One foot in front of the other. Right, then left, then right again. If she continues doing this, eventually her feet will carry her home.
Riki Klein feels the plastic handles of the shopping bag bite into her fingers. It’s not heavy; it just feels that way. It slaps lightly against her leg with every step she takes. Inside is a loaf of bread to make the kids sandwiches for school tomorrow, which they will eat. When she runs out of bread she will do the same thing again—buy more bread and make them more sandwiches.
Or maybe they won’t eat what she made, and a few days from now a faint odor will emanate from one of their backpacks, which she will open up to discover the remains of a plastic-wrapped tuna sandwich speckled faintly with green. Maybe some of that mold will have spread to the backpack, and she’ll have to wash it.
The thought makes her want to stop walking, but she doesn’t. One foot in front of the other.
It’s a cool, clear evening, rare for this time of year. It’s the kind of night that other people savor. Riki hears the sound of the soles of her feet dragging against the sidewalk. She feels the handles digging into her fingers. The sidewalk wavers and then lengthens in front of her. It’s a five-minute walk. Five minutes is forever. And even when she gets home, what then?
None of Riki’s thoughts are visible on her face or even in the set of her shoulders when I spot her walking. I pull up alongside her in my car and tap on the horn lightly to get her attention. “Hello!” I call out to my friend and neighbor. “Riki?”
Riki stops walking and looks at me. “Hello,” she says.“Hey—I’m on my way to the store,” I tell her. “We’re baking cookies and I ran out of chocolate chips. I’m always running out of chocolate chips. Do you think it has anything to do with my eating them?”
Riki smiles. “There’s a chance.”
I lean forward and push open the passenger door. “Anyway, come on in. I can turn around, drive you home first.” “No, no.” Riki shakes her head. “Not necessary. It’s only a five-minute walk.”
“Are you sure?” I press. “You look a little tired.”
“I’m not tired,” Riki says. “I’m just sad.”
She didn’t mean to say that. I can tell because right afterwards she adds, “I didn’t mean to say that.”
I keep quiet. I would like to say it’s in order to allow her to decide if she wants to continue talking or not, but the truth is I’m quiet because I simply don’t know what to say.
“Can you just forget that I said that?” Riki flushes, clearly embarrassed.
“I can. Unless…I mean, do you want to talk about it?”