She walked and walked after he died. She went further than she had ever gone when they were married, all the way to the university to the south and all the way to the bus station at the state park when she walked north. She walked further than she would have thought possible, yet there it was. Her feet took her there, even though she had only a vacant mind. Vacant, which made her feel guilty; she should be thinking of him or remembering their times together, the firsts – so many firsts that were with him, her husband of forty years – but she did not. The sky above was gray and white with clouds or dark with rain that winter. At times the wind blew and she was glad of her heavy wool parka with its snug hood. But she did not think of him, she did not think of anything. The mind seemed to go with the feeet where the feet took her. Sidewalks, street crossings, business districts with small shops, the dirt track in the state park. Stoplights and traffic signs and bus shelters kept her company; she ticked them off with her mind’s eye as she passed them.
She was not alone on the street. There were other walkers, mothers with a young child in a stroller, fathers with an infant in a front pack. These were urban neighborhoods with families. Occasionally a couple of kids on bicycles passed her. If it was time for school to let out, clumps of kids might be waiting at the bus stop or heading home in pairs or singles. She did not think of who they were or where they were headed, except to think of family life being the same everywhere, while being different from one house to the next.
She wore out one pair of sneakers, Brooks runners, and when she went to the athletic store to replace them, the twenty-something who helped her seemed familiar. He asked if she wanted the same pair again, and she shrugged. But then he said, “They’re always changing models,” and apologetically offered a choice of a couple of this year’s models that she might like instead. “Every year it’s a new game, to them,” he said, with a wry smile.
She wondered if he was a runner. Runners did not seem to understand walkers. Running was a cast back to the days of humans on the savanna, she always thought, running from a predator or running in a hunt for meat to consume. Walking was the way of the traveler, not the hunter. Walking, things pass slowly, so you can see them go by, and out in some vast landscape like a desert or a grassy plain, she could imagine it never seemed to change. You could walk for days and never feel like you were getting anywhere. And that’s how it was with her walking. She walked for days and never got anywhere, just back home to her place with nothing to show for it but worn-down shoes.
It was when he was ringing her up that he said, “Aren’t you Mrs. McIntye?” She nodded automatically, then looked at him sharply. “I’m sorry, I don’t -” she said, while at the same time he said, “I thought I recognized you.”
Recognition. It is a thing that betrays us as well as reassures us. We are recognized. We are no longer faceless. Someone recollects who we are.
She shook her head. “You’re mistaken,” she said. She picked up her bag with the shoes and left the store.
It was hard. It was too hard to think.
She could only walk.