It’s during these muted times, wandering around, following their lead, people and other people—pretty much anyone I can follow in step—becomes the only thing that keeps the ache from blurring the scene, turning what was once simple into something straight from the sewers. And the sewers, they’re inches from the ground at your feet, ready to spill despite what the citizens choose not to see. I’m quick about walking, like walking any faster will make a difference.
When you think about it, the kingdom surrounds you, and wherever you are, it has already flanked you on all four sides. Might as well take it in stride.
That’s what I’ve decided to believe, although I can’t be so confident. Still, it helps when you’ve got something to look forward to, even if it’s something as small as being able to walk ten minutes before breaking into a sweat.
The walking isn’t with any real aim. I have walked this street to the point where I can navigate with my eyes closed. I walk it before dawn and after dusk. I walk in long stretches rather than the usual circling of a single block. This is the extent of my search and still I can’t quite shake the feeling of missing something.
Something I need, missing. The walking part works best. If I tell myself, just a few more steps, before giving in and getting something to eat, by the twelfth step, my stomach will have settled, my thoughts on something else.
It helps to stay active. When I stop, waiting for cars to pass, I can feel the ground shaking. It’s far worse to know that it’s me, not the ground, that’s doing the shaking.
Walk to forget, and forgetting where I’ve been is one of the main reasons I started walking in the first place.
I have a tendency to lose in the battle of focus versus fixation. It doesn’t get better over time. The longer the walk, the more exhausted I get. When I’m exhausted, I can’t feel anything but the spiral of thoughts looking to keep me as close to awake as possible. I might be sick. I probably am. But then here I am, fixating again.
Better to be right here, in the physical. Focus on this, the chill in the air.
People walk without any notice of their surroundings. They keep their hands in their pockets. They walk like it’s not early; they walk like they’re already late in life. They walk like work isn’t three hours from now, and the day, its beginning manifested at dawn, isn’t just another start to another week in another month that fits snugly into this year. Few fixate on the future years when there’s still so much here to outlast.
I kind of hate how they can be so oblivious. And why must I be denied of the same?
I hide from and will be hidden by a certain variety of hate. I lost it all, you see. And it was all of a sudden. It wasn’t gradual. I could have closed my eyes, blinded to the occasion, and it would have still happened. I would have still become what will sooner than later end me.
Walk it off.
She’s on a phone meaning she’s not really here. Yet I listen.
She has a career, which is far more committed than a job. She’s got a life, which I can assume is consummated in the way she addresses the man on the phone, the way she mentions a name, Shirley, inflection right where it counts, as if to say: She’s my daughter. She’s my all. She is a testament to this kingdom, walking quickly, without care, to the exact measure where a car nearly hits her and her reaction is to kick at the front bumper, passing blame on the driver, phone never once leaving her ear.
I stick to the slower walk, the more anxious rather than authoritative talk.
I stick to this street corner with the rest, waiting out the traffic.
I watch her disappear in the thickening crowd.
It’s more difficult to focus and deny when it gets hot out. The heat tends to make me sweat. Sweating makes me stink. And that odor, it is not healthy. I’m sure everyone can already smell me. It’s likely the reason they remain further away rather than close. It’s why they keep their chins down. It’s why—isn’t it just the way a mind works when it wants to murder itself? Sends me constantly down into a ditch of shameful thought.
Truth of the matter is that I cannot stand still.
I cannot do what they do. I cannot shut out the thoughts.
But then, I would have made sense of this if I could. Perhaps this has little to do with sensation. I don’t want to think about what it is that’s growing in my mind.
It can’t be good but, like the delaying of the meal, denial works wonders.
If you think you know better, you haven’t felt what I’ve felt. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen. Denial has no expiration date. It consumes until something else grows from its cavernous hold. And then, the same thing always happens:
The affliction registers after-the-fact, long after there could be any fault.
But you see, I’m not fixating. I’m not.
I’m walking. I’m following. My walk is about as on-point as I’ve ever been.
Already my tendency to fixate has put me off the production of what I had intended to peddle. Don’t assume that I’m a pusher. If anything I am the one that can do little but feel each nudge. A moment of deliberation, exhale, and then I am left with just this, the same thing you feel. Which isn’t much. Back to what I’ve been doing then—I have mentioned following others, but I mustn’t ever really believe that I’m really voyeur to their actions. I follow them mostly for the act of following, nothing more.
I’ll pick someone out and I will follow. But what I have begun to do is count their steps. I walk in rhythm with them, a few paces behind.
I keep my hands in my pockets, one hand thumbing the plastic card while the other reaches for nothing. It probably should be reaching for something. I’m good at maneuvering through the foot traffic. No snubbing and no shoulders colliding, I have noticed the way with which the sidewalks of the kingdom have been partitioned. There’s a definite pattern that I pretend is far more important than it actually is.
I pick out the one person—forcing myself to remember that it doesn’t matter whom—and I’ll watch as they do any number of things.
Thoughts are measured in slow time—I could think up a year and still, ten minutes in real-time haven’t past me by. There’s no such thing as a minute when every minute eats away at your insides. There’s only time, and way too much of it.
It’s no longer dawn and it’s no longer a new day. Halfway there, I begin feeling brittle at the joints, the exhaustion setting in.
Ponder the thought—do I seek similarities, part of myself in the people I observe?
Acceptance is intolerable. Most certainly I am walking to my grave.
My stomach begins to churn. I feel it the same, muted clicks of taste, where my senses cross and what I taste is what I smell, what I smell is what I hear. It happens differently every time, but it’s the same twisting and contorting, the same would-be worry, that what’s happening isn’t right.
It feels wrong. But when put into words, it’s a jumble like most thoughts.
Choices are for those that consider the kingdom their ally rather than enemy.
By the time I’m back in the motion of each footfall, it’s forgotten—any and all taste. I deny the knot forming in my chest and pretend to cough until it clears. But I could feel it in my bones. Senses strained the moment it became more than a mere twitch of the eye. My stomach churned, and I could do little but let it climb my throat. I didn’t want to let it out, fearing that by seeing it pour from my lips, I would no longer be able to deny my destruction. No one would watch, but that wasn’t the problem. The one that mattered could do nothing but watch. I had to watch. I had to be there, stumbling through every strange turn. There is no forgetting what this has become, no matter how much I try.
I walk but soon I will be unable to follow. As my breaths and heartbeat grow frantic, I knew that I would be defined by this mania.
I am its keeper as much as I could be its killer. I could do nothing but wait in excitement as blood filled my mouth. Yet by the time I’d choke on the taste, the excitement fled, leaving me with the panic, the knowledge that everything had been my fault.
No one would know the taste of this temptation. No one would save the one that spent more than he could ever make back in a promise.
This was mine, and mine alone.
© Michael J Seidlinger
All rights reserved by the author.
Michael J Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels including The Fun We’ve Had, The Laughter of Strangers, My Pet Serial Killer and The Sky Conducting. He serves as the Reviews Editor for Electric Literature as well as Publisher-in-Chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction and poetry.