A Different Time and Place
Daniel ran down the sidewalk until he reached the shores of Lake Michigan, which he likened to the Pacific for its length against the horizon and its never-ending tones of gray. He thought that this would be an embarrassing secret, should any of his older siblings find out. That when he ran to this very spot, where two seams of pavement came together to form a certain stretch of sidewalk, and then where that line extended into the grass to a fire hydrant, that when he balanced himself right there atop the narrow bolt at the tip of the hydrant, he could see for miles and miles.
If he could hold steady for seven breaths, he’d have his record. But tonight it was just six, and six again and six once more when he gave his last best effort. But it seemed enough to have caught the light of sunset in streaks against the clouds, and it seemed enough to have fled the household chores to steal just this, his private pleasure at the shore.
When he turned sixteen it was not enough. He was tall enough to glimpse the view without the silly balancing act and he was free enough to stay out after dark. Still, he felt guilty if he did not start his evening walk from the old hydrant, turning either left onto Texas Avenue or right down the narrow street called Denver Way. Denver would be faster, if he hopped the fence behind Sully’s Pizzeria and so he chose this route to Catherine’s house more nights than not.
She did not wait at the window for Daniel. It was nothing so romantic as that. But she did tie her hair back and wear her shirt a certain way and she did, yes, tell her parents that she was walking to the Arcade and would be home in one hour. She insisted on making this at least partly true, so when she met him around the next block on the corner of Denver and Washuga, she simply kept on walking so as to pass directly by the Arcade at least once and not make herself a liar.
Noise from the Arcade spilled onto the streets and Catherine quickened her pace. Daniel pulled his hands from the pockets of his jeans and clumsily reached for her. She allowed him her hand, soft and small as it was, and slowed her gait so they could walk shoulder-to-shoulder. They turned the corner without discussion, leaving the boulevard and along with it the street lights. Traveling three more blocks north, they came to a weeping cherry tree, which in springtime was the first the bloom.
But this, in the hollows of winter, was not why they had chosen the tree. Catherine braced one arm against the trunk of the tree and the other on Daniel’s shoulder. He put his hands around her waist. “One, two,” she whispered, then jumped. On three she raised up, hands clutching the lowest branch until Daniel could stand beneath her and cup his hands under her shoes. They teetered for a moment, Daniel the trunk and she the awkward, reaching branches, until at last she rested safely on the widest arm of the tree. For his part, Daniel did not need help getting up.
“Scoot up one more,” he said and so she did. There, a bulbous gnarl of bark rose up then smoothed out into a distinct bench, just wide enough for the two of them to sit on without too much difficulty. They dangled their legs below. Catherine shivered and Daniel gave her his rough, wool hat. He put his arm around her and folded up her collar.
She exhaled in her soft way and looked across the city streets, past the warehouse district and past the old armory, all the way out to the prison. “Visiting hour,” she said. Daniel squeezed her shoulders and looked himself, out beyond the cityscape in the direction of the high barbed wire. “Do you think he knows?” she asked, always asked.
“He knows,” Daniel said.
“Do you think he cares?”
“He does,” he said as confidently.
“Do you think it matters to him?” She seemed to recite from memory. Her face bore no expression of sorrow or longing. Just her pale and rosied profile that Daniel knew best from this view, so close and warm.
“Does it matter to you?” he asked, different from their routine.
Catherine’s breath caught in her throat. She blinked and turned to Daniel, her eyes alive and shining. “Yes,” she said. “Yes.”