I went for a walk today.
At least a dozen schoolboys were playing football in an enclosure behind their school. Finding a bench along the path, I sat to watch them for a while. Their carefree, high-pitched noises, the ones that only children make, were a comfort as I sat on the bench and watched them play. Cheering each other on when they’d score a goal, touching each others shoulders as they’d run back to their side.
Stretching my legs before me, I smelled the freshly cut grass in the air as I folded my arms on my chest, my neck perched on the cold iron seat. Closing my eyes, I saw the light shift through my eyelids as the ashen clouds slowly move in the wind high above me.
Then, a memory washed over me.
I watched as my brother swiftly ran across the muddy field before me, his backpack bouncing as he effortlessly leapt across the puddle soaked pathway. From the edge, the oozy grey field looked safe enough. Then, I saw the mud high on his Wellingtons.
I don’t want to get dirty.
Come on. It’s fine. Just walk quickly like I did.
The path holds steady at first – just a little slip to the right, then another to the left. Watching my feet, I see the mud start to ooze up against the soles of my white shoes. I hesitate, slowly turning to return to where I came from. I look up and see him sliding the mud off the uppers of his boots with a stick, like spreading too much butter off toast.
I take a step to my left and feel the damp earth rise inside my jeans. My legs stretch wider across the muck. I wince as my formerly white Keds vanish in the taupe clay below me. I struggle to step forward but the sludge is a cement block around my feet.
Come on, we’re gonna be late. Mom said be home by 3:30!
I pull my right foot up and my left foot sinks deeper. I’m powerless to prevent it. I’m stuck.
You’re such a tool. Why can’t you just walk? Come on!
I know. I can’t move. Come back here and help me!
I’m up to my knees in it now. Where my legs stop and the filthy muck starts, I can’t even tell. My hands start to chill. My heart begins to race.
I’m not going back, you want me to get stuck with you?
I feel the wet coldness of the clay seeping into my cotton socks and all I can think about is how dirty they’ll be when I get home. I struggle to go forward but I can’t. In the effort, my knees buckle below me as my butt hits the muck with a squelch.
As I push and pull, my feet don’t move and now both my palms behind me start to sink into the mire. The sleeves of my jacket are browning from the filth.
Don’t sit down! What are you doing? Get up!
I can’t bear to look at him as he’s getting exasperated with me now. I close my eyes. I want to disappear. I hear the squelching muck give way as he makes his way back to me. His hands tightly squeeze under my arms as he eventually pulls me out, shoeless, from of the puckering suck of the mire. As it releases me his feet slip underneath him and he falls onto his back. me crumpling on top of his legs like dead weight.
Dammit! Why do you have to be this way?
I open my eyes and see the ashen grey clouds pushing down upon me, as smothering as the heavy mud I am now a part of. My breath shallows as a nausea sweeps over me. It’s a helpless, hopeless, and bleak feeling – sinking into the muck.