Homecoming by Kathryn Phelan

After “A Second Time” by James Galvin 

It was the year I painted the bedroom gold like kente cloth, so pigmented you could nearly pluck it from the walls and weave it. You needed a haircut but wanted everyone to know you’d been through something. We read our old letters out loud to each other, twenty numbered pages, all covered in dust and dirt, felt the weight of the postage in our hands. In the autumn your dad’s kidneys failed. You offered one of yours but he wouldn’t take it: You carry that failure in your blood too, he said, and you might need both of them. The meteorologists spoke of lake-effect snow, but it fell to the ground as rain.

The apartment was almost what we wanted, and I bought frames so you could hang the photos you took. It rained and rained. Puddles collected everywhere, and you talked about the red dust of dry season. You said you’d get around to it—the haircut, the photos, everything. Convalescence seemed baggy on you, an awkward indulgence. You missed the Dogon mask dances you’d left behind, so you lit bonfires, sat under the poplars and waited for the same feeling. I don’t suppose our garden was anything like Africa but you breathed the smell of the little exhausted fire for as long as the rain held off.

In December we assembled the futon, matched all the cables. We strung up fairy lights but neither of us could figure out how to turn off the blinking setting. The rain didn’t stop—it plunged lawns into marshes, slurped with our footsteps, dripped from the ceiling. You made jokes about running water. You took down the lights before Christmas. I understand now how different things comfort us, depending on where we have been. Your bonfire pit still leaks ash and charcoal onto the lawn. Small eddies carry the carbon away.

The sky hasn’t claimed a color in weeks. You left a book about Ghanaian culture and I read about how they prefer silence as communication if the words are unhappy. Still you called to tell me about your dad. When you are 24 nothing lasts forever, most things not even a year. The apartment is still mostly deconstructed in the boxes that I lugged out of the basement when the water crept in. Lake Michigan flooded its banks and for a while it surprised no one to see perch and bowfin flopping in the streets, gills straining for the water that stranded them there.


Kathryn Phelan is a freelance editor and writer from Michigan who is now based between Dublin and London. She earned an M.Phil in writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2013. Her work has appeared in The Sun magazine, The Best American Sports Writing, The Telegraph, The Irish Times, and more.