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"Walk Off," short story excerpt

Friday 11/12/21

“Are you okay?” I asked her. “Do you need anything? Can I take you somewhere?”

She stared at me in the way that tells you someone’s not going to respond, and that is your answer, which you’re free to interpret as “do as you wish.” I had a candy apple once that I bought at a street festival outside of my apartment. I was very low, because I had not officially given up in life, in that I hadn’t said to anyone I couldn’t take it anymore and I was done, but I was thinking of the strength a person possesses as the air that comes out of a bellows, which fans flames in a fireplace, and there wasn’t enough air coming out of my bellows to alter so much as a single mosquito in its course.

I thought, “Okay, you used to love candy apples when you were a kid and everything was going to go the way you wanted it to, which in your mind was the way it should. Whatever that meant. Rekindle the old spirit, treat yourself to a $3.99 candy apple.”

I bought it, brought it upstairs, and it sat in the back of my fridge, because no moment presented itself in the following weeks when I thought I could enjoy the candy apple. Then one day, I pulled it out to check on it, and it was this liquid-y gray color, like the cheeks of this woman who was looking at me.

“Go back to where you came from,” she said, an eonic openness in her voice that jarred me, as though I could have been wearing a dhoti made of stars, but I knew she wasn’t referring to my bench, our bench, because that wasn’t an experience we shared and remembered, though it had just happened. She was talking about something else. The limitlessness of dread. Of it all being possible.

“Let me just walk with you,” I said.

She turned without a word, moving at the same pace as before I stopped her, and we walked a few blocks. I wanted to ask her if she lived around there, but I couldn’t imagine a tone that my mouth would have been able to bring off, and it was one of those neighborhoods where you assume everyone has a working, gusty bellows.


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