Type
Fiction
Category
Fiction

Walking in company

I’ve walked a lot lately. More than I would have. More than I want to. Sometimes I think if I didn’t do these long walks with him, I’d be better.

We walk like prisoners walk round the yard. I am careful with every word I say. Mouthing it silently, checking it over before offering it to him. He says nothing at all.

That’s not true. Occasionally he’ll say, ‘Let’s head that way.’ Or he’ll say something that totally freaks me out, like, ‘They asked about you. How you’re doing.’

They are familiar with me. I’m not sure how much more I want to know. Best keep it sweet and thank god he is trusting me enough to even tell me what is happening in that head of his. That beautiful head. It’s the first time he’s talked about them. But I was waiting. It was obvious he wasn’t alone.

I walk to get inside. To find out if he’s okay in there. Just to do anything at all. So now I know there is more than one.

‘What did you tell them?’

‘I said you were okay.’

That’s good. We’re all okay today. Is it bad to be scared of him, just a little? Like a screwed-up magnet, I want to smother him and run like hell.

Sometimes the sun is out and I get hot. Not that fit anyway so this is one way to exercise. Sometimes we do the beach walk. Long way up and down. Laps of sand. He is pretty buff. I can’t keep up. I see him head off – a long limbed, shoulder-hunched figure getting smaller. I sit on the sand with my failure. Couldn’t keep up this time. Knees caved in. Breathing hard. Salt and wind blow through my fingers.

Every walk is exhausting. Can’t crack.  That would not be cool. I might lose any chance to walk with him again. Got to be chilled, like this is so normal it’s not even worth mentioning. One time I lost it and said the wrong thing. He stopped all visitation.

Today was good. Today was special. We walked in circles around the park. It’s all about the nature – sea or trees. They like that. It calms them I guess. Not surprising, calms most people. We hit a pine forest at the edge where the green meets the railroad. He lets us sit for a moment. I stretch out on beds of needles. The scent of pine curls around us and I let go of him for one minute and drift. I rarely ever let go. The small of my back spoons into the earth. Cool, dark branches stretch above us, sunlight filtering down. We are lit gently in a circle of trees. It’s a symphony. I could almost be happy. He lifts a bottle of water to his lips and I watch him gulp it down. Funny how tall he is – all grown. I’ve held a bottle to those lips. He had the best chuckle as a baby, grin as big as sin. Always told him he’d be a heartbreaker. Lashes like a broom sweeping you right up into those eyes. He’s like a mirror to me – if I were a boy – but his eyes are more beautiful. Bigger. He is not always in there though. That’s what drives me mad. Losing him is a funeral every single time, without the body. It confuses the heart like crazy. Do we get to grieving now? Not knowing if he’s coming back.

There’s a shadow in the branches. The soft shape of a bird. Can’t quite make it out. A crow perhaps. I read that crows hold all the memories.

When he does come back, it’s even harder. Waiting to see how long this time. I can feel myself getting numb, building armour so I’m all cold for when he’s gone again. Can’t take another time. But Dad says it’s like a thermometer – this kind of thing goes up and down. We can never forget that. Even when he looks like anyone else that you’d never tell. Dad would know. It’s in the family. His brother died, we’re told, because his brain got too big. I guess it’s hard to hold it in. All that company in one head. I’d go to war for this kid but not much I can do with a crowd I can’t even see.

He likes to hug sometimes while we walk. Arms tight around my shoulders. Feet in step. I try to keep in time. We’re so close I can feel his hot hand and the thrum of his pulse on speed. That kills me but, the ways he reaches out. At home, he hugs a lot. Big grasping hugs like he’s swallowing me. Hard to be hugged when you’re trying to keep chilled. Go numb.

He offers me the water bottle. Not often he lets us rest this long.

‘You got sunscreen on?’ he asks.

‘Yep.’

‘That’s good, got to protect the skin.’

‘Sure thing.’

I don’t know if the walking is the drugs or the sickness. I asked. Apparently it’s a symptom of both so nobody really knows. Can’t they even say what’s a side effect? We can walk in space but not know what is in that brain. How is anyone meant to know what the fuck is going on?

He even walks at night all around the house. While everyone’s in bed. Through the kitchen, into the lounge room and back through the folding doors. Round and round. I can hear his feet padding. Even when we’re not walking in the days across parks and beaches, we’re always in motion. Pad pad. Pad pad.

I go to the bathroom when it gets into my skin and let it crack. There with the door locked. Something about sitting on cool tiles helps. I’m okay. We’re okay. Pad pad, round and round. I’m okay. We’re okay.

Ask him how he feels. Trying not to sound like probing. He’s sharp to that. He’s better than okay, he says. He’s brilliant. Like amazing. Wow, he’s found perfection and total peace.

While I’m cracking on the bathroom tiles. Well, at least someone’s doing it better.

They say we should watch for heightened sensation. It’s not good to be too good — to be ecstatic. See that’s not normal. And it’s all about normal.

Now we’re up and walking again. Pad pad through the trees. His arm tight around my shoulders. Out of the forest, pine needles cling onto us like feathers.

 

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Odette Kelada is a lecturer in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Melbourne. She has a PhD in literature researching the lives of Australian women writers. Her writing focuses on marginalised voices, gender and racial literacy, and has appeared in numerous publications including the Australian Cultural History Journal, Hecate, Outskirts: Feminisms on the Edge and Postcolonial Studies. Her debut novel Drawing Sybylla won The Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2016 and is out now through University of Western Australia Publishing.

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