Old Paths

The old road was too familiar. Even at night, in the rain, he remembered each curve of the road as it descended softly into the valley, twisting and turning quickly, but never too steep. He had to keep blowing on his hands. The heat wasn’t working. In the cold autumn rain, he should have known to wear gloves. Should have.

He passed a shadow of the large painted rock—a place they had spent so much time sitting on, listening to the sounds of the woods. From the top of the rock you could see the pond, but just barely. His clothing fit too crisply. This area was made for old hoodies, hand-me-down jeans, and not knowing anything about fit.

There were many old recordings in his head of their conversations—soft tones near the water after the fireworks, days in the too-bright sun wandering around fields with no clear direction, sitting on that painted rock (the whole front had a painted scarecrow lifting up his hay-covered arms, scaring more toddlers than crows) as the sun would set, knowing that he would have too far to walk back, knowing he would be in trouble, but not being able to pull away from that view. But what would they sound like now? Would their voices be deeper, raspier, worn? Or would locking eyes be like going back those many years, and would they once again be kids preparing to leave the area? They had seen each other afterward, so why did this feel different than those other times?

You know why, the voice in his head said as he approached the tough-to-see left turn that would lead down the windy road. Eventually, the cement road would turn into a dirt road, and then he would drive on the grass in front of the house, because there was no driveway. But that was in a couple minutes. He breathed on his hands again, still wondering what they would sound like while talking, and tried to spy the tough turn while also attempting to convince the voice in his head that he shouldn’t just miss it on purpose. It would be an easy thing: “sorry, I couldn’t remember the path. My phone died. I got lost. It’s been too long.”

It was a very reasonable excuse. Why not take it? What was to be gained?  Would they both sit on the rock again, watching the sunset? Unlikely. But there it was, that tricky turn marked by the same blighted tree that had covered the old sign for years and years. He turned on the left blinker and pressed the brake.