The Spring Stroll


ago
4 min
19
readings
1
Qualified
Image of Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
One brisk April Tuesday my head hummed from Zoom calls and message notifications. Too many hours on facetime had made it difficult to face my assignments squarely and handle my time without stress breaking over me like an unseen storm.
The virus was a newfangled threat then, but my town was under lockdown. I had been home from school several weeks. Each day cooped up in my room cut off my circulation, squeezing me ever tighter until I found myself breathless that afternoon.
I forced myself up to get up and out, for a fog of restlessness encircled me.
I’d never before been much for simply “going on a walk.” It was too drawn out, too passive. I preferred spontaneous drives, blazing down backroads like a skittish high schooler with the windows down and radio up. But that day, perhaps by fate, I was rendered vehicle-less by my mother’s dreaded trip to the grocery store.
Outside, the sky swirled gray with potential showers. The street stood empty of the rush I desired, but a wind tiptoed over the brick lanes of my small town. A glaring silence greeted me.
I did not plan a path; I simply turned left at the corner and kept on. Only after taking several steps did I realize that I had been wrong before: the human silence was filled by the world’s tones. Birds conversated faraway. Bugs buzzed by. Wind whispered against my ear.
I came to a tree on a corner that stopped me short. Its branches, though spindly and small, bore buds half-opened of delicate white flowers, tinged green with newness. Several of its spidery boughs hung in my way, but what truly hindered me was a sudden feeling of frustration, for I wanted to identify the tree out of respect for its light loveliness. I wanted to recognize it for what it was. I wanted to pin it down, but its name slipped my mind. This little failure singed me: why can’t I remember? I thought. What’s wrong with me? I know this!
Melodic voices rang out just past the tree, distracting me from my incapability. Who would be out today? I wondered. Two children with apple-red cheeks and matching heads of disheveled curls bounced a tattered ball back and forth, laughing – they seemed to be quibbling over the word “dog.” I slowed. As I approached them, I was met with toothy smiles and, within myself, astonishment.
Here was simplicity. No inverted skateboards or neon pogo sticks. Just a ball and a conversation about “puppies” versus “puppers.” It was enough - it was more than enough. Simplicity was sufficient for them, even under an ominous sky.
“Hullo!” The smaller of the two called to me.
“Hey!” I tried to be especially cheery from several feet away. I scrambled for some bit of conversation to make. “Aren’t you two worried about the rain?”
“No, Miss – are you?” he said, panting slightly.
I had been, for I did not want the discomfort of a downpour, but these two refreshed me with their plain innocence. “Well, I guess not,” I said.
He resumed throwing the ball to his sister. I stood and watched for a moment before saying goodbye and wandering down the sidewalk, reveling in the past few minutes.
Yet my thoughts returned rebelliously to the classes and calls lined up upon my return home. The old questioning slunk back: Where will this end? When will all be normal again? When will the storms clear and the sun break out?
At that moment, the clouds above my head parted just so that a ray of lemon light danced into my eyes. When my vision adjusted, I noticed a side street I had forgotten from my girlhood: a kindergarten friend of mine had lived there in a house I’d always envied for its large windows and bright decorations, flowers ever on its table and in its front yard. As I ambled down the side street, I could not pick the house out, but the memory of it pricked me. Again, a failure to recall.
Perhaps the house was replaced, I thought. Or perhaps it is that one on the corner! Dignified yet smart it stood, with pristine mint paneling and evergreen shutters matching its plump bushes and vibrant lawn. Perhaps.
A tired white house with a yard tossed like the children’s curls opposed it. The door to a screened-in-porch, which was half in shambles, stood open. Two chairs perched on the porch’s roof, accompanied by dirty cushions. Looking back and forth between the two, I laughed aloud.
I wondered if the residents of the bedraggled white house ever sat on their roof looking at their neighbors opposite; I wondered if either household recognized the ironic wonder of their position. So clearly it pronounced the variety of this town. That the life of this little place could contain such disparate facades! And yet, I thought, what is the real discrepancy? Don’t they stand together under a looming storm?
As I meandered back to the main drag, marveling, I met a woman walking a golden retriever. The dog grinned just as brightly as the children had earlier. I could not help my exclamation of: “Aw, hello there!”
Looking to its owner I recognized Miss Ella, a middle-aged, single, lifelong resident who had spent herself taking care of her father until dementia won him a few months prior. I’d have bet any sum of money that she – rendered recently alone – was distressed in the lockdown. Yet her face suggested otherwise. She greeted me with a joy resembling her dog’s.
“Is this a new friend of yours?” I asked.
“Yeah, Woody’s my quarantine project. You know what they say - once a caretaker, always a caretaker!”
“I’m so sorry, Miss Ella, I’m sure this is hard for you.”
Though she stood apart from me I could sense a warmth radiating from her as she said, “Yes, dearie, but it is lovely still. And I have Woody to look after me now.”
“Let me know if –“ I began.
“No, hush, hush. You take care of your own, dear,” she interrupted. “And hurry on home before it rains!”
After we parted, I turned in the direction of home just as the rain finally began.
I found I didn’t mind it. In the end, the dreaded rainfall only amounted to a graceful misting unlike typical April storms, like stardust showering an unsuspecting land.
I walked again past the spindly tree. The children had run inside now. I recalled their interaction over dogs, and the word “dogwood” burst into my mind like sunlight. Of course!
The spindly tree stared at me and I at it. Rainfall drew out her half-hewn hues, breezes fluttered her faint flowers.
Identifying the tree delighted me. But its name could not contain the wonder: here, the dogwood blooming. After all the threats of a storm, an otherworldly rain spotlighted new colors of life. And the plain joys played out, not taken by any lockdown or looming weather. The variety, the simplicity of life was not dampened.
I hiked up the driveway just as my mother’s car pulled in. With my reverie ended, I unloaded the groceries alongside her.
Despite the droplets on my eyes, I felt I saw clearly at last. My head no longer hummed but sang like a set of wind chimes.
“Mom,” I remarked, “Did you know the dogwoods are blooming?”
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