How many times had he walked down this street? He knew the cracks in the sidewalk, the sequence of the houses, and all the ghosts that lived in them. Even though he'd left a long, long time ago.
50 years. A long time.
Some houses were gone - gone and not replaced. There never was enough money in this neighborhood - not then. Not now. If a house burned out, it was torn down and the lot left to grow weeds. The neighborhood had gotten even poorer, over the years. The bright paint of memory had faded, in reality, to cracked and peeling grays.
He stood in the middle of the street, cars parked on both sides just as they would have been then. Hot days in the summer sun, the street soft with the heat, the kids out to play bounce or fly with an old softball and a bat. Sometimes the ball would bounce on the top of a car, too soft to do any real damage.
His best friend's house still stood across the street from the lot that used to be his house, the stone steps and front porch offering mute testimony to nights spent playing tag games. That porch, after all, was the goal.
He heard echoes, it seemed, of the voices that made up his neighborhood - all his friends, all their parents, calls to supper through open windows and radios playing in living rooms.
He felt the loss of those days in his chest. He stood in the middle of the street and wondered where everyone had gone. Where had they all wound up. He slowly turned all the way around, taking all of it in one last time.
He got in his car, started it, and drove to the end of the street, watching the houses retreat in the rearview mirror, keenly feeling what it meant when people said, "You can't go home, again." You can go to where it was, but it isn't home, anymore. It's someone else's, and it isn't what it was. At least, not to visit.
Just between the ears. There it is as it was, and always would be.