Her boots make a squishing noise every time they sink into the grass. The last drizzles of chilly autumn rain hang in the air, slicking everything around, so that the grass and leaves reflect the lamplights glossily.
She is taking a shortcut.
She takes a lot of shortcuts, little detours through grass and trees, along service roads and through maintenance buildings and garages. Some of them are simply for the pleasure of exploring, of feeling as though she is passing through a place other students never imagine to visit. She’s found hidden smoking areas, gardens and fountain plazas, and grottos. Once, she was nearly flattened by a semi, having mistakenly found herself on the delivery road for the warehouse.
Occasionally these detours do shorten the journey. It’s as simple as this; taking a diagonal swath through the lawn rather than following the two perpendicular sidewalks that lead to the path. For a while, she’d believed the grass was off-limits, so rarely do any of the other students, trundling along in straight lines like army ants, deign to copy her. Then again, their choice of outfits—designer jeans, soft moccasins and smart white sneakers—would fight a losing battle against the clots of dead grass and leaves, against the mud and pine needles. The worst that happens to her old, cracking Timberland’s is that they are buffed shiny with water, looking for a few minutes like they are toed with stainless steel.
She feels less scornful of these other students, these lined-up insects, when she is in the midst of them, watching them bustle around the hivelike buildings with purpose and poise. There, she stands clumsily like a stone edifice, boots and jacket and scarf making her feel big and clumsy, aimless.
She clomps onto the path, the black asphalt gleaming dully in the light, like cracked glass. Lamps shine, waist-high, every ten feet or so, like goals. Like checkpoints.
She thinks that life sometimes seems like the path. So many of her friends groan and sigh about the complexities of it, call it a labyrinth and a forest, but she know that really, it’s so simple. Your life is laid out ahead of you so that you can see each checkpoint as it arrives, knowing you’re that much further along your own personal number line. Maybe you don’t know what the following goal is, but you work yourself along to each immediate next point, and suddenly you’re at the door, journey finished, kaput.
And you can look back, and see the blank possibilities in the blackness that rims the lamplight on either side, but the time is up, the class is starting soon, and you can’t go back.
And really, she thinks, swinging open the glass door into sterile, bright silence, her own life is like that too—highschool, college, a job, a career. Death. Her boots squeak loudly on the steps. Here, there are no shadows or alternate routes. Signs direct you every step of the way, and the corners and hallways are resolute in their solidity. No secret nooks or alleyways.
It doesn’t matter how many detours, scenic routes, or shortcuts she desperately takes, counting on youth and wildness to distract her. A skipped class here and there is no lifetime detour. Her mind, like the bodies of the students she scoffs at, trudges resolutely along her set path, slow and plodding. Watching for the next light to tell her she’s made it that far.