind had seeped into every muscle and as the gate swung open he looked back, almost as a reflex, to hopefully see her in the passenger seat smiling back at him. Instead he looked upon an empty seat that mirrored his emptiness inside.
The drive up the uneven ground was necessarily slow to avoid damaging his car yet he quickly found himself looking upon his former home. There it was tucked away amongst the trees and nothing had changed to his eye. The gutters were still full, the spider-webs threatened to steal you away, and it was always colder here than elsewhere in the area and it was never fully explained why. As he removed his travel bags from the backseat and made his way over towards the house he let out a sigh. Part exasperation, part exhaustion from the trip, it was all he could do to announce his arrival in the softest of ways. It was all he could think of to steel himself for what lay ahead. He brought his clenched fist up and banged on the garage door twice before the automated motors started up, and he caught his first glimpse of the inside of his former home.
Inside the garage was nothing short of massive familiarity. Nothing had changed at all, an endless sea of consistency. A room full of old furniture, sports equipment, trophies, cds, tools, fridges, clothes and shoes. These relics were of a once great civilisation that boasted achievement and position. Now they sat in a graveyard of memories and dust. A place to dump what needed to be put away and never found again. “This is going to be a long, long summer”, he thought to himself as he slid open the door to the house and walked in.
The journey had been mapped out to him a few weeks previous to his depressing departure. His father sat across from him at the red oak kitchen table that now stood in front of him and explained to him what the job was. It was a chance to make good money and he hated being poor. He hated having to scrape together a few dollars just to keep fuel in his car and food in the fridge. He hated never being able to take her anywhere fancy. He loved her more than anything else in his world and this job was a way of spoiling her. They just had to make this sacrifice first. In his mind it was all planned out; to save and earn for a few months, and dote on her with his time off. They’d never have to suffer again. Like all dreams it wasn’t grounded in reality, and before he had even begun the pain was taking hold. As he said his ‘hellos’ and ‘I’m alrights’ he shuffled over the spotless floorboards, past the family photos that divided the room, and moved towards the single bed he’d inhabit tonight before setting off tomorrow. Glancing around the room to the foot of the bed where his largest travel bag now sat he could see the letters she had written him. They were marked with dates on them, and as if they were sealed with some form of powerful magic he knew he wasn’t allowed to open them until the specific date written on it. There were seven of them in total, and he wondered what they contained, and it made him miss her even more. As he lay there thinking about her he fidgeted aggressively with the uncomfortable pillow his head rested on. He hadn’t fit in this bed for near a decade and it was an uneasy sleep. He welcomed the four AM alarm rescuing him from his feeble attempts at catching Z’s and his haunting thoughts followed him down the dark hallway and out the front door and into the cool morning air.