She saw the old man and his old dog every week day somewhere along 9th street downtown. Sometimes twice a day, when she walked from 7th and MLK to 9th and Vale to get some coffee. It was .67 miles each way, or one thousand three hundred and forty-one steps.
She and the old man didn’t communicate. She saw him more often than she saw her father, who lived 9.3 miles or eighteen thousand six hundred and thirty-five steps away. She didn’t communicate with him either, so she figured it was fair. Communication was always difficult. There was too much she wanted to say, to ask, her curiosity always got the best of her and then she embarrassed herself, or them, or both, and honestly it was just too… she sighed. Always her mind would whirl and twirl, a thousand miles a minute and too much for her body or mouth to keep up. It was why she stuttered and why she sometimes stared at objects with no way to think of what they were. She knew exactly what it was and what it could do, and could describe it with a thousand descriptions, each one as poetic as the next. But what was it called? The words were not there.
But no matter. She passed the man, keeping her head down to make sure she wasn’t stepping on any cracks. She’d stepped on a crack once, when she was 8. Her mother was in the hospital for a week with a pinched disk. She truly believed that if she stepped on a crack she would break her mother’s back. She had experienced the child’s rhyme and so she avoided anything but the smoothest of sidewalks. She walked and she counted. Counting her steps was the easiest way to avoid cracks, it kept her focused on cracks and where she’s going and kept her focus away from the people touching her shoulders and walking past her laughing and talking and smiling in the happy way they did.
The old man always seemed to be laughing or smiling, especiallly at his dog. But then, she really only saw his face when he was sitting, leaning against a graffiti stained wall with his dog strewn about his lap. The pup was too big to be a lap dog, but he’d rest his head along the old man’s calf and throw a paw or two across his thigh. She never saw the old man’s face when he was standing, but she always recognized his dog on the faded purple leash and his tattered pants that had been worn thin by the elements. Her eyes never got past the ground a few feet in front of her, and she hardly saw higher than anyone’s waist. How often she wished someone had asked her to stand up straight, to look the world in its face. But she hadn’t ever been told to do that, and so she never did. Her eyes were focused on a world without faces and smiles, a world where she could watch where she was going.
She had never seen the sky.