She walks for hours, or minutes, or seconds. Time is irrelevant to her. All she knows is the pain in her legs after the long trek eastward. She remembers the slabs of concrete passing her like flipped pages of her favorite books. She remembers the boundless stretch of stoplights flashing green, yellow, red; it is symphonic and beautiful, a heaven if there ever was one. The road goes on forever, stretching infinitely like space itself. She doesn’t quite understand this yet, the notion of how something could resemble literal space, but she knows it is long, winding like the tips of Mommy’s coiled hair. The road has no definitive beginning or end, like a hazy memory or sacred fever dream, the road seems to walk away from her, concrete slabs and all; all she can do is walk along with it. Her eyes are kind and full and warm. They consume the world around her with every breath, every bout of laughter, every stroller ride, every flashing stoplight, and every dream. She consumes the world with ferality and rampant curiosity. Her mother holds her hand tightly. The grip is binding and forceful, like she is terrified to let her baby slip between her fingers.
As the girl invents the world around her, she hears a distant chime. Bells beckon her to a mystical wonderland of shiny toys; there are red slides and green monkey bars she has never seen before. She forgets the road, the mundanity of concrete and telephone pole. She knows she must conquer this new kingdom. In this world, she is queen. She is pink and tulle, strawberry ice cream, and dreams of prince charming. Here, she is sunny skies and sweet songs, absent from the murky infinity the road beholds. Here, Mommy is never angry, scolding her for playing pretend. She never holds too tightly or too reverently. Here, she is not a doll for Mommy to dress. Here, Mommy glows brilliantly, sitting with the other Mommies spreading neosporin on turkey sandwiches. Here, the girl is anything she can imagine herself to be. She is a crazy warrior-warlock girl. She is a princess waiting to be saved. She is a jungle cat, ferocious with her frizzy-haired mane. She is pink peeling band aids and loose shoelaces. She is one front tooth missing; Mommy says it’s a big one and tells the girl that when she goes home, she can put her the tooth under her pillow and maybe she will get a surprise. She is confused and uninterested in surprises; they remind her of a father who surprised her by screaming, then leaving. They remind her of a birthday; that year she got a barbie dream bus and a toy piano, but all she wanted was a man. She doesn’t like surprises, so she puts her tooth in the back of her pocket. Maybe she will need it for later. She smiles now, so Mommy won’t grip too tightly. Mommy smiles back and wonders at how her warrior girl looks so perfect without her front tooth. She gleams and shines and smiles like all children should. The wind blows her hair back and the girl runs into her kingdom.
She runs and runs, as if wings would sprout from her shoulders and carry her far away, perhaps to a real kingdom where real princes save real warrior girls. As she runs, tears trickle down her face, she wipes them away because she is five now, a big girl. At four she would have run right into Mommy’s arms, but she is no four year old. She breathes like the tides and goes back to the game with other kids. Some are lacking front teeth like hers, others are covered in scrapes from their expeditions to unchartered lands. She smiles at them and informs them of their mission. They swing on monkey bars like vines, as if the playground was filled with something other than metal or plastic. She pounds on her chest with the ferociousness of a five year old girl and screams loud to her platoon. Here, she is free.
It’s different now. The sun has beat down and withered the freedom that ran without reign. She needs to find something, something to remind her that the place she ruled as a child was real. Of course it was. She can hear it. The bells, the babies, and balls in banquet halls. The screams of her tribe and the poundings on their chests like heartbeats. She can taste the warm lemonade and neosporin so vividly she could have sworn it lingered on her tongue. She can feel it, the rawness of her knees, freshly scraped clean; they hurt so deep even Mommy couldn’t fix them. It was there. It happened. She was sure. She still has the scars to prove it. There is nothing now except the road. She understands it now, the blatantly unforgiving and constant infinity; reverent and merciful infinity, infinity that stretches beyond what she comprehends, covering her like a wet blanket. The remains of her kingdom are flat. There is a parking lot and nothing else: there is a river, there is a road, there is a tree, and there is rain. This isn’t what she came back for. The rain washes every memory she’s ever had of her magic kingdom; her youthful days drip down her face like tears, hitting the ground with certitude. The water makes her clean, brand new. She is squeaky now, but she is empty. She leaves Manhattan with nothing but rain boots. The kingdom has closed, the road is infinite, and there’s nothing left for her here.
The days pass like flipped pages of her worn books. She is wrinkled now, like dried prunes roasting in summer afternoons. Afternoons like these have walked away from her with the ease of an absent father. In the course of her life she has loved, lost, and free loaded. She has been to 13 states including Florida to visit her friend from college. She has conquered new kingdoms and escaped death, but she doesn’t remember this. Her daughter, B, comes to her every so often to read her stories she has written from youth.
Sometimes, the tales B tells her are eerily familiar. Sometimes, they aren’t. Some days she screams and cries; she wonders who let that wretched girl into her kingdom. As she seethes and whispers incoherently, mumbling a prayer ingrained in her core, nurses invade her and the world turns black. When she is no longer enveloped in darkness, she is empty and clean; they give her blankets because she is cold, but they are already wet and they foster little warmth or comfort. The water from her nursing home shower trickles like tears running down her face and she marvels at the familiarity of this notion. There is a word: a man, a kiss that simmers on the tip of her tongue. It rolls around and she tries to make out what it is, but she cannot remember. She stares out of her window among the sky, trees, and infinity, and she wonders how she got here. The room is pale and enclosing and she doesn’t know anything anymore. There is no winding road or coiled hair. There is no neosporin or turkey sandwiches. There are no rainboots or baby teeth. She is grayed and unfamiliar too, unable to identify her reflection or sense of self. On her road, she forgot everything she was and everything she could have been. She is void of her emptiness, but only because she cannot remember what it felt like to be full; full of love, full of life, full of something distinctly human. She doesn’t mourn because she cannot remember what to mourn for. So instead she stares out at the infinite beyond, hoping to find a connection to something great or holy, but she cannot remember that either. She cannot remember life or death, instead she settles somewhere murky in between the two.
Thankfully, today isn’t one of those days. She seems to be bright, carrying a certain spark that B hasn’t seen since childhood. B brought pictures today. There is one is of a girl, on a slide, in a place so tall, even the sun smiled down at it. The girl is laughing with a carefree jubilancy and the she wonders how that must feel. She swears she can almost taste ice cream.