October, seven months after the world stopped, I walk the path by heart. To my left, the river reflects a chalk blue sky as leaves ripple lemon and crimson. Through a canopy of uprooted trees, Canadian geese squawk overhead. A grandfather fishes in a storm drainoff, chatters in Mandarin to a child on a tricycle. To my right, a used car lot, a dog kennel where barking never ceases, the faint thump of rap from a passing car.
I pull my jacket close. Years ago we walked here, you racing ahead as I seethed. Then with another, boots trudging through fresh snow, warm cheek to frozen nose. I shut it all out, snap photos by the water’s edge. The wooden decks, bare and grafittied, where homeless pause with brimming shopping carts to watch mallards swim amidst the coke cans and sudsy debris.
Then, a shiver of sound. A gray squirrel framed in evergreen, claws gripping bark inches from my face. Rounded ears alert, eyes black and twitching, an enormous peanut tucked in its jaws. For several seconds I hold my breath, watching its tail flutter in the breeze. A crow’s caw ends our staring contest. It scurries up a branch, sole witness to our moment of startled peace.