|The TAO of STUBBIE PENCIL © 2011 Kurt Mitchell|
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A Bridge of Certain Sighs
'It is said that even the longest of journeys begins with a single step.' -Lao Tzu.
Joshua Rocco Contino cut the inside of his cheek on the jagged pieces of stale, almost-tasting-of-almond fortune cookie that, only moments before, had imparted that enduring invaluable nugget of empirical wisdom unto him... along with his Lucky Numbers of 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and 13. He pulled the thin strip of cheap paper taut, and twisted it into a tight strand between his thumbs and forefingers before rolling it into a tiny ball and flicking it to the mercies of the elemental wind. He stood and climbed atop the picnic table and did a slow spin with his face elevated toward the warm sun. He took a deep breath, let it go, and stepped off the edge of the table. He landed cat-like on the balls of his feet, crouching, perfectly balanced.
Regardless of what motivates the traveler to lean forward and commit, totally focused to that initial step, or weave to the side then stumble back to maintain balance in some form of justified stupor, the journey begins, intentional or not. If called upon to reflect, said traveler more often than not wouldn't be able to describe that final moment of his previous life, the pivotal point that sent him to the road. Would it actually be a tangible moment, a definite point in time? Or simply a surge, a welling up of inertia, a swelling pressure from previous experiences. In that case, how would he discern and describe just another shade of gray?
It was no act of desperation that started the "journey" Joshua now found himself on; desperation had occurred much earlier in his life without need for immediate subsequent action. When even despair seemed too much of a bother and too much of a chore, he simply stepped away. Despair still required one to care about something or someone and he had been past that for quite a while.
He pitched the hinged Styrofoam meal-to-go container from Lo Ming's Best Cantonese Restaurant in the direction of the neglected overstuffed trash barrel at the end of the rest area parking lot. He thought it was a good idea to return it to where he'd found it. The wind caught the spinning Styrofoam carton almost as soon as it left his hand and carried it pin-wheeling off across the empty parking lot. So much for being conscientious. It wasn't his fault. He missed. So what. There was nobody else around to notice. And if there had been, again so what. He kept his head down and kept walking.
Tired of hitchhiking, he walked for a time with his back to traffic, relying on his ears to alert him to any vehicle approaching from behind, at which time he would brace himself for the blaring "Doppler-ed" horn and passing rush of air attempting to shove him off the side of the road. As long as it was just air and not a fender, he paid no mind. Just one more invisible assault to tell him he didn't belong… nothing he hadn't experienced before. He proceeded along in this fashion until he came upon a guardrail that cordoned off access to an outdated intersection, a remnant of the two-lane days. He stopped, unscrewed the twistcap of the clear plastic bottle for the zillionth time, and wiped the back of a fingerless brown cotton work glove across his gummy-lipped mouth in a single motion. He took a pull at the last warm bit of saliva-laced water and chucked the empty bottle over the guardrail. He stood staring at it as it lay in the dry grass on the other side for a good solid minute, arguing with his guilt-ridden self and citing the recent case of the Styrofoam box, before stepping over the formed aluminum barrier to retrieve it.
Joshua stood and stared past the bottle at the old narrow road. Should he take it or not? It was the first real decision he'd been confronted with in days. He paused briefly and turned to check up the road on the other side one more time for any traffic. There was a brief phantom of thought that hitching might still be an alternative. There were no approaching cars, only a darkening of massive clouds on the horizon. With a heavy sigh and a mopped forehead, he set one foot before the other and leaped forward, landing in a loping run down the slight embankment to the broken center line of the neglected, weed-ridden concrete. He had a notion it might still go somewhere, that it may still serve a purpose as a real road for somebody farther up a bit. He was curious. Not that it mattered.