War had left the country in shambles; long, fire-torn scars called barrens marred the land from coast to coast, dotted sparingly with life. In this dead world there was a lone sojourner, who walked, and walked...and walked.
Momma never slept.
Every night she sat up through the silence, warming one head in her lap and another beneath her hand, her visage sculpted dimly by the sputtering breath of fire light, her famous eyes ten million miles away. She left her body hollow in the darkness, the way we left ours in our blankets when we relaxed into our dreams. I don’t know that Momma ever dreamed, though. After all, Momma never slept.
She just sat there, a weathered dais in the murmuring sea of swaddled bodies that congealed before the black fire pit. She stayed up through the night, and watched the fire whip, shadows smeared like war paint under her famous eyes.
I think Momma saw things the rest of us didn’t. Somewhere in the hot, cackling flames she found more than smoky coals and wisps of charred kindling. She saw things she didn’t want to see, I think. Things she didn’t like.
“Things we can’t change,” someone quipped from the back of my mind. “Things we want to forget.”
It had been the response to an unspoken question—a conflict that must have slipped from my eyes unbidden at the time. It had been the voice of the Walking Man.