Andrew got off the Greyhound in a big industrial lot in Columbia. A great patchwork of clouds splattered across the sky and threw ribboned afternoon shadows onto the expanse of gravel lots visible from Big Bear Lane. Andrew stood at the entrance to the street for a long time, trying to distill the silence from the milling of people by the bus far behind him. Otherwise the gravel complex held a post-storm stillness. There was a wind far overhead forcing the clouds and causing a slow glimmer of changing light on the ground.
Andrew’s hands became cold, so he put them in the pockets of his pea coat and picked a direction. Felt the crunch of gravel in his weak ankle. Finally he reached Rangeline Street, a name he vaguely recognized. To the south he could see businesses, and he headed for them. He asked a woman the direction of downtown and used that as a compass. He thought of nothing and unconsciously catalogued gas stations and shades of feeling he quietly remembered. He felt the bustle of the business district as a sensation parallel and removed from the place he was in. When he reached the north side residentials he smelled the weed that seemed to come from nowhere. Heard the unforgiving repetition of childish, tuneless melodies that banged around his head as he walked. Tried to remember things that weren’t there — houses, shops, people, trees — but he couldn’t. He heard a dog bark and his phone ring and a fire engine siren.
He took alleyways now until he arrived home. A burned out black shell of a building — gutted and painted new by ash. Andrew tried picturing smoke, but he couldn’t. There were the cement foundations, skelating upward to the 8th floor. There was a bit of uncleared rubble on the ground that he could see in the crack of the red construction barrier.
Andrew’s eyes scanned to the 5th floor, found the large middle window, and swept across to the right, to the window 3rd from the end. He felt a sense of warmth creep into his fingers. He took his hands from his pea coat and hoisted himself over the construction barrier, landed with a crunch in the rubble, and listened to the twinkling of the fire engine melody repeating in his head. He could make out the charred remains of furniture and warped metal on the ground, but little else. Andrew smiled at his old home and felt no bitterness. He looked down both directions of the block, to the homes and apartments of old neighbors, and saw familiar shells everywhere. He couldn’t remember what or whom the shells held, but they were enough to make him happy, because even after everything, the shells remained.