"I'm sorry," he says, almost like he means it.
Above him, the weathered trim on the eaves is the same hostile color as the sky. It's too little to say the sky looks like rain. The sky looks like rain like the elderly and very sick look like corpses. It is raining; it just hasn't happened yet.
He's ready to walk away now, scuffing the tip of his workboot through the dirt and staring me in the face. He has his hands in his pockets with the thumbs left out, free to tap some arrhythmic code I'm sure sounds to him like, 'When is she leaving, when is she leaving, when is she leaving...'
I take one final look back at the house. I thought for sure this would be the place. When I pulled up, the gathering storm had made the windows slickly black, despite the dust. The tires of the rental car sent up waves of loosed silt. The lawn was so far gone I couldn't tell whether or not the packed dirt I was driving on had ever been a driveway. It didn't really matter. The house stood up on the yellow ground like a tooth in the mouth of someone with advanced gum disease, roots all exposed and mean-looking. It didn't need a lawn to anchor it. It wasn't giving up any time soon.
It's not the place, though.
I saw it for one second when I pulled up, like it was yesterday. Saw the doors open and the porch swing swinging in the wild breeze of the last storm, dismembered tufts of buffalo grass floating through the air and the house in the center, young and glowing. I smelled that sweet summer smell. But now I'm closer and I just smell dust. It was a fantasy, or an illusion.
"You're sure?" I ask him.
"Sure," he sighs, nodding rapidly. "Nobody ever lived here long as I owned the lot." He's looking back over his shoulder, toward the new place closer to the road and the blackness charging up behind it.
Some giddy edge to my confusion is still insisting he's wrong. I was right here, drinking scotch straight from the bottle. There was no house by the road, barely even a road period. I've been inside, all the way up the creaky stairs to the bedroom on the top floor whose door banged and whined in the wind through the windows we never got the chance to close. It's slipping away, it's already gone.
"It was summer..." I begin again.
"No, Ma'am," he assures me. I wasn't ma'am here. Ma'am everywhere else, maybe, but here, still Miss. It can't be the place. It is the place.
The sky has grown dark and now the house glows again, only now it glows like bones. The wind comes up and whips my hair into my eyes. Good, because they're stinging. If it never happened, where the hell and who the hell am I. If I wasn't born here, how do I even exist. This is the last place on earth. I've looked everywhere else.
I mutter thank-you at him and set him free to jog back to his own pleasantly ordinary farmhouse as I turn to my vehicle. I bend to pick up a handful of dust, which slides through my fingers like satin or sand, it's that fine. Too many storms. I know it was here, but now it's eroded. The face of the memory is worn down and can't be recognized or reassembled.
I don't look again. This isn't the place anymore.