The 159th Step

Quarantine Writing: I woke up early this morning and saw an elderly man walking outside. For some reason this story jumped in my head.

THE 159th STEP

The front door closed behind him at 6:03am every day. He walked down the four porch steps and with military precision took an immediate left onto the sidewalk. The end of the block was 158 paces, and he made sure he hit the small crack near the corner on exactly the 158th step. He prided himself on his efficiency.

It would be 12 seconds before the street light changed, and he would use that time to take three deep breaths to properly oxygenate his body. The light would then change, he would continue his walk, and fix his mind on counting off the next 871 steps to Miller’s Coffee Shop. He would push the metal railing on the door with his right forearm, the bell above the door would give one complete jingle, he would raise his left arm, wave to Ed, and walk the 9 steps to pour his coffee. Five gulps later he would finish the coffee and return home following the same disciplined approach.

Nothing was more obvious to state, then the fact that this was a man of routine. A routine which seemed to work very well for him.

Except today.

Today there was a problem.

He stood on the sidewalk crack, on his 158th step, finished exhaling his third breath, however the light had not changed. Cars continued to zoom through the intersection that he was supposed to now be walking across. This had never happened before. He decided to take three more deep breaths, hoping it would rectify the situation.

It did not.

The man was completely perplexed, and for the first time ever, he allowed himself to deviate from his plan and look around. On the other side of the street he saw a man working on a large electrical box that surely controlled the street lights at the intersection. He now knew the cause of the disruption, but was more overcome with the knowledge that everything looked so unfamiliar. How could a path he walked so often, suddenly feel so unfamiliar?

He had always focused on counting steps and fixing his sights on what he knew: the patch of grass growing out of the sidewalk at step 231, the rusty legs on the blue mailbox at step 397, the piece of gum on the sidewalk at step 452 that had seemingly been there forever. He found comfort in these things.

These were all things that she had pointed out to him, when they used to walk this route together.

These were the things that he tried to hold on to, to remind him of his wife.

The perpendicular street light turned red, and the man made an instantaneous decision (an impulse he did not often acknowledge), to stop counting his steps and just walk. The decision was so radical from his normal thinking, that he couldn’t even begin to think where an idea like that would have come from.

Nevertheless, he began to walk and just look around, and as he did, he saw the street in a whole new way. He noticed that the rising sun made the red bricks on the buildings glow orange, and the shadows on the ground seemed to have life of their own. The wind made the trees look like they were waving to him, and the flowers seemed to dance simply for his enjoyment. He noticed the people walking by him, actually seeing their faces for the first time, hearing glimpses of their conversations, and for unknown reasons he suddenly felt connected to them.

The uneasiness of the situation wore off faster than he would have expected. He smiled and could feel a joy of sorts rushing to all parts of his body.

Then a thought occurred to him, and his knees suddenly felt weak…

He steadied himself on a nearby bench, to take on the full weight of what his brain had just realized.

He thought back to the night before when out of a moment of frustration he yelled out to himself about how lonely he was. He yelled about how much he missed his wife, and how he just wanted to spend more time with her. It was less a prayer and more a cathartic release, never expecting anyone to listen or an answer to be presented.

But as he looked out on the street with this new perspective, he realized his wife had never left him. She had simply been trying to show her love in other ways. Her beauty was everywhere.

In that moment he felt her take his hand as the breeze passed through his fingers, and continued on his walk, not sure exactly where she was guiding him.


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