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And that morning, your mother will wake in an empty house. She’ll remember that she dreamed you came home in the night, one of those vivid dreams that feels like it must be true, dreamed the opening and closing of the front door, the soft tread of your feet bare on the floor, the dangle of your party shoes in your hand.

Before you left, you kissed her on the forehead, I’m heading to town with some friends, and there was a truck waiting outside in the driveway and your mother dreamed that too, its low-belly rumble return, so she rises from the couch where she slept waiting for you and goes to your room expecting to find you there.

But there is only the fuzz-bundle kitten you found in the alley at your pizza-place job in town that you named Centipede after one of the machines in the back room, the ones your whiteboss always called classic, called retro, but they only looked old to you, like ruins, you told the cute delivery boy and he laughed in that way boys do when they don’t quite understand. You kept the kitten in the back seat of your car that night with a slice of pizza and an open bottle of water and when you brought it home to your mother, she said that cat has heartbreak eyes, and put some milk in a bowl for it.

The kitten will come mewing out to your mother that morning, wend around and around her feet all the way out to the kitchen. Your mother will check her phone for messages, will start a batch of cinnamon pancakes on the stove, your favorite, so they will be ready when you return. She will be thinking when you return, won’t be thinking of the days and days and days ahead, not yet, the signs and the search and the red handprint painted over her mouth, she will stir the cinnamon into the batter and outside the sun will be frozen-bright on the white snow and the rush-startle of sparrows from the ground when she opens the curtains will make her think of the distant, sad call of thunder.

Listen to "As She Dreams" by Goth Babe, selected to accompany "You Were Always Coming Home," below:

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CATHY ULRICH (she/her) remembers when she was a kid, there were always arcade games at the pizza place. Her work has been published in various journals, including The Phare, Citron Review and Truffle.

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