by Colin Pilney, Art by Peter DiIanni

Walking up the avenue to the store at any time of day is hard. Too many people. The slowest set the pace and guarantee a wait at the Don’t Walk signs at the end of every block. Why the ones you just passed have to step off the curb and stand in front of you doesn’t make sense. They smell of cigarettes and mildew. Or perfume and gum. It’s worse at lunch-time.

Walking used to smell better. Not here, of course. Here it probably always smelled bad. Different, maybe, like manure or hair tonic or bear grease, a long time ago, but still bad. People don’t drink martinis for lunch any more. Gin fads come and go. The tang of some juniper would be an improvement, today. I’ve never seen a juniper bush, if it is a bush. Small red berries and clusters of dark green leaves are what come to mind. That could be holly, instead.

Once, at Christmas, we were all at the table in the dining room. When the sugared ham came out an aunt excused herself, got up, and hurried to the bathroom. We could hear her, through the closed door, for a while. I don’t remember her name, because I was little and only saw her a couple of times afterwards.

Walking used to smell better before, in places that aren’t here. Places without people. It’s the people, not the walking, that make the smelling bad. Unpeopled places smell better, even swamps. Industrial Parks on Sundays are the exception. Aunt Adelaine used to love long bicycle rides on Sundays, after church, through the Industrial Park. It had no smell, except for the trail of lavender she used to leave behind. There was never any traffic on Sunday in the Industrial Park. She always stopped at the red lights and waited for them to turn green anyway. When the lights turned green, and others turned red, she would look both ways before crossing and recreating the lavender trail.

The point of walking was to get to the store. The ads on 6 buses and 9 public phone things all gave the cross street. It was getting closer. The people waited at the Don’t Walk signs. Some of them, the short speedy ones making lunch deliveries, ignored the signs and ran through the crossing traffic.

I would never do that.

The door at High School had two big columns on each side. You had to climb the stairs to get to it. To the right and left of the stairs were cedars and bushes. I never knew what kind of bushes. They kept their leaves all winter, like the cedars. You could throw things behind the ones on the right on the way in, and pick them up when walking out.

The store isn’t getting closer. The address on the signs is a few more blocks away each time they appear.

The cedars and bushes to the right and left looked the same. Everybody said not to throw things in the ones on the left, because you couldn’t go in the ones on the left, because of what happened there.

I thought about walking around the store and finding 2 shirts and a sweater that seemed OK and cheap enough. Aunt Adelaine would not approve of the colors. Her bicycle was a light shade of purple. Her Buicks remain solidly blue. She does not walk. She has opinions about things and tells them to me when I am washing my hands after fixing her Buick or her bicycle. The green light and Walk signal don’t seem to be working.

I once threw something into the cedars and bushes on the left while walking into the door of High School, but never picked it up.

Where’s the Walk signal?

The bushes on the left were covered with tiny red berries, sometimes. Cedars stay green all winter, so they always look the same.

Schools always smell the same.

So does Aunt Adelaine.

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