It was the best day of the year so far. Test results behind her, the midday sun beaming down from an azure sky and the path ahead just seemed so, so, uncluttered by the past. Its pattern, the staggered slabs, had fascinated her since she was old enough to stand upright although obviously, being able to express this preoccupation with what went underfoot when she was out and about, didn't come until later. Much later. But today, she was pleased to see that the little piece of the world which was passing along below, like a newly serviced and oiled escalator (but not an escalator, one of those things that went along horizontally, not up, a travelator maybe?) was perfectly aligned. Let her explain what she means. There was a pair of slabs, the line dividing the two, the left and the right, dead in the centre. On a good day, the width of the pavement would be restricted to the totality of their combined measurement. Just so. Their position would be confirmed by the staggered placement of the next row, the middle slab's centre being equidistant to the previous' join. Of course, this rarely happened, was just her fantasy because in reality, things just weren't like that. Not so cut and dried. It wasn't all about two bits of slabs joined in holy matrimony. There would always be other influences. Like, like, oh, she couldn't say because they were too numerous. In simple terms, she could only see the path in front and if it was straight then she had a good idea of how to make it perfect in her head. She could choose to avert her gaze away from the car crashes on the road or look to the right at the crocuses (croci?, she never knew what the plural should be) but at least she knew what she was dealing with. Around the bend, where she sometimes found herself, she had no control over where her long shadow might fall. But today? Today, the sun shone down on her crown and she was on top of the world.
One should celebrate these moments, she thought. But should one celebrate alone? Maybe. In a moment, a pub would come into view. This is not to say that she had negotiated the imperfection of the deviations in the pavement yet but this road was one she had travelled many times before and she knew that the wiggly bit ahead was only a temporary insanity on the part of the council and looking on the positive side, its return to the original route did allow her to see the pub before she was fully entitled to. In her opinion. Anyway, outside the pub there were picnic benches. They were greyed through urban neglect and the passing exhaust fumes but the way people sat under the parasols bearing adverts for beer amused her. Some had their backs to the queues of traffic, t-shirts stretched over their beer-swollen abdomens revealing the tops of their buttocks, others, usually ladies, she noticed, looking outwards, gloating and decadent with their false nails overlapping as they clasped their hands around alcopops bottles. Not really ladies then, she was just being polite. So you can see how she wouldn't want to join them, this brigade of street drinking pavement dwellers with nothing better to do with their time. No, she would sit on another bench. She wished for a circular, wrought iron table but it didn't come so when the barman asked where they would be sitting for the delivery of the meals she had ordered she indicated to the bench dead opposite the keep left sign on the little central reservation serving to protect pedestrians from their deviation from the post office to the pub.
She carried the drinks to the bench and sat down, facing outwards. She drank the first glass in one. The second followed immediately along with the feeling that she didn't need the sun any more, that she had an inner warmth sweating from her pores. The food arrived, and the barman put the second plate opposite her. Not wishing to explain her intimate details to a complete stranger for the umpteenth time in her life, she left the food where it was. At least until he had gone back inside. She didn't want him to think she was mad, even if she was. He wouldn't understand, of course. Not having travelled the same path to get here, he would have no idea or see things the way she did. He may even have his own dark side, she would never know. But she did know that her own was hungry. Very hungry. In fact, she'd discovered that if she didn't feed it properly, take it out for lunch now and again, it found all sorts of devious ways to get her attention and engulf her. You see, sometimes, she had walked along the pavement and been unable to see the slabs for what they were. Sometimes, the shadow had been too hungry, too long and she had ignored it. At the end of the day, she wanted to feel that she had followed her heart, not her shadow. At the end of the day, the shadows were longer on the pavement but if she stood at the right angle against the setting sun, she was at one with her shadow. Sometimes, her shadow shared her chips with her. But she always asked first. She didn't want to them to fall out. She would never let the sun set on an argument with her shadow because actually, she was quite good company. That was the bright side of madness. A companion for life.