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Sidewalks

Street in Pompeii by Paul Vlaar

a story by Ré Harris

Antonia was six years-old and a connoisseur of sidewalks. Often she walked with her mother and little brother down the of streets of their town, to places with many different feelings underfoot. She noticed them all, especially in summer. She loved spring and summer because she hated winter coats and heavy clothes. Much more to her liking were summer’s pretty afternoon dresses and comfortable cotton shorts in pale candy colors that reminded her of fairy wings in her favorite story books.

Parks with lush green stretches of lawn were made for play. They felt like home to her feet, and she loved nothing better than running there on warm spring days with a cooling wind on her face. The bike paths were different. She supposed they were made of a special material, dark with a dull sheen that signaled its smoother texture. Bike paths felt less hard underfoot than the regular tan sort of concrete on most sidewalks. She thought that smoothness made them better. Antonia thought sidewalks would be much better if they were all made of this material.

The older, dark tan concrete on sidewalks that led to the bus stop or the grocery around the corner, had little bits of rock mixed in. Multicolored rock and stone must have been mixed in to make it look prettier, she thought. It shone a bit in direct sunshine, so she felt sure she was right and didn’t ask about it. Antonia never asked why there was more than one kind of concrete. She didn’t even ask how anyone discovered it. She was so familiar with sidewalks that it never occurred to her to ask, even though she was curious about most things. Many of the questions in her young life had been answered in ways she didn’t expect. She had learned that asking why wasn’t always necessary, or helpful.

Once, she had seen men pouring an odd wet mixture into a place where a broken sidewalk had been. It looked like cookie batter she didn’t want to eat, and as she and her brother watched them work, their mother explained that concrete began wet, and hardened as it dried into the surface they were more familiar with.

The wet concrete took a few days to dry. As it did, she noticed that the previously broken square of sidewalk had been replaced by a slightly different material. This new one had fewer identifiable bits of rock or stone in it. It was a lighter shade of tan, a creamier color, and smoother though not as smooth as the bike path in the park. She liked this new material. She liked both its appearance and the way it felt under her shoes. She hoped they would change the rest of the sidewalk squares to this, even though they weren’t all broken, but she did hope all the broken ones were changed first. They were an eyesore and she had to walk around them onto someone’s lawn as she passed, hoping the owners wouldn’t see and yell at her.

One time she had been adventurous and walked ahead of her mother, and took a few moments to squat down and examine the ragged concrete of a gaping hole. It reminded her of seeing the Grand Canyon in a movie. There were ants scurrying inside the rough crags and valleys, and this upset her a little. Her mother noticed the look on her face and smiled. “I’m surprised you’d look at it that close,” she said.

Antonia was embarrassed about this and rose a little too fast. When she began to wobble, her mother gripped her wrist so fast that Antonia didn’t notice until she was swinging over the ground for a second, before landing upright on her feet. “Come on,” her mother said as they held hands and continued on their way, with her little brother following closely behind, vroom, vrooming with the tiny truck he carried everywhere.

The last kind of sidewalk that Antonia became familiar with, was first encountered on a downtown street where they hadn’t spent much time before. It had been changed to something very new. Antonia grabbed the bottom of her mother’s skirt when they approached this new material, and her eyes were wide as she took in the sight of the beautiful reddish-brown sidewalk, covered with multifaceted red stones that shone in the sun like jewelry. Her mother misunderstood the tight grip Antonia had on her skirt with both hands, and shooed her away, forgetting how often her girl had done this before when she was surprised. Her mother had somehow forgotten what Antonia remembered in minute detail; how the jagged little stones would bite at her knees, just like the broken sidewalk craters. It wouldn’t matter then what sort of sidewalk Antonia came upon–old cement, new cement, dark bike path–they would all reopen the wounds, all summer long, in the pretty dresses and candy colored shorts she had waited for all year. This beautiful new sidewalk would be a special kind of hell for her clumsy six year-old knees, chewing them to bits, like jagged twinkling teeth.

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16 thoughts on “Sidewalks

  1. What a lovely story, Sparks. And you know, sidewalks are exactly the kind of thing a small person would notice, being so close to them and so prone to skinned knees, but I would never have conceived of writing about them this way. Well done, you.

    • Thanks, Averil. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being that girl. Those red sidewalks didn’t show up downtown until I was an adult, but when I first saw them my heart immediately went out to all the kids who were still clumsy like I was. That’s something I’ll never forget.

  2. I love this story, and the photo set me up for it perfectly, with those cobbled stones and the long view bringing me into the feeling of being a small person. 🙂 Beautiful imagery in the story. Makes me want to read more about Antonia and what kind of person she grows up to be. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you said that! I knew I had to tell this little story (the kid’s story contest made me think of so many others), but I wondered how many adults would care about the inner workings of a six year-old’s mind if it’s not about much larger issues, too, like in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I know the idea isn’t new, but I’m very drawn to the idea of writing about kids, but for adults. I’m glad you liked it and want to know more about her!

  3. One of the things that stands out to me in this piece is your ability to show so much of Antonia’s life, and her mother and brother, while seeming to focus on a short piece about a little girl and sidewalks. You did this very skilfully. It also reminded me of falls on sidewalks as a child, and of watching, fascinated, as women crossed that dangerous ground in high spiky heels. I remember one woman in particular trying to navigate down a steep street in Seattle with heels so high she had to take them off to make it down. Sidewalks and vanity. I see Antonia growing up to become a writer, with her ability to focus in on the ants and create the grand canyon.

    • Thank you much for these kind words, Lisa! It feels really good to know this succeeded for you. (And I think she did!)

      I still don’t understand how women negotiate sidewalks in those spiky high heels! I think about that more than the plot when I’m watching “Sex and the City.” I’m still searching for sexy flats. 🙂

  4. I enjoyed the loving care you poured on an object that most people barely notice – other than being a convenient path to walk on. Wonderful words and phrases sprung out of that clever eye of yours and created a marvelous story. I’m thinking that very few things get by you!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this one, Aubrey. Lately I’ve been immersed in how children see things and how they feel, and trying to translate that into stories for adults. So, I’m really glad this worked for you. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Beautifully written story, and I second all the opinions in the comments above. Love the topic too. Skinned knees…..oh, how they hurt, and the scars those unfortunate falls leave behind…
    My knees are a testament to the cruelty of the surfaces we walk on. I still haven’t forgotten that morning I was walking to my bus, my mind on the art competition in school that day. Didn’t think about walking carefully around a little crater in the middle of the empty road and promptly lost my balance when my foot found itself stepping into something deeper than the surface it expected to encounter.
    Somehow knee scrapes hurt a LOT. I went to school feeling weepy and a bit crushed, kicking myself for my clumsiness. My knee ached throughout the duration of the 2 hr drawing competition.

    • First, thank you, Munira, for your kind words about my story! Second, I’m so sorry that you have first-hand experience with its subject! I wonder if knee wounds hurt more and heal so slowly because the skin there is in almost constant motion– stretching and contracting so much? I loved summer but it was awful, too, because I fell so much.

    • Thanks for stopping by and reading this! I’m glad you liked it. Your 100 Word Challenge sounds very interesting, but I owe my Twitter story a new “chapter” so I should probably try my hand at the one for next week. Thanks for the invitation!

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