by E.N. Walztoni
E.N. Walztoni's writing appears in The Hunger, New World Writing, The Dodge, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, and elsewhere. She was a Nature in Words Fellow at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in 2020. She is Short Fiction Editor at Five South.
On a Walk, After College
I keep thinking I see someone moving from the corners of my eyes, mistaking leaves and mailboxes and open doors for another person in this world with me. My mother has started to talk about being bored. I’ve never known her to feel that before or considered that she could. I know, she said, That I shouldn’t follow the news, but I have nothing to do.
While I put my shoes on, she was reading the news and crying. She does this in the morning and my father works from home. We are tied together and our lives will never change. I think sometimes that too much has happened to me already and I don’t need any more.
The last wall calendar painted by the Mouth and Foot Artists of North America that my grandmother sent before she died—she was always getting paper goods from charities in the mail, and mailing them to me—shows, at the bottom of each month, a smaller calendar of the month before and the month after. The brackets shift, but they are always there. The Mouth and Foot Artists hold paintbrushes with their lips and their feet because they do not have the use of their hands.
I’m waiting for a whole lot of things to happen to me. I have all kinds of applications out for my life. The websites I send them on tell me if my materials are viewed, but most of them are never opened and the opportunity quietly expires.
A whole family of graves at the cemetery have been planted with daffodils. The headstones are the type set flat into the grass, and the flowers burst out of them and cover them almost completely. I don’t know who did this or why the cemetery grass has not been mowed yet; it’s nearly June. When they do, I can imagine how it will look, all the flowers and the glistening insides of their stems chopped up and thrown all over the grass.
There’s such a stillness to life on this hill, where I walk along the shoulder of the road and try not to make eye contact with passing cars, that it feels like I’m in some place I can’t have, like those children’s books about plucky young girls who get sucked into a landscape painting from 1832. I might be part of the Romantic School, if I weren’t so protective of myself.
I’ve seen my father cry twice in the 23 years of my life: while sorting through my mother’s family photographs when I was eight years old, and after he went to watch a recording of an opera by himself last week. My mother and her relatives are still alive but I think he cried because he chose her family over his own, and someone would die by themselves one way or the other. He can only access his emotions, he said, by hearing them sung in a language he can’t understand.
This house on Main Street looks empty, I mean abandoned, with the paint flaking off and all, but there’s an electric candle in the top attic window, under the pointed roof, that is always plugged in, even in the daytime. My mother used to put a candle like that in every window of our house at Christmastime. She stopped around the fourth time we moved.
Like I said, though, it’s nearly June now. The calendar picture for this month is John F. Kennedy smiling on a boat. I think of a joke I read about him looking like someone who eats sheet metal.
I walk by a sapling about a foot tall, no leaves, freshly planted in a a green lawn. The soil is fresh and a garden hose coils around it, still, like a sweet old gardener has yet to be painted in. I thought that would make me cry but it didn’t. I don’t feel quite so much as I used to.
A blue lollipop in the road, which someone seems to have run over with their car, looks like shattered glass on the asphalt. Two flat cigarette butts lie next to it. Sometimes I think about just laying myself down wherever I am to feel it all, that texture to life that I can’t get my mind around.
Anyway, different things will end up on the road, and I will keep walking by them. When I get home I have a few more applications to send. It could be tomorrow, that it happens, but that’s all for today.
On a Walk, in High School
I’ve written this essay twice. The first time, I was trying to understand my life. Now, I think, I’m just watching. In the end there is much less to say. The sentimental edges of everything have gone away somewhere.
Anyway, there’s this house in the Chicago neighborhood my father grew up in that looks like a box. I went to a party there once in high school with a friend who lived nearby. She picked me up from the suburbs. All the lights were off upstairs, and we snuck around in the back yard, trying to figure out if we had the right address.
We made it in and sat in the basement on a bench made of beer cases and watched a teenager with the lady M&M tattooed on his arm play ping pong. He had dropped out to sell weed and slept on a mattress in the corner under one string of Christmas lights. Upstairs, his grandmother was in bed.
The girl who brought me there knew him from grade school, but they acted like strangers on the street. His other friends filtered down the stairs and talked to each other. Their earrings, I recall noticing, were all larger than ours.
Things happened after: We went to Wendy’s and I was certain I was about to die; we walked through the alleyways to her car, dropped off some other boys I didn’t know who had to sneak back into their house; I thought a lot about the streetlights, their orange colors. This light was its own being to me, a living thing of memory crouching over the city. I had a lot to say about it the first time I wrote this essay.
I used to worry about losing the emotional edges to everything that happened—that at some point in time, I wouldn’t contain every one of the world’s nerve endings and have to stop on the sidewalk on my way home from school to feel it all welling up. This was the only thing, I thought, that made me a human being; the rest of the time I didn’t feel much.
Now, of course, it is gone. Thinking about the streets my father walked at my age in a city that does not exist anymore, through architectural ghosts on a shared sidewalk, under the persistent orange light of time, doesn’t make me cry. Lately I’ve been thinking more about the tides of human progress running across the earth like so many ants. This takes place on a scale I don’t think I was meant to be aware of.
One more thing I remember: In the basement of the house in Norwood Park, we posted a photo of our shoes on a beer case with the caption Hit us up to waste your time. Dozens of people responded, asking where the party was.