He stepped out into the antechamber of darkness. Moving left, the door handle came into reach and he was outside. Rattling the car keys from his left pocket, he walked towards the car. Need to make it look like I’m out here for a purpose, he thought.
Reaching into the glove compartment, he fished out three tapes to listen to later. Done, he straightened and headed for the street in the night.
In a small town, it could be 6pm or 3am and it wouldn’t matter. The same stillness greets you, the air feels the same, the world is still moving at the same pace everywhere else.
As always, he walked in the on-coming lane. Easier to see the cars as they come and be able to do something about it, just in case the driver doesn’t see you. The course was familiar; he’d walked or run it many times before, with others and alone, at day and night.
As he approached the T intersection, the truck appeared from the right. In the distance, seeing only the headlights, he couldn’t tell whether it was a car or a truck. He slowed so that the truck would reach the intersection first and continue on by — as it did.
In a city at night, not your own, the fear of being a stranger walking alone being caught and prosecuted on the spot by local justice, real or vigilante, for no apparent reason, crosses one’s mind ever so briefly. He turned left and continued walking.
On the right were mobile homes, the kind that people who can’t afford real houses use as substitutes for the real thing. At the third home, a hound he could not see howled out at the intruder. No attack other than the noise imminent, he continued walking, making as little sound as possible. He waited for the yell from the master to quiet the dog. No one stirred; the dog’s bark trailed off with one last half-volume, “all clear” howl.
He rounded the corner and headed into the darkest portion of the walk. Here, the country reclaimed its right of sovereignty. The field on the left was fenced in by a sparse but imposing barrier of scrub, trees and barbed wire. The road was paved so as only to allow one vehicle on it at a time. He was walking in the middle now.
As he walked, the lights and sounds of the town were drowned out by the silent sounds of the country and darkness. He could only hear his steps and the rubbing of his nylon pants legs. He couldn’t see anything and tried to remember the functions of the rods and cones and which ones were providing him the ability to determine the shapes of the road.
He could tell he was nearing the bridge because the time was right. The bridge was always cause to hesitate in pace. He had only ever noticed at night. During the times he had come this way in the light of day, the bridge was insignificant. Twelve feet across, from one side to the other, at the most. It dipped down at the center by maybe three or four feet. It was cement and therefore shone differently in the absence of light than the black asphalt road.
On the other side, he noticed shadows. Over by the plant, the great high security lights radiated the white bluish glare clear out here. His shadow faintly at his side, as tall as three men, he walked on as the truck suddenly appeared again.
This time, it came from behind. He was at the most remote point in the walk, in terms of safety or the nearness of others. Should he walk on the right or the left? He felt and saw the yellow light from its headlights growing on the road before him. It carved the outline of his legs on the road, and then died, still a ways off.
He didn’t turn to see what had happened, or where it had turned, knowing instead that the next curve was approaching and he would be able to watch the road he had traversed from his right. As he rounded the curve walking towards the plant, he was struck, as he always was, by the width of the road. It was big enough to play football on.
He always felt a sense of almost relief when he turned to this part of the road. It signaled civilization again. The road was easier to see here because of the plant on the left. The lights extended up into the sky several stories, principally illuminating their charge for the night — the plant.
The road had curbs here, the asphalt composition was smoother and easier to walk on than that of the previous stretch. He walked down the middle of this expanse, staring to the right to see what had become of the truck.
The truck came quickly and rounded the corner so that once again it was immediately behind him. This time he considered jogging, as if the appearance of purposeful action would justify his presence at this odd location and time to those driving. Instead, as the truck neared, he stepped off the road and walked along in the field for a few moments. It passed rapidly on the left, seeming to continue its acceleration into the night.
He stepped back into the road with the threat gone and wondered about his life. Keeping up the pace, he clasped his hands behind his head. Is he a prisoner, someone being led against his will in a direction over which he has no choice? The hands drop behind his back, bound by nothing but more thoughts about what…about what?
Rounding the corner, he thought about Mike. Why did Mike sound surprised when he mentioned he was interested in the position the other day? He believed he had much in common with Mike. And yet Mike was older; Mike knew. He knew what he wanted. How much did he make — but, does it matter, would Mike ever be happy? He could easily die in abjectness, without ever having found satisfaction of purpose other than the solitary, fleeting moments of business success. (But, maybe that’s all there is?)
There are things you can’t tell anyone.
He began walking by houses now. He watched the windows for light and for movement. Were other families celebrating Thanksgiving too? They must be happy being together. Many houses were completely dark. Either their occupants were gone or asleep or in the dark.
One of the houses on the right was larger and more modern than the others. More questions. Why would anyone spend a lot of money on a place like this clear out here? What kind of people are they — ranchers, is he a doctor, a businessman, are they kind to others, or do they keep to themselves?
Again, he wondered what to do. What is important in life? Is achievement the most important above all else? Or is living a good, spiritual life the most important — being an example for his child(ren) to be, his co-workers, his fellow churchgoers, and the kids in the youth group?
As he rounded the corner onto the last major stretch, the fire hydrant of the corner house stood out. Surrounded by a circle of well-trimmed monkey grass, the hydrant was part of the landscaping, just like the miniature cubed hedges and the mimosa trees. He tried to think of a short story about the hydrant — something along the vein of a black comedy — but nothing came to mind.
The road was now a street. There were houses on both sides, neatly lined as in every other place on earth. The last house on the left, before the field, had its garage door open. Several half-elliptical shaped objects appeared to be hanging from the ceiling all along the width of the garage. They were irregular and of an interesting texture and mixed color. He felt he must concentrate on them to learn what they were, to know what it might be that could be of any interest in such a small town.
They were the curtains of the garage door. They hung down from the horizontal door, billowing down in dirty and abstract splendor. Their usual job taken away, they now doubled as separate objects of interest, totally devoid of any use in their current state.
And now, the walk was ending. It had served its purpose. He had gotten some exercise. The heavy unsettled feeling he had had in his stomach was gone for the most part. The crispness of the air had felt good on his face and clothes.
He looked toward the house as he neared it. He slowed down and observed the family within. The big window worked as an opening into a fishbowl of human activity. The world was in there. Warmth and brilliance.
Walking up the driveway, he reached for the doorknob and entered.