A Short Walk
by Tom Harris
Basking in the sunlight,
watching people at Walnut Beach.
Children running here and there,
laughing, screaming, inventing games,
accusing each other of cheating,
of breaking rules they’d just made up;
an older couple on lawn chairs
in the shade of a large tree;
middle-aged women roasting on beach blankets;
a father sending his son deep
and arcing a Nerf football toward him.
“Why didn’t you catch it?” the father shouts.
The boy rolls his eyes
and retrieves the ball
that hit the ground ten feet behind him.
A commotion in the parking lot.
People in line at the concession stand
give up their spots to go see;
kids stop running in all directions
and run to join the crowd;
one by one the women get up from their blankets,
brush the sand from their legs and go investigate;
“Come on,” the old woman says,
“Let’s see what’s going on.”
Her husband scowls,
“I don’t know why you have to be so nosey,” he says,
then he follows her to the parking lot.
I am curious.
I stand up, take a step. My balance is uncertain,
my legs stiff, as if I’ve been sitting too long.
Way, way too long.
Every step an effort,
and exhausted before I go ten feet,
I want to sit.
“Keep going,” I tell myself.
“You’ll be fine. Walk it off.”
Obstinate legs give way to determined will.
My balance improves,
I walk faster, even run a few yards.
This happened once at a conference.
It was lunchtime.
I stood up, took a few faltering steps, then hit my stride
and hurried to the buffet line.
One time at the airport,
I started down the concourse,
stumbling and keeping one hand on the wall for support,
but my pace picked up,
and I had a jaunty air about me.
But I never had lunch,
never got on the plane,
never found out what happened at Walnut Beach.
Seconds before reaching the buffet line, the airline gate, the parking lot,
I woke up.
And the wheelchair was still by the bed.