Charity had been walking for so many days that her feet were breaking through the insoles of her shoes. By this point she felt each painful step not as pain but as dullness, as a reminder that she was still walking and that she would yet be walking for at least two more hours, barring any unpleasant complications. These reminders were not pleasant, as she did not want to be walking any longer. She was deeply, profoundly, utterly bored by the signs and the cars and the rain and the bicyclists and the bicycles and the elms and the pines and the daisies and the alfalfa everywhere between the crabapple plots (slim pickings, which made for victuals exactly as unfulfilling as the forms Charity consulted before expeditions such as this had uniformly warned) and always this crispness to the air and a contented smile on every face which came across her own, whether other pedestrians or through the medium of sunglasses or windowpane. Everybody she’d seen since she’d crossed the interstate and formally entered the municipal boundaries of Cold Town, KY was unimaginably, preposterously, suspiciously pleased to be walking or cleaning or driving or working or plucking the recently fallen leaves out of the storm drains in this crisp crisp morning air. They smiled at her and wished her well, as though they knew her, said it was a nice day wasn’t it, boy that summer seemed like it wasn’t ever gonna go away, do you know what I mean? Charity knew what they meant, but gave them no sign of this, as she owed them none and did not care to spend gifts at this time in the day, however plentiful or putatively without cost. “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” she whispered to the mailbox at 1389 Fine Dining Drive as she trudged past, “I will not pay your way.”
Charity did not like this town, and if she had had any say in the matter, she would never have returned. She would never have left her small flat with her small dog in the center of Madison’s emaciated business district, where she kept her books and her files and her assorted spice racks and cabinets and did not have to wear shoes with ergonomically designed casings for athletic expeditions. She did not like these open spaces, these straight lines.
But business is business, and old Mrs. Hammer down on 23 University Court had been a faithful client going on thirty-five years now, and Mrs. Hammer had specifically asked for Charity, so Thomas – Charity’s department head – had made her understand that she would have to get to Mrs. Hammer and ask her what the problems were with her account and get her back on the straight and narrow installment plan she’d never complained about before. Thomas was compassionate about Charity’s disquietude surrounding cars and trucks and similarly assorted vehicles, to say nothing of that nasty business that went on back when she was a little child, but if she refused the company valet-taxi service he didn’t know that he could convey to the higher ups that she was really – his words now – “committed to continued employment.”
So Charity had gone off on this awful walk back to Cold Town, back to the tobacco fields and the manufactories lined by rectilinear houses, these facilities standing since their construction 90 years before in a state of mute shock, surprised that the storm they’d all been warned about had come and gone without giving them rest, forcing them to continue on as ruins of a failed experiment. The globular shipping phantasms who’d decided this town had no general value hadn’t even had the decency to wipe the slate clean so that someone else could try something new. And now she had to walk through all these people and places that still thought they were people, places, parts of the living world. It made her sick, to be surrounded by these diseases that didn’t even know they were diseases, these horrible weeds, proudly facing toward the sun, not knowing the only thing anyone thought when they saw whatever color they could steal from the surrounding land was “shit, they’re here again, honey grab the gloves.”
Charity knew this selective misanthropy was perhaps not unrelated to the hunger she felt in her belly, so she walked in to the small gas station at 1876 Fine Dining Drive and grabbed a large coffee and an almond danish from the mumbling attendant behind the counter, a patchily bearded teenager too tired to open his eyes or his mouth to take her in. He did take her money though, and Charity thanked him pointedly.
The Danish was too sweet and the coffee was burnt, but did not ask for her money back. It was just a gas station, you couldn’t expect much else from them in the ways of culinary preparation. Besides, she reminded herself, you should never complain about breakfast. It starts the day off on a sour note.