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You can tell they're home by the noise


THEY'RE home now.

They come from college carrying bags filled with dirty laundry and wearing new-found philosophies. We listen, their father and I, and we watch.

We listen to their ideas on the environment, nutrition, psychology, and yes, raising a family. We watch an earring appear and then disappear and a full head of hair turn to a shiny pate.

We wonder what happened to the wardrobe they packed when they left for college and why they prefer wearing a roommate's clothes. But it's OK, we say.

They're home now, and the Oriental lamp in the living room is wearing a baseball cap. There are always sneakers in the hall and an empty milk carton on the kitchen counter.

When they are all home at once there is never enough food, shampoo or hot water. The house vibrates with sound. Speakers carry it into every corner; even in the shower you can feel the beat.

During quiet times, we enjoy the drone of a washing machine, dishwasher or hair dryer. A slamming screen door keeps us aware of comings and goings. "I'm home," they shout. We already know.

We are entertained at every hour and are not surprised to smell bacon cooking at 3 a.m.

They're home now. Their cars are in the driveway, and there's an extra body on the living room couch. The red eye of the alarm clock says that two more hours of sleep are ahead. I crawl back into my empty space and listen to the steady rhythm of the breathing beside me. "They're home," I whisper, and sink slowly into my pillow.

Soon they'll be gone again, and the house will be silent. A warm hush will hang over the living room, suspended with dust particles in afternoon sunlight. In the corner, the piano will stand mute, resigned to holding the family picture and a silver vase.

A grandfather clock stands at the foot of the stairs. After they're gone, its steady beat will be heard through the house. Upstairs bedrooms will yawn emptiness, and stillness will hover over cleared bureau tops. On a bed, enjoying the last patch of afternoon sunlight, the cat will lie wrapped in its tail.

Betty Driscoll writes from Baltimore.

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