Monday, May 17, 2010

"The Very Long Way Home" by Matt Cutugno

Once upon a time it seemed as if but now not and so. She didn’t want to make too much out of that but she couldn’t help but wonder. She had drunk a lot that evening, she had drunk too much. Now she was seated at a bus stop bench on Second Avenue, woozy, thinking of all the different ways to describe herself. Drunk of course, but also wasted, trashed, inebriated and intoxicated. She was bombed, tight, totaled, tipsy. In arcane terms snookered.

The bus wasn’t coming. She got up from the bench to begin her long walk home.
Shortly after that she stumbled and fell down some concrete steps that led to the parallel street below. She had been strolling confidently, when she found herself distracted and was looking up into the evening sky when she should have been watching where she was walking. She stumbled at a turn, didn’t see the first step, and that was it. You miss the first step on a flight of stairs, you may likely miss the second. A second step missed naturally increases the odds of missing another and even though she reached out for the wrought iron rail in the middle of her path, she could not manage both it and the steep flow of steps laid out in the dark. She managed neither and fell down, rolling completely over once, moving like a crab at another point, then trying to stand and stumbling one last time, falling to the sidewalk with an undignified thump She arrived at curbside near the base of the stairs.

She stood up, and looked back from whence she fell. She was bruised and bewildered, but otherwise unhurt. She decided it must be true that the Lord looks after infants and drunks. She slapped at the legs of her slacks, brushing off dirt she’d accumulated on her rapid descent. Finally, she looked around in her embarrassment to see if there were any witnesses to her shame. As it was two a.m., the streets were empty.

Oddly, the street she was on could be taken to reach her home. So the fall helped her progress, though that thought didn’t make her feel any better. She walked on. The night air would have been bracing if she could feel anything. She concluded that another word for drunk is numb. She was numb, happily enough being so, feelings are overrated. Concentration was hard though, she was having a hard time concentrating. She stopped at a street corner and took a deep breath, then hiccuped.
Her glance caught a tall, wire-meshed waste can that was situated at the curb. She stared at it to make sure - a skateboard was lying askew at the top of refuse.

Thus did she come up with the notion of skateboarding the long way home.

It wasn’t that crazy an idea. She was a trim, athletic young woman. So when she retrieved the luckily-for-her discarded skateboard, examined it, and decided to try it out, things started well. She placed the skateboard on the sidewalk, stepped on it with her left foot, steady steady and she hopped up and pushed off with her right foot. Step push she went, step push and she was riding.

The sidewalk was smooth, the area was well lit by street lights. She was moving forward nicely with her new conveyance. As the cool evening breeze blew into her, she was feeling proud and somewhat sobered up. If she could make it to Maple Avenue, she might easily catch a bus there or even hitch a ride the rest of the way home.

That was the plan when suddenly the front wheel of the skateboard seemed to loosen and wobble. It hampered her efforts to guild her momentum, and just at that moment the street took a sharper turn down to the traffic light at Maple Avenue.
Her speed increased exponentially, though she really didn’t know what that meant. She did realize that she was moving much too fast. Then for her own strange reasons, she leaned in, turning her weight to steer away from the sidewalk and toward the street, and just like that she was hurtling down the left traffic lane toward the stop light at Maple, which had just then turned red against her.

Time should have been standing still but that was the problem, it wasn’t. There she was on top of the skateboard, standing steadily enough but simply unable to stop going forward.

Her mind raced with her body, and it was a dead heat. She could jump off the skateboard, abandon her transport, but at this speed that would be ill-advised. She had suffered one fall already that night, which reduced the odds of escaping a second tumble unscathed. Meanwhile, the red traffic light was fast approaching, or more accurately, she was approaching it.
Her fate intervened. She flew into the intersection and passed directly under the red traffic light. Immediately she sensed cars on her right and left, headlights flashed and horns honked. Miraculously, she cleared the intersection, but she then swerved crazily and smacked into the curb opposite Maple Avenue. The skateboard hit hard and stopped at the gutter, but she did not. Instead she found herself airborne.

At that point time did slow down. She flew head first at first, then her head was pointed down and she was looking at a patch of green grass, then she further flipped and was gazing at the black cloudy sky. The next sensation she could verify was a sudden stop thud. She had flipped from the curb and landed in the back of a parked pickup truck. She heard a loud boom, then felt herself pained and flat on her back, knocked out.

She dreamed of apple blossoms. She was lying on soft grass, looking up into the branches of a spreading tree. Sunlight bled through. Delicate white flowers clung to the stems of branches, and some fell and fluttered down at her. It was a nice dream.
Then she heard a low rumbling, it was both soothing and jarring. The sound started in her sleep, then her dream dragged her into the real world. The pickup truck was driving along, its engine humming like a lullaby. She was still flat on her back, she blinked up at a neon sign for fast food turn right here open all night for your convenience. Lifting her head up slightly, she noted two men in the cabin of the truck. They were talking, one waved a cigarette, both were oblivious to their prone passenger.

The truck stopped at a traffic light. The motor idled, she did not, and she gathered what strength she had left, took a breath, and lifted herself to the side panel of the flat bed. She stood up slightly and jumped off the truck onto the street. She was, indeed, an athletic girl.

Just then the light changed and the truck took off with a screech. She watched the driver and his passenger fade from sight, still in their animated conversation, unaware of the good deed they had done in bringing her closer to home.
She hobbled to the sidewalk and stopped. She was on Maple and Division Street, not bad, she was almost home. It was then she realized that although she had been lucky that evening considering her drunkenness and helplessness, she was nonetheless hurting.

Let’s see, she had a headache, a bad one. Her blouse and slacks were ripped, her right knee was bleeding. She was missing one shoe. Both her palms were skinned and reddened, and her ankle was throbbing and likely sprained. Her throat was dry, her chest hurt. The good news was she was five minutes from her home, if she could get there other than by walking. If she had to walk, in her shameful condition, home was a distant dream.

That’s when she saw the bicycle. It was on the lawn in front of a house, and she decided quickly. She would ride the bike home, and return it to its owner the next day. She retrieved the bicycle from the lawn and brought it to the sidewalk. She mounted it and began to pedal, slowly but surely she moved forward. Childhood memories of long bike rides with friends came rushing back to her. Her bicycle’s frame was pink, the handle bars had streamers of red and gold. Funny, as life goes on you really don’t forget things. It was like, well, riding a bike.

And just like that, she was home.

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