Everyone is at the station when your train arrives: Petra, her parents, her brother Woodrow and his family. As you step off the train, Emily, the now seven-year-old birthday girl, wearing a pink taffeta princess dress under her puffy pink winter coat, calls your name, runs to you, and gives you a hug, pre-empting Petra’s tentative move toward you. It’s the Prodigal’s Return, hugs all around. Only Noel, Petra’s father, eschews an embrace in favor of a manly handshake. At some point in the past several months, Petra confided to you that Noel had told her he’d regard the dissolution of your marriage as her fault. So much for fatherly support.
When her turn comes, Petra’s sister-in-law Andrea whispers in your ear. “It’s so good to have you back to being yourself again.”
Yourself, you think. Who might that be? Further speculation on that question is subsumed in the general hubbub. You and Petra find yourselves in the back of Noel and Lydia’s Range Rover for the ride back to the cottage.
Petra looks at you, as if to confirm you’re not an illusion. “I didn’t really expect you to come down.”
“Neither did I.” You try for a reassuring smile. “But here I am.”
She hugs and nuzzles you under Lydia’s occasional approving rearward glances. Feeling a glow of virtue and the growing conviction that you’ve finally done the right thing, you surrender to the moment and to the familiarity of Petra’s scent and contours. Maybe this is who you are, who you want to be.
Arnold Johnston's poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and translations have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies. His plays, and others written in collaboration with his wife, Deborah Ann Percy, have won over 300 productions and readings, and they’ve written, co-written, edited, or translated over twenty books. Arnie’s latest projects are The Infernal Now (poetry, Kelsay Books, 2022); Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been, (poetry, FutureCycle Press, 2020); Swept Away (novel, Atmosphere Press, 2021), and Mr. Robert Monkey Returns to New York (a collaborative children's book with Debby, Brandylane Publishers, 2021). A performer-singer, Arnie has played many solo concerts and over 100 roles on stage, screen, and radio. He was chairman of the English Department (1997-2007) and taught for many years at Western Michigan University.