I walk at night. Late at night.
I’m not supposed to. I’m not technically allowed to. My mother declared that all the “crazies” come about at about seven o’clock, and after that hour, it’s house arrest for me. She knows for a fact that if I were to leave the house at 7:01, I would never return — probably due to being severely mutilated and shoved into a Dumpster of some kind.
It’s a rather good thing, then, that what my mother doesn’t know is that, when you apply pressure precisely, my window screen pops out of the frame.
And, my mother definitely doesn’t know that every night, at promptly 11:48, I pop that window out of the frame, scamper across the yard and shoulder my way through our back gate. There is a pathway back there, a bike path. The city put one in a couple of years back. It snakes through my neighborhood, past a couple of real-estate offices, and finds it’s way to a park.
It’s a short walk to the park, made in approximately twelve minutes. I walk fast through our neighborhood, just in case one of the neighbors is up for a glass of water and happens to see me (the perils of small-community living), but slow to stroll through the real-estate offices.
There are three real-estate offices on the block. All different companies. They are clean establishments, with white buildings that boast columns in the front and brick courtyards in the back. They are nice offices, and yet, whenever I walk by at 11:52-ish, I am always over come with the need to do something “bad” — like smoke or take a swig of a flask or pierce my ear again.
I never have though. And when I leave the offices, the need to be insane leaves as well, probably because I know that insanity personified is approaching.
To get to the park from real-estate central, there are two options: you can take the creepy, tree-lined path or the well-lit cement boulevard.
Tonight, I opt for the tree-lined path. I glance at the digital watch on my arm — midnight exactly. I’m on time tonight.
I make it about thirty feet onto the path when something crashes to the ground next to me. I don’t even flinch. Jack is always jumping out of one tree or another.
I can smell the smoke on him, so I turn to look at him, eying the cigarette glowing in the dark , disapprovingly.
Jack has always called me Dahlia. I’m not quite sure why, but he told me he liked it better than Claudia and I can’t say I disagree.
“Hello, Jack,” I reply.
His jaw twitches whenever I call him Jack — which I do every night. “I like the name Jack,” I remind him.
He simply shakes his head and takes another drag of his cigarette. I let him puff on it until we reach the park.
“Put that out,” I tell him, grabbing an abandoned swing.
Jack scowls. “You know you sound more and more like a mother every day.” But I notice that he stomps it out on the cement anyway.
He takes the swing next to me.
I’ve known Jack ever since his family moved here a year and a half ago. When the Radcliffe’s moved in, my mother thought that the Meade’s were gaining barbeque buddies and play-date companions. Turns out, however, that the Radcliffe’s aren’t that much into being social. And instead of that comradery my mom hoped for, we only gained noise pollution and a fellow nocturnal traveler for me.
I met Jack officially about a week after they moved in. My mother took me by to greet the family. It was a short, “Hi. We’re the Meade’s from across the street. Here’s a casserole,” type of event. I didn’t fully interact with Jack until probably another week later.
I’ve been walking late since I was about fourteen. I’ve gotten pretty good at too. I’m a quiet, fast walker and I know to listen for cars, especially if they sound like they are slowing down I am well trained to hear footsteps behind me and I know all the short-cuts and alternate routes. I was checking on one of those alternate routes that night, or I might have run into Jack sooner. As it was, it wasn’t until I reached park and found him already there.
It was a good thing my mom had forced me to met him, because if I hadn’t, I probably would have run screaming from the park. But, even in the dim moonlight, I recognized his features and took my usual swing.
Our routine just sort of fell into place from there.
It’s not a relationship. We are very careful to keep from calling it that. We are in no way committed. Our routine follows only two rules: 1.) That Jack doesn’t have to be there if he doesn’t want to be, and 2.) Jack waits on the tree-lined path. If I don’t want to see or talk to him, for whatever reason, I simply take the cement boulevard instead.
Jack ceded the park to me, saying I found it first, and thus had jurisdiction. So if it was solitude I wanted, he would relinquish the park.
I don’t usually want solitude, though. Jack makes good company, a quiet companion. We get along symbiotically — I don’t tell his father that he smokes and he doesn’t tell my mother that I walk at midnight.
I walk at night. Late at night.