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Footsteps that would have been soft, fall against the drenched pavement beneath them with an audible splash. Growls from the grey masses above echo in his chest as he walks. Large bursts of light from the heavens reflect against his rain-streaked glasses, drops sliding down the small stretch of glass without a sound.
Though the rain falls heavily against his body, he does not feel cold, rather his blood burns under his skin, bright river of crimson that swam through him like molten lava. And yet he shivered, teeth rattling against one another behind pale lips.
His shoes were long past wet as the once milky white fabric grew dull and distorted by its surroundings. He stares at his feet as he walks, silently trying to count how many steps he’d taken so far. 10,431 and counting. Too short a distance.
He wills his legs to move faster but the commands go unanswered. His consciousness was barely attached to the vessel which held it. He is a bystander in himself, watching as he walks forward.
He watches as his hand reaches out to grab the slippery brass knob before him. With a light turn the gears click and the iron gates open with a slow creak.
A sense of familiarity comes over him as his feet intuitively carry him to the spot he had been searching for. 15,042 just like always.
The sky is brightening, light slowly flooding his surroundings, though the rain continues to fall.
He falls to his knees with a soft thud, making contact with the sodden mud and wet grass underneath him. He leans forward and kisses the earth before him. His lips still lightly pressed against ground he whispers,
”Hi Mom, long time no see.”
It had started out like usual. Mornings plagued with silence, an emptiness that had just recently taken it’s place of dominance in the old house. Father had been gone for 2 weeks now, a new record for him. Like always, I was left to take care of myself.
An early March shower has begun to take form over the small town as the distinct petrichor drifted through the open windows and encircled the house. The only sounds that echoed through the building were that of the TV, turned on to the local news. An attractive female anchor discussed the recent weather patterns in an unrealistically giddy tone. I rolled my eyes at her sugar-coated cheer as I brewed myself a cup of coffee for breakfast. I never had much of a stomach for big breakfasts, though Mom wouldn’t have any of that. She always took great pride in her ability to cook and was a fan of big eating. As expected, my father and I would leave every morning with bloated stomachs, though we didn’t mind since it put a smile on Mom’s face.
As the rain began to fall, I put my half-drunken coffee in the sink and got ready to head out. Pulling on a worn leather jacket over my shirt and sliding on my old black sneakers, I made my way out of the house and to my car, bracing myself for the cool droplets that fell on my face. It was a 10 minute drive to school, and exactly 24,986 steps by foot.
Since I was little I’ve had a habit of counting my footsteps, calculating distances to my favorite places in the only way I knew how to travel. Though I’d been driving everywhere since the beginnng of high school, the numbers still stuck. Guess that’s what happens when you live in such a tiny town, nothing ever changes. Except the people of course.
I always asked my parents why we lived here, where everything was close and quiet, a small incasement of existence in the middle of nowhere. Father would always say it was safer here than in bigger cities, but Mom would always smile and tell me it was because she liked to see the stars at night.
Once I arrived at school, I fell into my usual routine; bounce back and forth from class to class, avoid eye contact with anyone else, count the seconds til the day is done. Not too difficult to accomplish if you ask me. School and the shallow minds of teenagers were of no interest to me; I just wanted to hurry up and become an adult so that I could escape this dreadful place.
With the sound of the last bell I breezed past other students as I rushed to reach my car. Once safely inside I begin my commute to work. I was training at a local mechanics shop, helping smooth out roughed up cars and what not. Its not like I plan to become a mechanic, I just have an obsession with fixing cars, making sure nothing goes wrong with them, making sure the driver stays safe. Guess I can thank Mom for that.
She passed away in an accident 2 years back, when I was a sophomore in high school. We’d been driving out to the city for some dinner because I’d been doing so well in school. It had been raining pretty bad that day, and the roads were treacherous. It happened in an instant. My mom losing control, her frantically trying to hit the brakes before we crashed, the deafening screech of metal and glass shattering all around me. From what the paramedics told my father and I, my mother died on contact, instantly. Things haven’t been the same since.
Father and I used to visit the cemetary every week to place flowers on her grave, but after Father started dating again the visits became less frequent, until finally they stopped all together. I used to walk down to the cemetary myself, but as time went on, the task just became tedious and I too moved on.
When I reached home, I was surprised to see the answering machine was blinking, indicating that there was a message. Curious I had walked over to the machine and pressed play, plopping down on our lumpy couch to listen.
With an automate click, the message began to play.
“Hey Hal, it’s your father speaking.” the voice began, its tone brisk and professional, as usual. My interest peaked, I sat upright. Father never leaves messages.
“I know I’ve been gone a while, hope you’ve been well”, he said with hesitation. Something in my gut told me he hadn’t just called to check in.
“I just wanted to…give you some heads up before I get home that Casandra and I…” his voice faltered a moment. Casandra was Father’s latest girlfriend and so far the longest lasting one. With a small sigh he continued,
My eyes widened as my mind scrambled to grasp what I had just heard. Engaged? They’ve only been together a few months, how did that happen? A strange unease seeped into my veins as I continued to listen.
“We decided during our trip upstate. We’re coming home to sign the marriage register, and Casandra will be moving in afterwards.”
I felt a small pang of discomfort when I heard the world “home”. Suddenly it was foreign word, a location only they knew of and I was a stranger to.
“I know it’s sudden but you have to understand, she means a lot to me. When we arrive, I hope you’ll treat her kindly. She’ll be your mother from now on so-“
I didn’t hear the rest. Abandoning the couch, I walked up the stairs with strange intensity, my eyes set on the attic door. With a small shove, the rusted hinges gave and the door flew open, letting out a steady breeze of dust and musty air. It was a small room, its ceiling arched downwards so that I had to duck in order to walk. The aged wooden floor creaked under my weight as I stepped briskly over to the many cardboard boxes packed up against the far wall. Slowly I pushed one after another aside, until I found it: a shoe box, the surface layered with dust and cobwebs that obscured the famous logo. With hesitant hands I lifted the lid, watching as the dust slid off and melted into the air, indistinguishable in a matter of seconds. Inside sat a pair of white sneakers with the tags still on. I ran my fingers over the stiff fabric, as the memories of that night returned to me:
”Come on sweetie, there has to be something you want! It’s a whole department store, you can’t tell me not a single thing interests you.” My mom said, an exasperated expression on her face as she pushed me forward towards the next section of the store.
“Mom! I’m serious you don’t have to! I have enough clothes, I don’t need anything, honest!” I said with a sheepish grin, I was starting to regret agreeing to go shopping with her. But of course, Mom wouldn’t budge. We walked around for another ten minutes and while Mom was distracted by some “cute heels”, I milled around the shoe section with mild interest. Running my hands aimlessly over the display shoes, I weaved my way through rows of shoes, counting my footsteps when something caught my eye. Up on a small pedestal were a pair of white sneakers, with stylish laces and low soles. Curious, I pulled out a pair in my size and tried them on. For a few moments I stood and admired them on my feet. They felt pretty good. A small laugh behind me startled me and I turned to find Mom standing there with a triumphant smile on her face.
“I knew you’d find something!” she exclaimed, her voice high pitched as it usually is when she’s excited. I opened my mouth to protest but before I could, she grabbed the shoe box out of my hand and walked over to the counter to purchase it, informing the cashier that I’d be wearing it out. I hastily tried to untie the shoes in the hopes of catching up to her but before I could she waltzed back over to me with the shopping bag, clearly proud of herself.
“Mom…” I sighed as I slid on my own shoes and held up the new ones, trying to get her to return them. She merely took them out of my hand and dropped them into the bag, then turned to hurry off out of the store. Clearly defeated, I jogged up behind her.
“They’re so lovely! You’ll look just wonderful in them when we go out to eat later.” she said cheerily as she exited the store and rummaged in her purse for the car keys. I rolled my eyes and laughed, grabbing the just-found keys out of her hand and running up to the awaiting car.
“Nah, I won’t wear them tonight, the rain will get them all dirty.”
With a shrug she replied, “Maybe next time. Now hand those keys back to me!”
Smiling, I unlocked the car and took the driver’s seat.
“No can do Mom, I need practice. I only just got my license remember?” I said as I turned the key in the ignition. With a shake of her head she let herself into the car and said,
“Fine, fine. Just be careful okay?” her voice laced with hints of concern. I brushed it off with a smirk as I pulled the car out of the parking lot.
“Whatever you say Mom.”
Free falling tears clung to the white fabric of the shoes, small spots darkening like ink on a canvas. With heavy hands I lifted the shoes out of the box and placed them beside me. Kicking my own off of my feet, I carefully slipped them on, as if afraid they would tear apart at my touch. They still fit, the sensation akin to the one I felt when I first wore them.
A surge of warmth began to move through me, setting fire to my veins. I stood there as it grew, my heart pounding in my throat. Without taking another breath, I began my descent.
My hurried steps, frantic against the wooden floor, loud cracks of thunder echoing through the hallowed home, nearly muffled the sound of the phone with its urgent ringing. It cried out against the noise to grasp my attention and a short glance told me it was my father. I left without another thought toward it. Its existence was numb to me.
As I exited the house, rain fell from the heavens with a fury only possessed by the divine.
A simple obstruction, a pebble to kick aside.
My destination was set and all others fell by the wayside on my path, mere distractions, faint remnants of what once was; a childhood fondness of a small town, a father with endless patience, a mother with boundless love, a home to return to.
All were illusions of the past.
Change had swept by and uphinged the very stitching of my life, unravelled it thread by thread until nothing remained but tattered memories.
How many steps must I take before I meet her? The countless journeys made once upon a time to her new dwelling lay untouched in my mind as I call them forth guide me.
Count slowly, tread carefully as the poison of the present continues to weed its way into the past, distorting the once pure.
I had forgotten you. Left your presense to gather dust as your name slowly grew foreign to our tongues and your image blurred.
As I journey to you, the falling transparent serves as a looking glass, a window to you, a clearer view of what I’d lost sight of.
What once destroyed now rebuilds, redemption offered to the one who no longer deceives himself by covering his eyes and claiming to be blind.
I can see again.