It all comes down to the footsteps in the end, the point at which you realise you’ve gone too far and you try and retrace. So you try and retrace, even as the elements have eroded your prints away. You still see them in your mind’s eye, you just cannot place your foot inside anymore. They are there. Every lonely alleyway, every leaf-strewn avenue. A smear of bubble gum on a bench or a bead of sweat on a bent blade of grass. Crunching in the loose stones, walking the routes of the old highwaymen. Sitting on a gravestone to admire a view. Piece together the forgotten names, and watch their footprints emerge from the gentle bump.
I take the chair in my arms and together we foxtrot, past the windows and down the hall. Shut off the television from the grim fires, handkerchief waving people desperately plunging. Smell the old perfume and dance to the radio.
Outside, the moon crosses the sun and we shiver, digging for bones in thirty centimetres of rough dirt. Rough walls and pine sap caught on your sleeves. The smell of grass stains, cuts and bruises from a hard day’s exploring. Dreams, trees and grazed knees, striped socks high up the thigh and a thousand colours of hair, nodding furiously to strong guitars. She offers me an out of date condom and I politely decline. As I leave, the cactus plant near the front door comes to life and punches my arm. I pick out the needles on the slow walk home.
One lonely man is propped up against a tree with a bottle of whiskey, toasting a cold sunrise as he works his way through the sleeping pills.
I’m covered in writing. It’s all over my arms, instructions on where to go. Things to do. I have six people to meet on my left hand alone. I high five a shuffling man as he emerges from the public toilets with a plastic bag in one hand and a look of guilt in his eyes, beard caked with phlegm and stained by strong bitter. He’s returning the property to families who missed it. He’s going to cry on his mother’s shoulder as his father rubs circles on the nape of his neck. This time he made it and he won’t make that mistake again.
Home now, but that could be anywhere. For now, it’s here. Three floors up, through the miasma of someone else’s cooking. Cold steps. Heavy doors. I close my eyes. Stare at the wallpaper until it stops moving and rests. A snap and a hum, and everything settles again on a rickety, leaning bed.
(Originally published 2015)