Thursday, December 6, 2007

Walking Girl

Summer time. Some might say the living is easy. For some, this means spending entirely too much money to see scantily clad women battle space aliens before making out with a variety of different leading men. Others slave away at shit jobs for sixty hours a week in an effort to buy a new car or a new guitar or some other fancy toy in order to impress said scantily clad woman, while others still get to travel to exotic locations on their parents’ paychecks, and come home with made-up stories of an exotic foreign belle, when really all I ever got was excessive amounts of sand in inopportune places.
But that’s summer: three months full of sweat and ideas that result in nothing but disappointment once you’ve realized that summer flings are complete fallacies, invented by the entertainment industry to make your life miserable and continue to excuse the existence of movie musicals.
Naturally, this summer was no different. Alec had scored a job pushing buttons and a mop at the local 7-11, while Peter and Ben just hung out in the parking lot drinking Slurpees. Peter would brag about Shannon Reilly giving him sex eyes on the last day of school when she was writing in his yearbook, Ben would smack him in the back of the head, and then they’d go inside the 7-11 and steal things while Alec kept the manager busy. As faithful as they were as friends, Peter and Ben were jokers, never taking much of anything seriously. But Alec was a dreamer—quiet, idealistic, and often distant, always looking to the horizon for something that no one else could see, and that he himself could never put to words. The trio’s radical dynamic was anything but subtle to the common passerby, but somehow, it worked for them.
Routines catch on fast in suburban summers, and nearly a month of un-adventure atop the torrid pavement of the 7-11 parking lot had passed, with little to no excitement or relevance. On days too humid to move, when even high school locker room talk became a chore, the boys would spend hours spitting at the asphalt and watching their saliva sizzle and dissolve against the steaming black tar. On one such day, the air conditioning unit in the 7-11 had broken down, and Alec spent his break with his face pressed against the glass of a drink cooler, hoping that the little condensation that had gathered would offer him some relief. On days like this, there were usually no costumers either, because no one wanted to leave their homes, or because their car engines had all overheated anyway. Just Ben and Peter, loitering like usual.
At some point, Ben decided to swim through the humid air and throw open the doors in a frenzy, disrupting Alec’s drink cooler meditation session. “Dude kid, ya gotta see this! Petey’s shoe just melted on the pavement!” he exclaimed, and then promptly ran back outside. Reluctantly, Alec gave up his spot by the refrigerators, and braved the summer heat outside. Sure enough, Peter’s shoe had gotten a little sticky—it was hot and gel-like to the touch, but nothing remarkably captivating.
“Cool. Bye,” muttered Alec, the heat driving his normally colorful speech into monosyllabics. He took two steps back towards his soft drink haven and froze, staring across the parking lot in awe. “There she is,” he whispered to himself, a smile cutting into his face.
“What, is it a mirage, or an oasis or somethin’? You look like you just seen Jesus walk on water. It’s nasty enough out here that it’s kinda like walkin’ on water…” said Peter, never bothering to look in the same direction. Alec was unable to form a verbal response—it was either too hot, or he was bewildered. He simply raised one hand, and pointed towards the street.
“Alright, so we’re not the only assholes who go outside on a day like this. What’s your point?” Ben nagged.
But he didn’t understand. “Every day. Every day she walks by here, three times. I don’t know where she’s going, where she’s coming from, or who she is, but she’s here, every day. Doesn’t matter what time I’m working—she’s always there, she’s always just…walking,” Alec murmured, as if in a dream.
“Awesome. You’re crazy. You’ve gone completely nuts. Let’s bring you back to your Gatorade cooler now…” His friends chastised him and laughed, and Alec went back to work. But he knew he’d see her tomorrow. He saw her every day.

The next day, Alec worked the ten-to-six shift, and, like always Ben and Peter would be outside waiting for him the whole time, so that when he got off work they could continue to hang out in the parking lot for hours on end. They’d pretty much forgotten about the whole walking girl infatuation from the day before, and just took their usual places on the curb in front of the store.
The whole situation was still fresh in Alec’s mind, however. Of course, it was always on his mind, and today, he was going to make his friends understand. But he couldn’t find the words for what he wanted them to know. Sure, there was a girl, and she walked, but there are a whole lot of girls that walk. And none of them are Walking Girl.
It was 10:57am, and Peter was going off on one of his daily tirades, this time about how Mary Ellis was a better kisser than Susan Carlisle. Ben responded in turn, the same way he always did, when Alec stormed outside and took a commanding stance on the sidewalk. Ben and Peter just looked at him funny, and continued in their daily conversation.
“There. Watch,” he said, directing their collective attention towards the sidewalk. And sure enough, just on schedule, she walked by. “Walking Girl,” he said, with a smile like a boy on Christmas morning.
“Walking Girl?” Peter retorted. “Is she some kind of Super Hero chick or something? Like the Invisible Woman, or Mary Jane or whatever?”
“Just watch,” Alec responded quietly, as his eyes lit up.
“Also, just for the record—Mary Jane wasn’t a super hero, she was…oh,,,“ Before he could finish his sentence, Ben saw her, too, and he was left standing dumbfounded.
Naturally, Peter still didn’t get it. He never did.
It only took her about a minute and a half to cross the street and walk out of sight, but that was more than enough. With a glow, Alec said “I’ll see you guys at three,” and walked back to the store.

A similar scene took place at three o’clock, and then again at five o’clock. Peter still didn’t get it, but Ben and Alec stopped caring; it was like trying to force someone to see the dolphins in one of those Magic Eye books. This ritualistic voyeurism became part of their daily summer routine for the next few weeks. No one spoke a word out loud of Walking Girl, but in those few glorious moments that she paraded down the sidewalk, she consumed their thoughts.
Until one day, when Alec snapped. “I need to meet her. I need to know who she is. I need to know where she’s coming from, where she’s going. I just gotta talk to her. This is important,” he told the other guys. Ben warned him not to ruin it; Peter called him a maniacal stalker. But Alec was determined to unravel the mystery behind Walking Girl—so determined, that he was willing to sacrifice the one thing that overpowered the grueling heat of the summer
But on that day, Walking Girl never came.
They waited outside at eleven o’clock, three o’clock, and five o’clock, but they never saw her walking. Of course, as they waited, not a word was spoken about her. Even at the end of the day, when the three boys parted ways and headed home, she was never even mentioned—there was no sign of Walking Girl.

Three weeks had passed since they had last seen Walking Girl. The summer waned on, its routines holding steady. With each passing day, the August air grew thicker, until the first drops of summer rain finally fell from the sky. Still, Ben and Peter sat outside the 7-11 while Alec slaved away inside. At eleven, three, and five, Alec went outside and offered his friends refugee from the torrential downpour; they declined, opting instead to spend the day in silence. It rained for a week straight.
The summer was almost over, and they had squandered it in parking lots, infatuating over some mystery woman while indulging in the occasional Slurpee. When school finally started, none of the boys knew what to say. Everyone else was sharing their stories of summer love, making out under boardwalks and never even speaking the same language. They told stories of Italian beaches and little kids from summer camps. Alec, Ben, and Peter remained all but silent on the topic of their summer. “It was alright,” they’d respond in part. But they all remembered Walking Girl, and the forbidden long distance group love affair they shared, but they would never, ever speak a word of it. They simply couldn’t.
It was September 20. The last day of summer. Alec, Peter, and Ben were having lunch in the Cafeteria, when they overheard a conversation at the other end of the table. Some kid who worked at the local record store made mention of a girl that walked by, three times a day. He was trying to explain the significance of the situation to his friends, but they just didn’t get it.
Without exchanging any words, the trio shared knowing glances, and cleared their trays. They left school, headed towards the record store. They walked three miles in complete silence, and just as they arrived, Peter decided to break the tension.
“Guys, this is seriously retarded. I mean, we’re basically stalking a girl we’ve never even spoken to, and who we don’t know a goddamn thing about. We don’t even know if this is the same girl!”
Alec swallowed hard, and looked Peter straight in the eye. He struggled to find the words, and finally said, “This is just something I need to do. Okay?” With that, the three of them sat down on the curb in front of the record store.
Four hours of silence passed them by as they waited. The store closed, the owner went home, and still they waited. It was the last night of the summer, which hadn’t really been that remarkable in the first place, but endings always make the most meaningless events seem sentimental.
They didn’t know where she was going, where she’d been, or even who she was, but none of that really mattered.

Feb. '06

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