It strikes her as odd that he is always alone. He walks by her house every single day at the exact same time, always on the opposite side of the street, like he has some sort of aversion to her sidewalk and prefers Carl’s, even though Carl’s aversion seems to be with shovels. That fact always makes her roll her eyes as soon as she gets through waving amiably to Carl—she just can’t get over his laziness. What she probably doesn’t realize is that Carl can see her loose eyeballs from across the street; she has yet to fool him.
She figured once winter descended upon the neighborhood, she would stop seeing the walker, but the only thing that changed beside the color of the ground was her inability to see his blue suit jacket beneath his bright red coat—making him look a lot like a cherry flavored mushroom.
Prior to the addition of the coat, the man never seems to change clothes. Normally, this would cause her to make all sorts of assumptions about the character of the man, except for the fact that he dresses like the sidewalk demands his best—black tie not optional so to speak. No matter the temperature, a blue suit jacket is always draped around his small frame with a black and white checkered button up peeking out from beneath it. She would generally be quite irritated at such a person’s lack of fashion sense, trying to blend navy and black–it’s practically sinful. However, to her surprise, and a bit of dismay, the walker manages to pull it off.
His faded blue jeans lower her estimation of his social class just a bit, but what really concerns her is the shoes he chooses to sport—black, lace-up dress shoes; the light from the sun glints off them like they are made of diamonds. It unnerves her. She has no idea where the man lives or where he is going, but she often considers meeting him on the sidewalk on any afternoon and explaining to him that his feet would thank him if he bought himself a proper tennis shoe. She refrains from doing so, as it is rarely received warmly when Alice generously offers her two cents.
Besides his peculiar clothing, Alice notices very little about the man, except the fact that he is very little. Everything about him seems little except for one noticeable protrusion. She has deduced that he is not walking to lose weight, as months into his routine, his stomach still pretentiously overhangs above his belt—perhaps he simply carries a basketball under there.
Despite this annoyance, the man is very small. His eyes sit close together and rest on the bridge of his nose as if someone had once taken a vice and squeezed his face together. His head sits like a marble upon his thin, protruding shoulder blades, like a sucker on a stick. His short arms swing at his sides in an unnerving fashion, almost like they are detached from his body—Alice thought that perhaps there is no room for his arms since his stomach is taking up so much space on his torso.
He never got anywhere too quickly since his legs seem about the length of a small child’s, although the man does not seem to be in any hurry. This also unnerves Alice, such a curious creature should find another sidewalk to tread upon for she is downright tired of wondering about him.
At the very least, he could consider walking on her side of the street once in a while. Her side of the street had a better view anyway, and the children never trampled her lawn on their way home from school like they did Carl’s. Alice has considered all sorts of scenarios as to this man’s motives. He is not dressed appropriately to simply be out for a daily exercise routine. He is not walking to town to run errands as his return trips never reveal shopping bags. He is not going to visit someone—she has no evidence to support this fact other than she is just certain of it. She has also decided he is unmarried, since she assumes a woman in his household would never allow him to put on such miles with a shoe like that.
She often wonders if he has someone to make him dinner. Always an excellent cook, Alice considers maybe that person should be her. Shortly after this thought surfaces, however, she quickly dismisses such a ridiculous notion. She is sure he would not even thank her for going through so much trouble. She has no evidence to support this; she just knows it. Despite the fact she always dismisses this making-him-dinner notion, it never fails to return a few days later, only to be dismissed again with a bit more vehemence.
It was a Tuesday, another ordinary day. Alice awoke at 5:30. She had never awoken any later or any earlier since the birth of her first child, who decided early on in his life that 5:30 was the new 7:30. He never thanked her for spending so many dark, lonely hours entertaining him when the rest of the world was sleeping. She determined long ago he never would thank her. Alice read her paper and sipped her coffee until 7:00. She did not like coffee; it always gave her a stomach ache. She only drank it because her husband never enjoyed it without her enjoying it too. It never mattered to him she was faking it. He never thanked her for sitting with him every morning of their 40-year marriage drinking a beverage that, to her, tasted a lot like cough syrup blended with motor oil. She determined long ago he never would thank her.
After she’d showered, Alice messed with her gray hair for over thirty minutes, demanding that each strand find its correct location like a mother demands for a chore to be completed. Once satisfied, Alice headed for the door to embark on her weekly grocery run. As she reached for the door handle, she hesitated for just a moment—a hesitation entirely invisible to someone who does not know to look for it.
She barked at the deli attendant as he dilly-dallied with her ham and turkey. This was a weekly routine for Alice and the deli attendant. The fact that he never served her any faster was more of an act of will than it was his old age, which Alice never failed to mention. He was sure he was not more than three or four years older than her. Spending a few extra minutes with her was so worth it when he had the pleasure of witnessing her haughty little tantrums as she huffed away from him—skirt hiked up so far he could see the top of her pink socks, which landed immediately below her knee.
Never taking his eyes off the cracks in the sidewalk, the walker was venturing across Carl’s driveway when Alice arrived home, slightly later than usual thanks to that damn deli attendant. She eyed him suspiciously in her rear view mirror—the way he meandered really unnerved her. The way his head bowed low to the ground when he walked reminded Alice an awful lot of the way she walked the aisles at the grocery store. She did this to avoid speaking with anyone, as she really saw no purpose in conversing with a stranger. He was unlikely to meet anyone else on the sidewalk in the middle of winter, so she wondered why he walked that way.
She briefly considered walking across the street and confronting him. He ought to know the irritation he was causing her. As she reached for the door handle, a familiar hesitation occurred—one that no one knew was there but her. She took a deep breath, glanced across the street to the walker who had just reached the corner. Pushing away the urge to follow him in her ostentatious 5th Avenue, she removed her two bags of groceries from the backseat, walked into her silent house, and sat down in her recliner.
She could still catch glimpses of the walker’s head between the trees as he wandered down the street. She watched him until he was no longer in sight, and with a significant amount of disappointment that no one knew was there but her, she continued with her Tuesday and went to unpack her groceries.