A Story by Joel McCarthy

There was a certain way I’d walk her home, and even though it took me over an hour from my door to her door and back to mine again, I never minded it. There were landmarks, not that I’d ever get lost, but they helped. They gave us piece of mind I think. We’d know what to expect, and it was warm, comforting, kind of the way we were with each other. Sometimes it would rain or snow, but it only added to it I think. In the dead of winter, in the dead of night, we’d pretend that everyone was really dead. Our feet would stomp the undisturbed snow before anyone else had a chance to touch it. We’d act like we were the last people on earth, and as long as we had a place to eat and to make love it was going to be good. We’d giggle at our little cliché, but it was ours.  

            On Saturday nights, probably at about the halfway point of our trek, we’d pass a bar. It wasn’t a bar either of us would ever been seen at even if we were old enough to get in, but it existed without us, jam packed with patrons who wanted to drink and listen to a cover band. There was a long window that faced the street so anyone walking by could catch a glimpse of the action taking place inside Butt Rhettler’s bar and grill. We were too young to get the Rhett Butler reference, but I think it was supposed to be that way. We weren’t supposed to get the joke, for their sakes and for ours. 

There was a dance floor that met the minimum requirements of what could actually constitute a dance floor. As tiny as it was, there were always a group of middle aged party goers working it on that thing every Saturday night, come snow squall or hurricane, you could bet on it like clockwork. We’d mock them, say they looked like drunken turkeys through the window, joke about how the singer of the cover band sounded like a retarded Kim Mitchell, and looked like a retarded Garfunkel. These people were reliving their youths before us, and for the one and a half minutes it took to walk past their window on the street, they served as living entertainment for us, unlike any false reality our televisions could conjure.

            The next two blocks of our walk were always a different kind of vibe. It seemed once we past a certain intersection, the one with the KFC and the liquor store, we had to be careful, or at least more conscious of the surroundings. This wasn’t the time to be making fun of anyone, because the people around this intersection didn’t like Kim Mitchell or cover bands. We’d pass a certain building, one that probably resides in every city on earth in one form or another. It’s the building with rusted balcony banisters, soiled bed sheet blinds, and dozens of cheap looking satellite dishes protruding off of it like white fungi. It’s the building that’s never quiet, the one with sketchy figures lurking about the stooped shadows, always hooded and always smoking. We’d pass this building quickly; reminding each other of urban legends we’d heard in connection to the building. There was one about this drug dealer (name unknown) who started inviting kids over to play Nintendo. Nintendo turned into more drugs and eventually underage sex. When one of the abused kids (name also unknown) tried to notify the cops, he didn’t make it down to the station.  They say the kid was murdered by the drug dealer, and even though everyone in the building knew what had happened, they kept their mouths shut. The reason for this was that they were all junkies and without their trusted dealer, pederast or not, being a junky would be awfully hard without a drug dealer.

            The section of pathway before her house was my favorite part of the walk. It went through a small forest that had stayed untouched by the suburban development in the area. It was as though I were a trained scout, delivering a princess across the land safely so that she may return to her homeland. But of course she was a feminist and would always change my cheesy fantasy scenario, claiming she was the warrior and I was the princess. Sometimes I would accept my role, pretending to be afraid of everything around me, grabbing her thin arm for protection. A twig on the ground was a serpent. A moth was a dragon. A squirrel crossing our path, a lion. Her laughter would echo off of the trees, and even in the dead of winter, it would give the place life. She’d always managed to light up places like that with her voice, or even with just the sounds her steps made. I never told her any of this because I didn’t know how to give her a compliment without her turning it into a judgment. It wasn’t her fault, probably just a childhood hangover from the way her parents may have raised her. People can’t always be blamed for the stains their elders spill on them.

            In the courtyard, just before reaching her front door, there was an Asian man. He was always our finale. He would dance with a sword in self aware slow motion, and it was the most extraordinary thing to bear witness to. It wasn’t his brand of martial arts or the sleekness of his weapon, but his confidence we admired. He had managed to shut out everyone and everything and could take over a section of public space all for himself. He honed in on the surroundings but didn’t ban others from it because we were free to walk before him. This guy just blended in perfectly, like he was a prominent piece of the puzzle that was the courtyard, and even if you thought he was nuts, you had to accept it. He was there. We never spoke to him but I felt like he was like us. We owned those streets together the way he owned that courtyard.

            We’ve since grown up, and now we drive everywhere. There are a lot of songs and a lot of pretty poems about cars and the journeys they take you on, but it isn’t the same. I think that’s alright. Our walk needed to end at some point. I say “needed” because if it had never ended, it would be a hard thing to consider, to analyze, to reconsider, to accept. When the walk ends, you get the chance to think about the journey. You think about all those steps and all those landmarks. They’re the things that make you want to walk again.         

© 2011 Joel McCarthy

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I applaud the ongoing metaphor of landmarks, the motif that carries throughout the piece, carries the reader with it - through physical and the emotional landscape of the piece. The flow is unhurried, lyrical and fitting. Well done.

Posted 11 Years Ago

Kept me interested throughout. It had good flow and most of the voicing was consistant and punctual and drove the story down the page in the same way one might walk a familiar trail. A trail home.

Posted 11 Years Ago

Another exceedingly well-written story, Joel. You know how I love nostalgia and reminiscence. You said "snow motion"...did you mean "slow motion"?

Posted 11 Years Ago

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4 Reviews
Added on March 1, 2011
Last Updated on March 1, 2011


Joel McCarthy
Joel McCarthy

Mississauga, Canada

My name is Joel McCarthy and I write. Some of work has been published in magazines like PRISM International, The Feathertale Review, and Macabre Cadaver. I'll review whatever work I find that is polis.. more..