You Came Back to Me ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Snap Crosswhite sat in his bathrobe at the kitchen table and ate his substantial breakfast without saying a word. When he was finished he went back upstairs to his room and locked himself in without so much as looking at his mother or acknowledging the food she had cooked for him. She knew she wouldn’t see him again until lunchtime and maybe not even then. Sometimes he didn’t come down all day until evening when dinner was on the table.
She was in the kitchen washing the dishes when she heard someone knocking on the door. When she went to answer it, she saw two youngish men in suits and dark glasses looking in at her. They were officially grim as if they were acting in a television drama. Standing behind them were four uniformed police officers and, behind them, two police cars gleaming in the sun at the curb.
“Yes?” she said, squinting in the bright light.
“Is this the home of Mr. Stanislaus Crosswhite?” the taller of the two men in suits asked her, the one with sandy-colored hair. She didn’t fail to notice that he was quite good-looking as he flashed a badge at her to let her know who she was dealing with.
“We always called him Snap,” she said.
“Is he here?”
“We’d like to speak to him, please.”
“What is this about? I’m his mother.”
“We’re not at liberty to discuss it with you, ma’am.”
“All right. I’ll go and get him.”
She went upstairs and leaned her ear against the door of Snap’s room and tapped lightly. “Snap, dear,” she said, softly, so as not to alarm him. “There’s someone here to see you.”
“Um. Who is it?” he called.
“I don’t know, dear. Just some men. They say they need to see you.”
“I don’t know, dear.”
“Um. Just write down their number and tell them I’ll call them back.”
“They’re not on the telephone, dear. They’re at the front door and they say they want to see you.”
“Oh, all right.”
She heard him walking toward the door and undoing the lock. When he opened the door, he was pulling his bathrobe around his front and tying it. She thought she should probably warn him about the men at the door, but he brushed past her without giving her a chance to speak.
He went down the steps in his indolent fashion, but, as soon as he took one look at the men, he turned around and ran back up as if they were firing bullets at him. He nearly tripped and fell over his own feet. Seeing that he was trying to get away, they burst into the house uninvited and ran up the stairs after him like a stampede.
He ran back into his room and slammed the door and locked it, but the men were right behind him. The uniformed men reached the door first but stood aside for the two men in suits.
“Please open the door, Mr. Crosswhite,” the other of the two men in suits said (shorter than the first one, with black hair and sad eyes). “It’s the police.”
He waited a few ticks of the clock and, when the door apparently wasn’t going to be opened, he gestured to the uniformed man standing closest to him, who threw his shoulder into the door with a loud crash and a splintering of wood.
When they ran into the room, Snap was trying to hide himself in the closet. He whimpered when he saw them coming toward him and attempted to conceal himself behind some hanging clothes. Two of the uniformed men seized him by the arms and began trying to extricate him.
“No, no, no!” he screamed. “Leave me alone! I haven’t done anything! Just ask my mother!”
“For heaven’s sake, what do you think he did?” she said from the doorway, but her voice was drowned out in the commotion.
They pulled him out of the closet and when they let go of him he threw himself on the bed, bellowing like a bull.
“Make it easy on yourself, son,” the second man in the suit said. “You can go willingly or we can have an ugly scene and upset your mother. It’s your choice.”
“Don’t let them do this to me, mother!” he screamed.
When they tried to pull him up from the bed, the sheets came off in his fists and then he wrapped his arms around the edge of the mattress like a drowning man holding onto a log. In the scuffling that ensued, his clothing became terribly disarranged. His bathrobe rode up onto his shoulders. His underpants were pulled down, exposing his enormous white buttocks.
The sandy-haired man turned to Snap’s mother and said, “I think you should wait downstairs, ma’am. We’ll stay with him and get some clothes on him.”
“Well, all right,” she said meekly. “If you think that’s best.”
A little while later when they all came down the stairs, the two men in suits were flanking Snap, holding onto his arms above the elbows to steady him. He was subdued now, although sniffling and looking very pale and unhappy. His hands were cuffed in front of him. They had dressed him in jeans, sweatshirt and sneakers. With head bent, he didn’t look at his mother as he was taken out of the house.
“Where are you taking my son?” she asked the sandy-haired man, as he seemed to be the leader. “When will I see my son again?”
“Now, now,” he said, as if trying to soothe an anxious dog, “it won’t do for you to worry.” He touched her lightly on the arm, no doubt meant to be reassuring. “After he has been processed, we’ll be getting in touch with you to apprise you of the details of his case. In the meantime, I suggest you try to maintain a positive attitude and don’t speak to any reporters.”
“What? Why would I do that?”
“You have a really fine day, now,” he said, and then he was gone.
She waited anxiously by the phone for the rest of the day but it never rang. That night her sleep was tormented by disturbing dreams in which Snap as a child was calling to her to help him. “Help me, mother!” he screamed. “I’m here! Can’t you see me?” But, the harder she tried to see him the more blurry he became, until finally he faded into the air like a wisp of smoke and in his place was the jack-in-the-box toy that used to make him cry when he was three years old.
The next day she spent most of the day lying on the couch in reach of the phone, but still it was silent—not even any wrong numbers or sales calls. She had the TV on for company but she wasn’t paying any attention to its silly game shows, commercials and soap operas. When it came time to eat, she went into the kitchen and prepared food for which she had no appetite.
On the second day after Snap had been taken away (still no word from or about him), she decided she needed to do something to occupy her mind and keep her from worrying so much, and she knew just the thing. She could clean Snap’s room from top to bottom, something she hadn’t been able to do for eight years or more. He would be so surprised when he came home and found his room cleaner than it had been in a long time.
First she opened the windows to let out the stale air and the fresh air in. Then she cleared out all the trash and debris: old newspapers and magazines, food cartons, candy wrappers, soda and beer bottles, dirty clothes, socks and underwear. She loaded everything into trash cans, including the clothes, and put the cans in the alley to be emptied on trash day.
With the room free of clutter, she began cleaning. She cleaned the walls and floors, clearing away the cobwebs that had accumulated close to the ceiling; pulled the furniture away from the walls and sucked up all the dust mice into the vacuum cleaner; scrubbed the mysterious stains out of the rug that had formed over the years; cleaned and polished the bedstead, dresser and chest of drawers; emptied all the drawers into trash bags; replaced the old pillows and sheets on the bed with new ones that had never been used before; scoured and disinfected the bathroom, cleaning all the mirrors and polishing the chrome fixtures. From the closet she took all of Snap’s old clothes and threw them away. The two of them would go shopping together and buy all new things when he came home, as if they were wiping the slate clean and beginning again.
When she was finished, she was very tired but happy with what she had done. The room looked like an altogether different room. She was sure that when Snap saw it he would take more pride and develop more responsible habits. There was no reason anymore for slovenliness.
A week after Snap had been taken away, she still hadn’t heard a word from the police. No matter how much she wanted the phone to ring and willed it to ring, it was still silent. She wished she had someone to share in her concern, but there was no one. She had never felt more alone and helpless in her life. At other times, she believed that not hearing was a good thing; it meant that everything was well and that Snap would be coming home with his problems, whatever they were, all cleared up. It was all just a mistake and everything would once again be as it was before.
She took to napping on the couch during the afternoons, not wanting to get too far from the phone. It was during one of these afternoon naps that someone knocked on the door and woke her up. Her heart leapt because she was sure it was either Snap or someone delivering good news about him.
When she opened the door, a young man was standing there smiling at her. He was immaculately dressed and groomed. His hair shone in the light and his teeth were the most perfect teeth that God ever made. He wore a tasteful tan suit with a white shirt and a red tie.
“Who are you?” she said. She didn’t care if she sounded rude.
“Aren’t you going to let me in?” he said.
Without waiting for an answer, he picked up the suitcase at his feet and came through the door. It was as he was crossing the threshold that she realized how much like Snap he was, except that he couldn’t be Snap. He was thinner, better-looking, better dressed, more courteous and much cleaner. How could he be that much like Snap while being so much different?
“Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?” she said, making a little joke.
“What?” he said with a little laugh. “Are you saying you don’t know me?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “I was sleeping and I guess I’m a little confused in my mind.”
How have you been?” he asked. He surprised her by putting his arms around her and kissing her on the cheek.
“All right,” she said. “ A little worried, though.”
“Well, I was worried, too. About you.”
“Where have you been?”
“We don’t have to talk about that now,” he said. “We’ll talk about it another time.”
“You must be hungry.”
“Yes, I am.”
“It’ll take me about an hour to prepare dinner.”
“Good. In the meantime I need to rest. I think I’ll just go upstairs now.”
When he came down from upstairs and took his place at the table, he was wearing a yellow plaid sport shirt tucked into a pair of trim black pants. She wanted to tell him how good he looked, how unusual, but she was afraid it would come out sounding like a criticism of the old Snap.
“Did you notice anything different upstairs?” she asked.
“Why, yes,” he said. “You’ve gone to a lot of trouble. Everything looks wonderful.”
That proves it, she thought. If he wasn’t Snap, how could he know what the room looked like before? On the other hand, Snap never had a good word to say about anything, so he probably wasn’t Snap. Nothing was settled in her mind.
“I threw out a lot of the old things,” she said. “I thought we’d go downtown and buy you some new clothes. I know men don’t like to go shopping, but I won’t know what to get unless you go with me.”
“I don’t mind,” he said. “I could use some new things. Out with the old. In with the new.”
“Tomorrow is Sunday,” she said. “I want to go to church. Would you care to go with me?”
“Of course I’ll go,” he said. “If you want me to.”
The old Snap would have scoffed at the idea and would have made fun of her for asking him.
“After church I thought we’d go for a little drive and have lunch at that little place outside of town that has such good barbecue. And then after that go visit my sister and her husband.”
“I’m afraid they’re awfully dull. My sister’s husband is a retired meat inspector. He has very strong political views.”
“I don’t mind.”
When they were finished eating, she stood up and started clearing away the dishes.
“You stay right where you are,” he said. “I’ll wash up. You just rest.”
She looked at him with genuine amazement. The old Snap would never have offered to help after a meal.
“From now on I want to make things easier for you,” he said. “I’ll help with the housework and cooking. I’ll bet you didn’t know I could cook, did you?”
“No, I didn’t!”
“Now you go and rest. If you need anything, I’ll be in the kitchen.”
She had a dozen questions to ask, such as how and when he had learned to cook, but she was afraid to ask him, afraid to break the spell, if that’s what it was. The old Snap would be back and she didn’t think she could bear it.
She stood up and went outside, down the front steps to the sidewalk, and began walking down the street, past the houses that were so familiar to her. When she had walked half a block, she forgot where she was going or why, but suddenly it seemed very important to her that she tell someone: her son had come back and he was the kind of son she always wanted.
After she had walked many blocks and no longer knew where she was, a strange older man wearing a hat and dark glasses approached her. She strained to see his face but wasn’t able to make it out. When he took her by the elbow, she found his touch comforting somehow.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “You’re lost, aren’t you?”
“My son,” she said. “My son.”
“What about your son?”
“They’ve done something with him. He’s the same but not the same. He never liked to take a bath but this one is very clean. I can’t explain it.”
“Do you want me to call him for you?”
“I don’t think it would do any good.”
“My car is parked right down the street,” he said. “ I’ll take you wherever you want to go. Just name it.”
“I’m not sure if I should or not.”
“Come on. It’ll be fine.”
He took her by the arm to his car parked in the next block. It was an old car and big, the color of rust. He opened the back door for her and she got in. Then he got behind the wheel and started the engine.
He looked at her in the rearview mirror and smiled, showing brown teeth. “You’re a good-looking dame,” he said. “But I bet you already know that.” He laughed and put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb into the ceaseless flow of traffic.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp