The Return Home
A Farm Story
The estate seemed much larger than I remembered it. The emptiness of the fields made it appear to stretch for miles. Many years had gone by since I had stepped foot on the property. The house, which had held so much life, was still in the quiet of the early morning. At the garden's edge stood the grand barn. It appeared beaten and hauntingly empty. In the middle of the night, it sounded like it was calling out to me, beckoning me to once again open the doors and fill its insides with life. That was my father's job though, to keep the farm alive, the garden-fresh, and the barn full. I only returned after his recent passing to tend to some of his affairs. I had no interest in continuing his legacy at the farm, and I never did.
I stood on the front porch peering out over the yard. It was all the same, from the rows of farmland to the furniture on the front porch. The rocking chairs sat in their same spot, facing the sunrise. Some of the white paint of the swing was starting to chip, and the one board on the front step still creaked. The exterior which had once been pure white was now a cream color from a coating of dust. It had been kicked up over the years from the tractors moving through the rows of farmland. I sighed, the ground looked gray like the sky, and even the barn which had once been such a vibrant red had a gray hue to it.
The front door creaked open as I pushed my way in. Everything had remained the same. Every piece of furniture remained in the same spots it had when I was a child. The air still carried a hint of aftershave, whiskey, and cigarettes. I wiped the dust off of a framed picture and stared at it. My father stood next to me in front of the house in his overalls and hat, cigarette in hand. At only nine years old I stood as tall as his chest and vaguely smiled. We both were squinting from the hot sun. I remember hating this house then and hating being known as the farm girl. All I wanted to do was run away, and as soon as I turned eighteen I did. I looked out the front window towards the barn and again felt like I was being called to it. Everything about the place was the same, except for me. Being there left me feeling unsure, guilty even.
A picture of my father and mother sat on the side table next to his recliner. I could picture him with his feet up and the television playing in the background, a glass of whiskey in hand, cigarette burning in the ashtray, and that picture. I remember hearing him some nights talking to the picture and calling out for her. She took a piece of him with her when she passed. He lost all of his ambition and almost everything he had worked so hard for.
I heard the crunch of tires on gravel as a vehicle came down the drive. I stepped back out onto the front porch to greet the visitor. "Well, look at what the cat dragged in! My, have you grown!" An older man slammed his truck door behind him. He was short and stalky, his gut led the way as he waddled towards the front step.
"It's good to see you, Uncle Bobby." My father and Bobby had grown up together. They were practically inseparable in life. Every Tuesday they met for poker night, on Friday's they met down at Katie's bar for pool and beer. My mother often cooked them dinner every Sunday while they watched football. I could smell the liquor on his breath even standing feet away from him. It was yet another thing that hadn't changed. I noticed a silhouette move in the passenger side of the truck. I kept staring at the window. "What brings you up to the estate?"
"I heard you were back in town tending to somethings for your father. You know, he would've loved to have been able to see you one last time." I took my eyes off the truck to look at him. My heart ached a bit as I recalled the last time I had physically seen my father. Our eyes met in the rearview mirror as he stood there, bottle in hand, watching me drive off with tears in my eyes.
"You and I both know he wasn't the same after Ma died, Bobby." He shook his head and sighed.
"No, he wasn't. It got worse the day you left him too. It's like you took what little of himself he had left when you got in that car." I clenched my jaw and tried to hold back my tears.
"I stand by what I said that day. It was never my job to take care of a grown man. I needed him to be there and help take care of me, and he couldn't after she was gone." I wiped a tear from my eye. The passenger door of the truck opened and a younger man stepped out. My eyes widened. "Jake?"
He approached Bobby and put a hand on his shoulder. "Hi, Abby. Pop, Ma says she needs you back at the house." Bobby nodded.
"Listen, I didn't come here to upset you. I wanted to see you and tell you to call if you need help with anything. You're not alone Abigail, we all loved and cared for him." He motioned for Jake to return to the truck.
"One second, dad." Bobby nodded and got in the truck. For a moment, neither one of us spoke. There was too much to say and I wasn't sure how to say it. "You look good." Jake broke the silence.
"Jake, I-uh-I, I should've said goodbye. I should've told you my plan, that I was leaving. I'm so sorry." Everything around this place had remained the same, the property had become a ghost town for all of the past memories. All these years they wandered haunting my father and waiting for me to return.
"You don't have to apologize, Abby. I get it. I was never mad at you, I have always understood why you left. I never blamed you for doing it the way you did either. I've just missed you. I considered reaching out but I didn't want to interfere with your new life."
I wanted to tell him that I wished he had reached out. I would've even considered coming back home to see him. Now I was home though, and he had reached out by coming here with Bobby. "There are a few things I have to do around here that I could use some help with if you don't mind sticking around. My dad still has some whiskey left in the house, and I can make you dinner." He smiled and nodded. Returning to the truck I could vaguely hear their voices conversing briefly before Bobby made his way back down the drive.
We began putting things into boxes as we reminisced on childhood memories. We talked about what our lives had become since then and how we thought things might have been different. In hours the house had been pretty well boxed up, we had caught up on years worth of time, eaten a delicious meal, and shared a few drinks. Jake plopped down on the couch next to me. "I'm really happy you came home, Abby. I wish you would stay."
I watched as he began to doze off. The living room had filled up with boxes filled with so many pieces of my father. I wondered how many days he sat in this room with the bottle in his hand wondering if I would even call. When I did I always kept it brief for fear of starting an argument. My parents worked so well together and our household was so bright and warm. After my mom passed all I had wanted was my father, I had needed him. The loss was too much for him and he lost himself in drinking. The day I decided I had to leave he had sold the last tractor he owned to pay his bills. I'm sure the animals followed behind not too shortly after. I wish I could've properly said goodbye, and told him that I forgive him. Part of me, even wishes I had stayed.
A thud came from the front porch. "Jake?" I tried to wake him. "Did you hear that?" He was sound asleep from all the hard work and drinks. I grabbed the shotgun from my father's gun cabinet and made my way to the front door. Through the window, I could vaguely see a small silhouette barely moving. I placed the gun back in the cabinet and stepped outside. I gasped as I met the gaze of the most beautiful owl. We stared at each other, the quiet of the night filling the space between us. The loneliness and guilt I had been feeling seemed to diminish the longer I stood there with the creature. There was a strange familiarity in its eyes that I couldn't shake. "What are you doing here?" I asked.
The owl broke my gaze and turned towards the barn. It spread its wings and took flight heading towards the empty building. I had a strange notion to follow it, so I did. I trekked across the yard not once taking my eyes off the barn that was illuminated by the full moon. When I approached the doors, I could hear the owl inside. Its called sounded like a voice I had heard my whole life. Pushing the door open, I saw the owl dive down from the rafters of the barn and disappear into the leftover hay on the loft. All of the empty space in the barn made it seem much larger than it actually was. I kept walking as I remembered which animals were in each pen. I smiled as I thought of all the fairs my parents and I had attended.
I paused as I heard rustling in the hay above, when I turned to investigate my heart dropped. "Dad?" His skin was like porcelain and practically sparkled in the moonlight. He looked younger than when I had last seen him, healthier and happier too. I pinched my arm to see if I was dreaming. I began to circle him and the shifting of the moonlight made him appear more transparent. "You're not really here."
He smiled and reached his hand out to me. "I have missed you, Abby." His apparition was becoming harder to see as tears filled my eyes. I wanted to embrace him but felt frozen in place, and I was struck with fear. He couldn't be here.
"Dad, I'm so sorry. I should have never left, I should have been here for you." I began to sob as I dropped to my knees. A warmth washed over my shoulders and when I looked up we were face to face. For a moment I could feel his touch as he wiped away my tears.
"I forgive you. I should've been better for you, your mother expected more of me and I let her down. I hope you can forgive me." I nodded and wiped my nose across my shirt sleeve. He smiled gently. "Please stay, Abby. Stay here, for me. Give this place life again. So many years of hard work went into this place. I know for a fact Jake would help you return it to its natural beauty." I looked around at the empty barn and thought about Jake still sleeping inside the house.
This could be my chance to make up for all of the lost time with him. Part of me wanted to do it for my father too as a greater apology. I looked back at him and noticed he was fading. "Okay. I'll stay. I want you to know that I am truly sorry I never came home. I miss mom, and now you. I just want to make you both proud."
"We are so proud of you, honey, and we forgive you." A calm feeling washed over me as we embraced and the warmth began to fade away. As quickly as he appeared, my father dissolved into the air. The moonlight seemed to dim and it became darker inside the barn. A rustling came from the loft again and I saw the owl as it swooped down and ducked its way out the barn doors. I pulled myself to my feet and made my way back to the house, gradually picking up the pace until I broke into a sprint.
I managed to miss the one creaky step as I leaped onto the porch gracefully. When I entered the house again Jake remained on the couch sleeping. I cozied up next to him. He began to stir. "What time is it? I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"It's late," I said. I felt his arm fall over me and pull me closer. I smiled. "Hey, Jake?"
"I'm going to stay. I think I might even try to get the land and barn back in order." Jake sat up and stared at me in silence. Finally, I had to break the silence. "I just had a moment of clarity tonight and think it's what my parents would have wanted, you know?"
"That's going to be a lot of work for one person, Abby." I smiled and took his hand. For a long time, I had felt resentment towards this place and my father. I let that guide me away from here, but now I could think clearly for the first time in a long time.
"Stay with me? Help me get this place back on its feet. My father wouldn't have wanted it any other way." Jake smiled and squeezed my hand.
"Of course, I will." From the front porch came a gentle thud. When I looked out the front window I saw the owl perched on the railing. I smiled as tears filled my eyes. I love you, dad. I thought to myself. As swiftly as the bird landed it was off again, trying to beat the rising sun.