The Long Way Home
by G. Norman Lippert
3rd Place - Best Interior Art - 2011
Henry Spalding walked along the bumpy sidewalk of Beech Avenue thinking that
it was amazing just how fast ten years could go by. Jake, his son, had been a baby
when Henry's ex-wife, Stephanie, had moved them to the rusty little town of
Buena Vista, Virginia, and Henry had followed, abandoning his manager's job at
Blake Construction and taking what he'd expected to be a temporary shift as an
assembly operator at the local Dana plant. Now, a decade later, Henry was still
working the same shift, and Jake was nearly eleven years old. The wildly
impetuous kid that had once trotted along hand in hand with his father had grown
into an increasingly sulky young man. Henry tried not to think about it. He had
learned as a child how not to think about things: it was how he got through life.
The evening sun painted long tree shapes across the road as he turned onto
Twenty-Third Street. The houses here were small and weathered, with dormers
crowding their sagging roofs and tree roots pushing humps up beneath the
sidewalk, reminding Henry of his childhood home of Clyde, Ohio. Of course,
Clyde had been neater, with its immaculate old Town Hall and busy Main Street.
By comparison, Buena Vista's half-empty downtown was a grungy ghost town.
There wasn't even a decent bar, like the old Eagles Lodge back home on Main
Street, or its lesser counterpart, the Clyde Piper. Henry didn't mind that. Lately,
he preferred to do his drinking alone. He approached the house, his work shoes
clumping on the wooden front steps.
"Jake," Stephanie's voice hollered from inside. "Your father's here. Don't forget
to put Sig on his leash."
She met him at the screen door just as he reached for the handle.
"He'll be around in a minute," she said through the screen. "He's out back with
some friends." Henry saw the boxes behind her, stacked in the front room with
handwritten notations on them: KITCHEN, J's BEDROOM, DEN.
"You need a hand with any of those, Steph?" Henry asked quietly, nodding toward
"No. Greg's done a great job helping us get everything together. He's here now,
finishing the upstairs bedrooms."
No wonder Steph wasn't inviting him in. "You sure? I can carry some boxes to
"We're not carrying them," Steph sighed impatiently. "The movers are coming on
Monday. All we have to do is have it all packed, and we're almost done. Thanks."
Henry hated talking to her through the screen door. "Are you sure? I could at least
bring down the head boards and dressers --"
"Henry, stop," Stephanie interrupted curtly. "I know this is how you show you
care, by doing little jobs, but really, Greg and I have it handled. Just take your
walk with Jake and Sig and try to get back before the mosquitoes get too bad."
Greg and I. Henry hated the way she said it. There had been other men in her life
since him, of course, but Greg was the one that made it all real. In less than a week
they'd be gone, moved out of Buena Vista, and taking Jake with them. They were
going to California, where Greg had gotten some big computer job. Henry tried to
be glad for them. He was glad that Steph would finally have the security she'd
always wanted, even if it wasn't him who'd be providing it. What he was really
unhappy about was that, this time, he couldn't follow them. He had moved to
Buena Vista to be near his son, and now they were leaving him here, like an