The third house that Luke and his family moved into (which would not be their last) is the house he dreams about often. As a child, he and his older brother, John, played with several kids in the neighborhood. He couldn’t stand hearing the car tires screech at the end of the block where there was no stop light. And right after the loud screeching- boom! Cars crash, ambulance siren shortly after. Even now in his forties, Luke hated that irritating sound.
The elementary school he and John attended was up the street and around the corner. It took less than ten minutes to get there. He had many friends at the time there. After they graduated from high school a lot of them moved down south or went West.
He hadn’t been at that house a little over twenty years. Him and his family moved out when he was twenty. John, was twenty-two. They moved to the other side of the neighborhood. Luke lost contact with his friends. It was only years later that he heard who else moved and who got married, etc. There were several girls he flirted with and others that he had a crush on during those adolescent years. Then there were others that he’d think about that he only met during the summertime and they left because they were only there to visit a friend of his because they were cousins.
Luke decides a couple of weeks prior to visit that house. John had moved and married his close friend from high school, Jane. They live in Short Hills, New Jersey, in a nice big house (made from the ground up) with their five-year-old daughter, Sarah. He wasn’t going to bother him about this visit, he felt fine going by himself.
Both their parents live in the Bronx, NY., the place the family originally lived before moving to New Jersey when their dad was a given a job in the corporate world. Luke took it the hardest when they had to pack everything and leave. He was nine and he didn’t want to leave his friends. He had to make new friends and adjust to the slower pace. He lost contact with those back in New York.
The morning of the visit, Luke put on his favorite black jeans, black dressy boots, navy blue shirt, short sleeve, tinted shades and off he went.
Luke waits at the bus stop. He rode the bus to the elementary school he and John attended. When he steps off the bus he first stands in front of the school and notices that the large tree was gone. Now it makes the front of the school look larger and bare. He walks down the sidewalk to take a look at the playground in the back. He remembers he and his friends use to play in there- kickball, football, chase a girl get a girl, trade candies, tell bad jokes, talk about the girl they liked and didn’t like.
As he walks from the school to the house, most of the same stores remain: candy stores, gas station, laundry mat, mini-market, bank and daycare center. But what wasn’t there was the video store. He and John would go there often to rent movies on VHS. But all of them are gone now.
The sun was out, clear sky, no clouds. There was a cool breeze from time to time. By the time he reaches the house he sweating and thirsty. There it is, brown, two floors, basement and a garage. He stands at the end of the driveway. Now it looks narrower than when he was a kid. The same goes for the dirt backyard. He peeks through the gate to look at the dirt backyard. Much shorter than he remembers. There’s still dirt, grass on the sides, but small.
He walks up the stairs to the cluttered porch. The family had two chairs, green plants hanging to catch the sun. The porch also smaller than how he remembers it. He rang the doorbell. As he waits, he turns and looks across the street at the house a family he and his family knew. He and John had a crush on the same girl that lived in that house. She is older than both of them but she sometimes would hang out with them. She had a brother and an adopted sister. Their cousin would stay often there as well. The cousin had a crush on Luke. They all moved out a few years ago.
The front door opens, he turns and faces a Hispanic teenage boy.
“Hi…um…how are you?”
“If you’re selling anything I’m not interested.”
“No, no. I’m here to…I use to live here when I was a kid.”
“And I was wondering, it’s been so long, could I take a look, I have great memories here.”
The teenager looks back and then back at Luke.
“Let me ask my parents. Hold on.”
“Okay, thanks. Tell them it won’t take long.”
The boy disappears, leaves the front door halfway open.
A couple of minutes pass and a then an older Hispanic middle age woman appears at the entrance. She’s attractive, long brown wavy hair, average height. She looks at Luke and grins.
“Hi, yes, how can I help you?”
Luke walks up to her.
“Hi my name is Luke. I use to live here as a kid, lots of good memories here. If I could-
“Come in.” She steps aside.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, please. Come in. It’s okay.”
While walking away she adds, “Take off your shoes, papi.”
He walks inside. Her son locks the door behind him. As Luke takes off his dress boots in the small hallway with the rest of the family shoes and sneakers, he can smell a roast chicken, rice, beans and sweet plantains.
He follows the son through the second door. The first room, dim lit, well furnish, with contemporary looking dining set, with carpet. Smoke is exhales from the far corner of the room. Luke sees it coming from an older man’s cigarette. Must be their father. They look at each other. Luke says ‘hi’. The older man just nods while puffing out another cloud of smoke.
A little girl with a tiara on and wearing a plastic princess crown on her head comes up to him and shows him her lollipop.
“Mine, mine,” she says smiling.
“Yes, I see,” Luke looks down and smiles at her.
The room next to the dining room is separates with colorful hanging beads. The son stands by Luke. The mother disappears in the kitchen.
“Was that your mother?” Luke asked.
“May I?” he points to the next room.
Luke follows him into the next room. It’s also dim inside. The little girl in the tiara runs pass Luke and sits on the floor in front of the large television, as two teenagers, a boy and girl, sitting on the couch, play a video game on it. The sun bursts through the few horizontal windows behind the television. Luke notices there’s good surround sound in the room.
“My parents use to sleep in here,” Luke says to the son.
He smiles and nods. The boy and girl on the couch never look back.
Luke and the son walk through the dining room again, father sitting in the corner, in deep thought. They walk down a short pathway. Just as he recalls, the small bathroom on the right. The son knocks on the closed door on the left. Another bedroom.
“Your sister is asleep.” Mother says from the kitchen.
“Bathroom,” he points.
Luke nods and smiles. Then he sees the glass cabinet. There are plates, cups and glasses inside. Underneath the glass cabinet is a compartment for snacks. The family keeps picture frames there too.
“Would you like something to drink?”
“I’m not going to stay long. I appreciate this.”
“Here, you like coffee?”
“I do, but no thanks.”
Luke sees two older men sitting at the kitchen table. Pots of food covers the top of the stove. It’s hot but a nice breeze comes through the two open windows. Luke glances at the pantry in the back of the kitchen.
He then turns to see the room he had really been looking forward to seeing.
“My bedroom.” The son says to Luke.
He walks in before Luke and turns the light on. Luke walks in and the room looks so small. The walls are a different color. There are posters of female models and actresses on the wall. There’s a desk with a laptop and books piled on it. There’s a clothes dresser with a floor mirror leaning against the wall next to it.
“This use to be your room?” the son asked.
“How did you know?”
“I can tell, the way your face is, I can tell.”
“Yeah, I had a bean bag there, Michael Jordan poster here, my bed was here, TV and VCR there.”
The son listens and smiles.
“And in the closet, I taped up movie advertisements above the clothes on the wall.”
“Really? Where do you live now?”
“Other side, near the high school.”
“That’s where I go to school.”
“You like it there?”
“It’s okay. Lots of fights.”
“Yeah, I can imagine.”
Luke looks out the window, which he can see the driveway. It came back to him like a flood, the long hours of staying awake watching lots of movies on the television, writing stories on his bed, reading through movie magazines and fashion magazines. It was his own cocoon of privacy. And he could always smell his mother’s food because his room was right by the kitchen.
“Thank you.” Luke says to the son.
Luke walks out of the room and the mother looks at him.
“You know, you look like someone.’ She turns to the older men at the table. “Doesn’t he look like that movie star…fresh prince guy.”
“Will Smith,” answers the son.
“Yes! Will Smith. Right? Look.”
The son laughs. Luke smiles.
The two older men grin, one agrees the other isn’t too sure.
“You look better than him,’ she says and smiles at him.
“So, you use to live here?”
“Yes, me, my parents and older brother.”
“Why you leave?”
“The landlord sold the place.”
“I see. So now you’re married or do you live on your own?”
“Mom…” the son wined.
“What? I’m just making conversation. Look, show him our backyard. I have a nice garden out back. Show him Juan.”
Her son, Juan, walks Luke out the back door. The mother is right behind them. The back way by the stairs, Luke recalls playing cards with his friends there.
“You fix this house up real nice.”
“Thank you. Look back here.”
The mother and Luke stand in front of the vegetable garden.
“My mother taught me how to grow these.”
“You do a great job.”
Next thing Luke knows he has a bag full of vegetables in his hand.
“Very nice meeting you, enjoy the food, I have to go back inside, finish cooking. Always welcome to come back Luke. God bless you papi.”
“Thank you, bye.”
And just like that the mother goes back into the house.
Before leaving Luke looks at the side of the house. The dirt backyard, grass on both sides. He remembers all the games they played and eating crabs with their landlord and his family. Fond memories.
Luke and Juan shake hands.
As Luke walks down the drive way he hears tapping on one of the bedroom windows. He looks up and sees the little girl in the tiara smiling and waving at him. Luke smiles and waves good bye.
The sky is now cloudy and windy but still warm. While walking back to the bus stop Luke wonders to himself why it took him so long to visit the house. All that came to mind is, life happens. That’s all he could think of, life happens.
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