A thirty-minute walk, past the high school senior parking lot, across the main road, and two lakes brings me home from school. Exactly thirty-six mailboxes mark my path. I touch each one on my way. I like to think they will bring me luck when I finally arrive at home. A nice dinner, hopefully a curry of some kind, a warm home and a house full of siblings to chat with. A day at school sticks to me like a sweaty tee shirt on a hot day. Going home is my salvation. Cool tiled floor beneath my feet, the gentle scents of wood and a fresh bar of soap mingles to ease my mind. Today, the walk took me forty minutes because I carved a name into an oak tree.
I wrote ‘Alex’. I dug my house key between the green moss to cross the slash I made for the x. In the movies, it seems that writing names in trees take a matter of seconds, but I was stabbing this tree for seven minutes. The ‘e’ was the hardest part. I doubled back on the ‘c’ shape I prepared, changing the direction of the serrated edge back onto the incision. The dislodged bark pieces tapped on my blue Converses. Shifting my weight, I used my free foot to push the bark to their final resting places around where I stood. I observed my work. What I had written looked nothing like ‘Alex’.
Chelsea would walk home from school when she didn’t have swimming practice. We would usually meet at the Italian restaurant by the senior parking lot. I will admit, ‘meet’ is a strong word for how we would synchronize paths. It always seemed by chance we would match strides around the restaurant’s outdoor benches. Wanting her company, I slowed my pace, hoping that she wouldn’t miss me because of Becca’s perpetual boy problems, or her new daily planned bathroom breaks to avoid students swarming the hallways. I knew she did this so they wouldn’t notice that she had been crying. This past week, I realized why she still swims. Her tears can be hidden in the pool.
When we walk home, I put two thumbs into the loops on my backpack straps to try to look cool. Cutting across the main road into our neighborhood is where I start up conversation. I tell her about anything I can think of – if the lakes froze over this year, and the time I slammed my bike into the telephone pole because I was distracted by two pretty girls. In return, she only ever asked me questions. On a rare occasion she would laugh. Her aqua-marine eyes light up, and her thin lipped smile would emerge. Her beauty, enmeshed with the afternoon sun, would make my stories fall from my lips. If beauty in the world exists, it is within her laughter. She walks with me until I reach my house and continues walking up the hill until she disappears past the 36th mail box. For those thirty-six mailboxes, everything is perfect.
I walk home alone and practice the words I want to say to her:
“I saw your brother a few times at the block parties, I always thought he had a nice smile.”
“Do you think about him while you’re doing backstroke?”
“Do you hold your breath to the point of drowning, just to feel what Alex felt?”
I didn’t go to the funeral, I just heard my parents talking about it. In a small section on the bottom of the neighborhood newsletter pronounced his passing and everyone moved on by Friday, except for me. I waited for her by the Italian restaurant but she didn’t show up. I closed my eyes and covered my ears, and thought about the silence underwater. When she didn’t show I walked home alone. I tried telling my stories to the mailboxes. As if they could elicit the same reaction. The luck they once possessed had slipped out of their doors, into the gutter and down the drains. I didn’t touch the mail boxes until the 36th one. I don’t know why, maybe because I was just glad I made it home. I held onto the red flag of my mailbox, squinted my eyes and pretended to watch her disappear up the hill.
I wrote her name underneath Alex to remember her and make it permanent.
My mother asked why it took longer for me to come home today after school.
“Chelsea wasn’t there to walk with me. I saw her in the hallway and asked her why she hasn’t been walking home. She said ‘swimming season has picked up’.”
“And walking alone takes you longer than walking with her?” she said.
“Yeah, I guess it does”
Darren Rabinowitz is a writer, traveler, educator, and circus artist originally from Morristown, New Jersey. His passion for writing began at the age of 15 in the form of a travel journal. Only recently he has begun sharing his mental musings with others and is honored have his first story ‘Ripple’ published in Bull & Cross. He currently lives in Rwanda working at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village inspiring and being inspired by vulnerable and orphaned youth.