I’m walking home from school. The chestnut trees by the railroad track are in bloom. The smell of the flowers is strong, very sweet, almost too sweet. The birds chatter busily but I can’t see them. As I take the turn after the bridge, I have a full view of the valley with the cemetery behind the low wall in front of me, sloping down, row after row of gray monuments. The massive ones that look like Greek temples are closest to me, on top of the hill. Further away, blurry in the haze of the warm afternoon, are the two cooling towers of the new power plant. I’m alone on this stretch of the path. Andrea left me at the crossing to get to her house in the new development, on the other side of the railroad tracks. She invited me to her birthday party on Saturday. I have to get her a present. But what? Think Lisa, think…
• • •
I’m walking home from the train station. The chestnut trees. I never noticed them before. It’s always dark when I take the path. But not today. It’s early, too early to come home. The train was almost empty. The trees are in bloom. That’s where the cloying smell comes from. I feel a sneeze coming up. The bird cries grate on my nerves. In ten minutes I’ll be facing Lisa. I need a drink or two. Knock back a few to pick myself up. Lisa will look at me with a deer in the headlight expression that’ll break my heart. And baby Cassie will be here in less than a month. God, what rotten timing! Couldn’t they have kept that pink slip in a drawer for a few more weeks, would it have killed them? I’m facing the cemetery now. Having joyful thoughts, Morris? We all get there eventually but even in death, there’s little justice. How much did these huge monuments cost? That gray one on top of the hill is bigger than the room I rented in college. Granted, it has a view to die for. Except for that eyesore of a belching power plant on the horizon.
• • •
I’m not walking, I’m floating. It’s such a perfect day. It’s warm, the birds are singing their hearts out, the trees are covered with flowers, and their smell is so strong it goes straight to my head. It’s the last time I take this path and it should make me a little sad, or at least nostalgic, but I’m too full of all kinds of expectations. College in a new town, new friends that I haven’t met yet, new places to discover. Everything is so familiar here. The bridge over the railroad tracks, the four o’clock from downtown whistling by, the cemetery with these extraordinary monuments on top of the hill. Even the old power plant in the distance is sort of magical today, with the white vapor crowning the cooling towers. I know what Mom will say: Cassie, calm down, it’s just a new school! Dad will laugh and look a little wistful. He’ll miss walking the path with me in the morning as much as I’ll miss our conversations on the way and watching him run to catch his train, all because he didn’t want to wake me up fifteen minutes early. I wonder if he’ll keep cutting it a little too close after I’m gone.
• • •
I’ve walked the path so many times, for so many days, following the girl, that I know the length of her steps, how her left knee leans slightly inside, how her ponytail swings above the backpack. Today, I’m ahead of her, by the side of the cemetery path. The birds stopped their racket when I slipped between the trees, but they’re back now. I’m invisible to them and to her. The smell of the blooming chestnuts fills me with the anticipation of pleasure. I know where I will lay her down, after dark, by the big monument on top of the hill.
But that will be much, much, later.