Mosley Road

When someone’s life was baptised from the start in loss and bruises of lessons hard-learnt, it was difficult to imagine a reality otherwise.

He knew blasting Metallica through the cranked-down window of his car was a mistake. The same way he kept his hands on the steering wheel and his foot gunned on the accelerator as the open wide yawned up before him. But he could still categorise those as minor infractions. Oh, he thought again, this was a very bad idea. It was downright thrilling. The radio howled out in the approximation of a prophecy, say your prayers, little one.

Enter Sandman throbbed from the speakers.

The gravel was hot embers beneath rubber tires as he pulled into the parking lot off the corner of fifth and seventh street. Asher was hit with a faceful of humid air as he stepped out. He zipped up the jacket the rest of the way – the seam of the hidden pocket inside was crisp with the envelope hastily stuffed with the cash he had scavenged from his whittling bank account. He smoothed back his hair with a sweaty hand, conferring only with a quick cursory glance in the rearview mirror. His reflection stared back – fervently normal, dark eyes, mussed hair.

No folding chairs were set out today. Standing room only. The fan whined as it rotated from above, doing the bare minimum to keep the scorch at bay. It was a small crowd. The throng of mostly middle-aged men with a few hopeful younger ones scattered throughout. He fit in easily.

There was one familiar face. Too bad he didn’t grow eyes at the back of his head.

“What, no greeting?” He recognised the voice first, then the crushing grip that squeezed in around his shoulder in an embrace. He forced his ramrod spine to relax. Max Alders was about two years his senior before graduation. Tall and sturdy, he was another one of those faces that often refused to stay buried in the past. Especially in a small district like theirs. Besides, he’d always made it a point to reach out. A strange kinship shared after- after that fever dream moment at the hospital.

“Hello to you too.” Asher answered dryly.

Max frowned, but his tone remained verging on playful. “I could’ve sworn there was a little more you in there. Somewhere.”

“Out to lunch. Try again later.”

“Oh, I will.” He said seriously.

A sharp grin broke through, revealing more than just a flash of teeth. It was the closest he’d promised to become genuine. 

He broke eye contact first, and then skimmed the crowd one last time. People operated on either one of two signals – confrontational and daring in their gaze, or cast masterfully invisible as if not a wisp of them had ever existed in the first place. It was odd in the way that he understood both sides of that mindset. Max was good at that whole comfortable silence thing. Asher was used to swinging between the two, never really certain on what ground he stood on.

He cleared his throat, thinking maybe he owed a bit more than that. A bit awkwardly, “How’s Lizzie? She okay?”

Max’s face softened. “Yeah, she’s doing better.”

Asher never forgot looking across into the ward opposite, and seeing his own despair staring back. It wasn’t fair to be bitter. One recovered. The other never did. “That’s good.” 

The actual bidding started close to half-an-hour later. During which time, the overseer had finally graced them with his presence – all five-foot gruffness and grouch, faded flannel and roving eyes that felt like it ought to have left tiny cuts all over skin. He’d crushed a cigarette beneath the sole of his boot. The further tinkling of glass against tarmac accompanied it – chipped shards splintering further, a paradigm of thick dust and broken things.

The rash of neglected storage units that were going up for sale was wide and varied in range, scattered like dandelion seeds sown amidst tall grass throughout the complex. One good thing was that the price was fairly consistent – it hovered around $100 dollars and $300, with a few that even dipped below that marked threshold. 

What followed was a show-and-sell of the echoes of peoples’ past, left abandoned.

The lock set down. The shutter unrolled. The purchase of the key.

He’d tried playing bait with a few, giving the appearance that he had tossed his lot in with the bids. He didn’t actually have any intention of going through. There was no science to the process. All he went on was his gut feeling and that voice that told him to hold. It was an idiosyncrasy for someone who relied so dependently on impulse. He even engaged in friendly competition as Max attempted his luck at a few. 

Eventually, when the evening finally threatened to purple into oblivion, it was down to the last two units.

Like the clockwork rhythm of the day he had gotten accustomed to – lock and shutter. Inside, through the metal security grill, a small box-shaped room like every other filled to the brim with various knick-knacks and forgotten, dusty things. There was a suitcase pressed against the side, protruding shelves covered in plastics and wrapped records, yellowing books and licence plates. A bucketful of toys overflowing from the sides and discarded on the ground. An amateur painting set on its side – splotches of colour and abstract hue on canvas, framed by large chunks of splintered wood.

This one.

He went in for the killing shot. It was stupid, but he had little else to lose. He certainly wasn’t chasing profit. Clasping his hands out in front of him, he said delicately, “$400.” His tone brokered no argument, no inch of room for slivers of doubt to wriggle in through the cracks like worms penetrating soil. All that mattered now was how he played the game. He maintained the weight of his gaze, the deadpan delivery of his words. He’d timed it to perfection – that dwindling crowd.

The overseer mellowed instantly. “Going once, going twice…” He sounded more enthusiastic as he directed his voice around the group. The atmosphere of the parking lot warped his words weirdly – nearly the reverb of an echo bounced against the darkened skies, oscillating grey and tendril hues stirring far above. He was met with disgruntled expressions and subverted glances. Seeing as there was no reply, he tacked on, “Sold.”

Somewhere, at the back of Asher’s mind, that song continued to blare.

To the tune of exit light, enter night – he’d done it.

It was his.

Asher returned the next day with a new lock, flashlight and gloves.

Switching on the solitary light cast the fairly cramped interior into a shadowy stage of looming items and receding contours that skirted the edge of his view. The dust that steeped the place hung like a fog when it was illuminated by the pouring sunlight. He strapped on the latex gloves, took a breath of fresh air, before beginning to catalogue his find. The plan was to distribute the remainder of the items he found had less personal value to flea markets and garage sales. But the truth – the one that he was reluctant to admit even to himself – was that maybe, he was looking for something.

He steered clear of the metal rack for now, and opted for pulling the large, stacked plastic containers out first.

Pencil half-chewed, he wrote down his latest list of things.

One – 

Box of records. Arranged cleanly in a tarnished wooden crate, the discs slipped between covers. A few of the band and album names were indistinguishable amidst the aged creases, but the rest were popular classics that even he recognized in his limited ‘60s and ‘70s knowledge. His fingers ran through the space in between that colourful collage – black and whites, typography, snapshots out of time inscribed on sheets between the vinyl – and it shuffled like a waterfall of magician’s cards as he transferred it over to the container he’d brought. 

Whoever it had belonged to probably had great taste.

Two – 

Pile of comic books. Most of it were Marvel editions, each lovingly wrapped in plastic as preservation. He flipped through some of them, and found himself smiling despite himself.

Three – 

Toys. Heaps of them. Each belonged to different stages of childhood and then adolescence. Stuffed animals became basic building blocks. Board games evolved into retro gaming devices. He even recognized a few of the brands from his own early life. Back when home was tangible and he could count every star in the night sky from the attic where the open glass overlooked the apple orchards.

He was imagining the twin patter of small feet flying across cobblestone.

Four – 

Suitcase. This one was empty. But good condition. Probably would fetch a good price if he put it online.

Five – 

License plates. He counted at least twelve vintage models. The blocky letters proudly declared on the front ranged from Winsconsin to North Carolina. Minnesota to Colorado. The map that it lay at the bottom of was covered in push pins highlighting the various states. Well, at least he guessed that this was what it was supposed to represent. He rolled up the map for good measure. 

Six – 

Chest of drawers. This one definitely looked to be antique. A patterned grid on the front was patterned in what seemed to be a floral-inspired theme. Budding shapes and smoothly carved wood covered the sides. The drawers pulled out easily enough, which was somewhat surprising given his estimate of the age. Inside there were a few bundled up clothes, with a layer of magazines and newspaper cuttings pressed against the base.

He took out a man’s sized undershirt, before realising exactly what it was, and then stuffed it back in just as quickly.

Seven – 

A shelf filled with a frankly remarkable collection of books. He skimmed a few of the titles. The Narrative of John Smith by Arthur Conan Doyle. Isolde, Queen of the Western Isle by Rosalind Miles. Both Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander and Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. Collector by John Fowles. One Thousand and One Nights by Hanan Al-Shaykh. 

Dante’s Inferno. Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Stanisław Lem’s Solaris.

All of it was so painfully loved.

Yet it was left. It was lost.

(You’re still holding onto ghosts, it told him.)

It was number eight and nine that gave him the most pause. He unhooked the earlier abstract colour canvas painting from where it was displayed, only to find that was finding a smaller charcoal sketch taped to the back. He took it out into the sunlight, and watched as the mid-morning rays illuminated the pencil marks with the thinnest thread of gold. He saw the lively eyes of that young boy, wind-swept hair and a mouth full of baby teeth. He could not have been older than four, at most. He was in his father’s arms, and had never looked more at peace for it.  

Asher touched the corner reverently. His fingers numb against the decades-stained tear tracks that ran like an overflowing river across the paper. 

It told a story. One he wished wretchedly that he didn’t know.

Eventually, he managed to wrench himself away with a shudder of something deep and unspeakable that lanced through his chest. He no longer felt the sun against his skin. The earlier anticipation had been leached out as suddenly as it had set upon him, and for the first time, he looked at the clutter around him. Really looked. Hints of guilt continued to pull at his gut, and he swallowed it back.

The universe was nothing more than a reminder that he was never alone. Not in circumstance, not in grief.

Cruelty masked as kindness.

That’s all it ever was, wasn’t it?

He rang the doorbell.


It was a bad idea, and he knew it.

The door opened to a man in the late sixties. Balding hairline, eyes tired with age, and body bent over with the weight of bones. His eyes flickered like pale blue fireflies in the light, pulling from side to side as it swept over him in a single dismissive action. Despite the years that stood between them, Asher could feel his back straightening, the posture drilled into him from memory. The man didn’t speak a word, but his gaze was expectant. It searched and scratched him down to the marrow.

“Hi, Dad.” He said softly.

Every interaction used to be like glass and pulling teeth. It hurt to hell. 

The door creaked a little further. His father said, somehow managing to sound both disapproving and assured at the same time, “Well, aren’t you going to come in?” He asked it like it was a question, putting the ball in Asher’s court to decide if he wanted to take the call. 

But it’s not really a question, no matter his tone.

He dragged in the air through his lungs. It felt like he was tasting it for either the first or the last time. The windchimes are still on the porch – a pretty little thing that he had once been so proud to present to his parents as an anniversary gift back when he was ten and they were infallible in his eyes. The wind matched him in pushing breath through the tinkling chimes, fluttering metal as easily as it ruffled his hair.

“Yeah.” He said at last. “Okay.”

It’s the look on his father’s face that haunted him. 

It was hope. And it hurt.

Mosley Road stayed. Home had remained even after he’d sprouted his wings and leapt and smashed himself against the ground, broken and beaten into a bloody pulp. He’d run like the hounds of hell had nipped at his ankles, but maybe it was just his own reflection he’d fled from until that tether had no choice but to rebound or snap spectacularly. Equivalence theory. He plunged. He slammed forward.

I still love you, he can’t say.

(He passed the sign on the way out too.)

(Phone beeps.)

Hi, Dad.

I knew it would be you who reached out first. I’m sorry if I scared you. I never meant to cause you any pain, you know. But I did. I still hear your voice in my head, that day when I came home for a while. You told me that you were sorry too. I know you want to hold my hand and help me to walk through every terrible thing in this world. I can’t let you do that. You’re already so full of scars, and coming back made it so real and- and I’m terrified that most of it was my doing.

I’m sorry.

I always thought it was easier that way. A clean break. 

I’ve sold off the apartment. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now because the money would have already been transferred into your account. I’ve kept the car. I’ll be going on the road for a while. I tell myself it’s because I just need the space to breathe. I don’t know what it is. There’s this- this weight on my chest and it’s pressing down. I’m drowning but I’m on dry land.

Do you remember the bedtime story you used to tell me? About stardust and how that’s what everything was made of. I don’t feel like stardust. I don’t feel like myself either.

I want to tell you that I love you.

But I guess I still have to figure out if happy endings still exist.

(Cell number deactivated.)

Written by: Trishta

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