The Crosswalk
by David Wallace


The omelet lay in the pit of his stomach like a brick, and his stomach acids churned at it. Georgia had been at work for an hour now, but Ben still couldn't make himself turn his computer on. He glanced at it several times, even pulled his desk chair out, but instead of hitting the on-button, he lighted another cigarette, and wandered around the apartment.

The way the gray morning light reflected off of the chrome in the living room made him cold even though the heat was on. The unsaid "if" that ended his quarrel with Georgia earlier that morning still hung in the cool air of the living room, and it drove him to the warmer climes of his books, his worn couch, and his imagination. He made another pot of coffee, filled his mug, and escaped to his study. It was time to work.

He looked at the computer and contemplated rolling a joint instead of lighting another cigarette. Instead of doing either one, he leaned down and punched the power button. Outside the apartment, almost inaudibly, the wind sighed. A lonely sound, Ben thought. The only other sounds in the apartment were the initial whirrings of the computer and the tock-tock of the grandfather clock that he and Georgia had received for their wedding.

Sitting, he clicked the mouse on his works-in-progress. While the file loaded, he broke up some pot into the pipe his brother had sent him for Christmas.

"Okay, let's see what I have to work with." Ben glanced over the thirty-odd unfinished stories on the screen. He read each title and, as if they were his children gone awry, could not remember when he lost control of them. The titles danced in front of him, taunting him with loose ends and dangling metaphors. They threw spitballs of unformed thoughts at his forehead, and for a minute all he wanted to do was delete them. He would have deleted them a long time ago, but you never knew when one of the ideas might come to fruition. He couldn't bring himself to throw his babies away. Like a pack rat with a penchant for self-abuse, he thought.

He closed his eyes, moved the mouse pointer over the story-files for a few seconds, and stopped. Opening his eyes, he saw that the pointer had come to rest directly over a file. He double clicked and waited as the file loaded.

The Crosswalk. Ah yes, The Crosswalk. My word-stew that pretends to be the story of the twenty second, love-at-first-sight, torrid lust-affair that destroys a marriage and makes millions of American women fall in love with Russell Crowe. He had written one romance novel, had hated writing it; but it paid well, and so he had tried again with The Crosswalk. Going to write a hit this time, he remembered thinking. But it didn't work out that way. Since he and Georgia had met, love just couldn't be put into words.

At one time, he wanted to write the great American novel, but as he looked at the trash that represented his writing career, he knew he had lost it. The words just wouldn't come anymore. When he tried to write about love, he saw only Georgia. In real life, he thought, women are the villains. How can I write about true love, when all of the female characters I create are, quite simply, caricatures of my perfect wife? His eyes moved to the picture of Georgia set up next to his office printer. Top of the line, he thought. Sixteen pages a minute. Sorry, honey, wish I had sixteen pages to print.

For a moment, he considered just turning the computer off, then decided not to. At least he didn't feel as guilty about not working if he stared at the screen. Sometimes he would get lost in his thoughts only to come to himself two hours later. Part of the creative process, he told himself at those times, but deep down, he knew the truth--he had lost the ability to write. No, not true, he reminded himself. He was a first rate hack, but the joy, the intensity, and the belief didn't exist anymore.

Ben sighed, leaned far back in his chair, and rubbed his face with his hands. After a while, with his eyes closed, he leaned forward and groped for his pipe.

"Just gonna get stoned stupid and pretend that I'm coming up with something," Ben lit the pipe, inhaled, and held the smoke until he felt the warm grip of the drug around his skull.

"Nothing like a little THC." Ben exhaled and addressed the computer. "Maybe, my friend, you and I should just end this relationship. We never talk anymore, and quite frankly, I don't feel that I'm getting what I need from you."

The computer flickered back at him, and Ben sighed again. From the living room, he could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock. It had taken him a while to get used to the tock-tock of the clock, but now he seldom noticed it.

Another toke, another warm head rush and the thought that he could use a nap. Ben opened his eyes and looked at his computer. Yeah, a nap would do me good. A few dreams to escape the harsh realities of writer's block. He looked around the study. How comfortable it was, how cluttered, how warm. No hard edges. The soft light and the piles of books made it look like a bookstore in a bad horror flick. The couch drew his eyes, and he got up to lie down. Just a nap. Georgia wouldn't know if he spent a couple of hours on the couch.

The couch enclosed him like a cocoon, and as he drifted off he thought about the tiny pleasures in life that he took for granted--things like stepping into a hot shower first thing in the morning. Or that delicious little chill that you got when the cold air hit your water-warmed body as you emerged from said shower. Or how pleasant a blast of warm air from a heater was when you first came inside, out of the . . .


Cold. Georgia's teeth chattered. It's so damn cold. What was she doing standing here with the wind whistling up her coat, waiting for the light to change when there wasn't a car in sight? There was no one in sight. The street was as deserted as a ghost town in a t.v. western, but a hell of a lot colder.

Georgia shivered and glanced at her watch. Left work early, but for what? Excuses were made to her clients, important appointments canceled, and she even begged off lunch with the managing partner. Something was wrong with her marriage, and she couldn't think about anything else. Her mind wandered again and again over her conversation with Ben that morning. She had surprised herself by yelling at him, but she was introspective enough to know that that was just a symptom of a bigger problem.

Georgia stared at the crossing light, willing it to change. The cold was so bitter that she thought she would never get warm again. As she counted the frozen seconds, she realized that she was ready to admit the problem.

Her marriage, fun for a while, had born no fruit. Ben didn't want kids, didn't want them to interfere with his career. Georgia didn't necessarily want kids, but she was tired of living in the limbo of that studio apartment fourteen floors above the city with nothing significant to give direction to her energy. Every aspect of her life was stuck in the same old rut. She didn't have the career she wanted. She and Ben decided when they got married that she would support him so he could write. She took a job that paid well but that she hated, and now he wasn't even writing. She needed some excitement, something that would change her life, not just her view from the living room windows. No, it would take more than the vacation that Ben suggested that morning. It would take something more powerful than a temporary change of scenery to fix what was happening to her marriage.

"I'm freezing to death." Georgia's teeth chattered against one another. She looked around. The street was still empty, and why the hell wasn't the goddamn light changing. Gawd, how she wanted a hot cup of coffee in a dark booth in some café somewhere. Not a soul. Georgia took a deep breath and the air seemed to freeze her lungs. She exhaled and took a few tentative steps against the light. Her steps quickened, and soon she was running against the wind. Moments later she reached the other side. When she looked back at the street, the light changed.

Georgia shrugged in frustration and turned back into the wind. Now all I need is a cappuccino. She felt exhilarated. She didn't know anyone who crossed against the light in Kearnes and got away without a ticket. She grinned to herself, hunched her shoulders out of habit against an icy wind she didn't feel anymore, and hurried towards San Domino's where she could escape into a dark booth with her coffee and her thoughts.

"Excuse me, ma'am." The voice behind her was muffled. "I wonder if I might have a moment of your time." Georgia stopped walking, turned, and sure enough, there stood a policeman, bundled to the hilt, with a ticket book in his right hand.

"Look, officer," Georgia leaned forward and looked at his name tag. "Officer Simmons, I'm sorry, I--"

"You have nothing to be sorry for, ma'am," Georgia saw confusion on the cop's face. It dawned on her that the officer didn't see her crossing against the light. He didn't want to give her a ticket.

"Ma'am, you dropped this from your pocket at the corner back there." The policeman handed her a piece of paper.

"I am sorry, officer," Georgia shivered. "I think you're mistaken. That paper doesn't belong to me."

"No, really, ma'am, just take it." the cop smiled at her. Georgia looked at his open smile, his straight white teeth, and his bright blue eyes. What a hunk, even underneath all those layers.

As soon as she had the thought, she chastised herself for it. It had popped into her mind so fast that she didn't have time to stop it. She felt the familiar feeling of lust in the pit of her stomach, and knew, deep down, that even in this cold wind the cop could tell she was blushing. His smile broadened when he noticed her face.

"I, I, I," she said.

The cop laughed, mistaking her stuttering for chattering, and pushed the paper into her hand. "Just take it. I promise it's yours."

"Okay, thank you, Officer Simmons. I've really got to go." Georgia turned away, but not before she saw him smile that amazing smile. Her knees felt weak, and she ran rather than walked away in her hurry to hide her discomfort. Georgia shoved the crumpled bit of paper into her pocket, and forgot about it. She didn't feel the cold anymore, she just needed a place to sit and think. There was no doubt that she had plenty to think about. She smiled as the policeman's face flashed again before her mind's eye.

When she got to San Domino's, Georgia found the coffee bar almost empty. She got a double mocha and settled in a dark corner. She loved coming here. It was quiet, secluded, a place that none of her friends, including Ben, cared for much. She knew that when she was in her private little booth, her world and thoughts would not collide. She sat back and sipped her coffee, trying to thaw out. This place was the best. On the radio, audible in the background, played one of Ben's favorite songs. She couldn't remember the performer though. Maybe it was Miles--


-- Davis, Sammy Davis and son, Muddy Waters and Big Bob Wellington, Marvin Gaye and Al Green, Jimmy "The Mole" and B.B. King--

Ben snapped awake and the music faded with his dreams. The lights in the study were still on, but the light that filtered in from the living room was dim and gray. These were not his first thoughts upon waking, though. His first thoughts were something along the lines of "By Jove, I think I've got it." As his body caught up with his mind, Ben looked at the clock. It was half-past six, he saw with a start. Georgia should have been home an hour ago. Maybe she came home, saw him asleep, got disgusted with him, and walked out. Then he slapped his forehead.

"You and I both know that it would take more than a nap to make her walk out on me," he told the computer. He didn't feel so convinced, though. He pulled himself to sitting position on the couch and ran his hands through his hair.

"Better late than never," he mumbled. With a groan, he pulled himself to his feet and walked to his desk. After extracting a cigarette from the pack he always kept close by when he wrote, he lighted it and flung himself into the desk chair. Already he could feel the difference.

For the first time in over a year, the computer screen held promise. He recognized a long-missed feeling of expectancy as he placed his fingers on the keyboard. The story formed in his mind, and his fingers itched to make it come into being. With a sigh of pleasure, he started typing.

The Crosswalk

She was cold. So cold that she didn't know if she would ever be able to get warm again. As she waited for the light to change, she thought again about her conversation with Ben . . .

Ben laughed out loud at his mistake. Wouldn't do to get too personal now. Call it a writer's superstition, but ugly things could happen. Ben smiled again as his eyes glazed over and his fingers resumed their attack of the keyboard.

As she waited for the light to change, she thought again about her conversation with Gerald earlier that morning. Was it her fault that he was so obtuse? Didn't he see she needed space and adventure? Didn't he understand she needed everything that went along with both, but without the emotional burden he gave her? She wanted the light of adventure in her life, and all she got was . . .

The gloom in the living room deepened, the stainless steel of the kitchen and furniture catching the last cold glow of day. The grandfather clock tock-tocked the seconds, the minutes, and the hours away. In the study, the small desk-clock also beeped away, but Ben was lost in another world, his fingers tap-tapping in rhythm with the tock-tock of the grandfather clock. The shadows thickened into the darkness of night, but still he wrote on, oblivious of the passage of time and the lengthening absence of his wife.

She had made it. No one had seen her cross against the light. Not many people got away with crossing against the light in this town. Even that good-looking cop hadn't given her a ticket. Just that bit of paper he thought she dropped. But it was cold and she needed that cup of coffee and a good, long think . . .

The words raced across the computer screen, and his eyes followed. His mind ranged far ahead. While the clock noted the passage of time, Ben dreamed and his fingers danced, and danced, and danced.

Her fingers trembled as she read the note . . .


Georgia couldn't believe what she was reading. Thank God she was the one taking their coats to the cleaners. Ben had been working like a mad man when she came home the night before. When she kissed him hello, he didn't even asked her why she was so late. In fact, he didn't do more than grunt and keep writing. Understandable after their rocky goodbye when she left for work. Still, she shrugged, at least he was writing. When he came to bed two hours later, at four-thirty in the morning, she had been kept awake by his tossing and turning.

That morning, as always on Saturday, they had slept late, but when she awoke, his side of the bed was already cold and empty. Georgia got up, put on her robe, and wandered into the living room. From the direction of Ben's study, she could hear the tap-tap of his fingers on the keyboard. She remembered what it was like when they first got married. Ben would stop writing and come to bed long after she retired. His movements would wake her up and they would make love. She would fall asleep in his arms and often woke up to an empty bed and the tap-tapping of Ben's computer. She felt a sense of nostalgia for something that could never be regained, even if Ben were back in the saddle again. After they were married for a while, Ben had started to slow down, to write less, and spend more of his time with her. He started going to bed with her at night, and waking up with her in the morning, but they rarely made love. If they did, it was passionless, redundant, and unsatisfying. Any other girl would have been thrilled to be married to a man who wanted to spend all his time with her, but Georgia missed the freshness that Ben's career and schedule had given to their marriage at the beginning.

She listened for a while to the sound of Ben working away. She felt a vague sadness at the way things changed and couldn't be changed back. That was the thing about life. What was done could never be undone. Time could never be turned back. Mistakes, even if fixed, had still been made. They could never be unmade.

Ben stopped typing and an eerie silence filled the apartment. Georgia was aware for the first time of the smell of burned coffee. She went over to the coffeemaker and saw that Ben had left the burner on underneath the empty coffee pot. Again she felt a wave of nostalgia. They had gone through eight coffee pots the first two years of their marriage.

When she heard Ben typing again, she decided not to bother him. Instead, she went into the bathroom to get ready for the day. She started the shower and sat down on the toilet. After six years, she still couldn't pee without the water running. There had to be something to that. Georgia finished and flushed the toilet. Stepping into the shower, she realized her mistake too late and yelped as the scalding water hit her body. Guess I'll wait a minute, she thought.

As she waited for the water to cool, she examined herself in the steamy mirror. Her breasts were still firm and high on her chest. Her belly was flat, but with age she had developed a small pooch right above her pubis. Ben loved it, told her it was sexy. She looked her body up and down again, and headed into the shower. Still sexy, she knew.

When Georgia opened the shower door, Ben stood in the bathroom leering at her through the swirling steam. "Hey, my love. You got time for a lonely fellow in need of a tumble?"

"Ben, you're alive! I thought maybe you'd been buried under an avalanche of old New York Journals." Georgia wrapped a towel around her body, conscious that she was sending Ben a signal but not able to stop herself. Sure enough:

"Not in the mood for a tumble after all, huh?" Ben made a playful grab at her towel, but she backed against the shower door and he missed.

"Not this morning, Hon. I've got stuff to do."

Ben looked at her. She knew that it was dawning on him that something was wrong.

"Yeah, well, maybe later." He looked crestfallen.

Georgia almost felt bad enough to give him what he wanted. But she didn't. "I'm gonna get dressed, and take some stuff to the cleaners. Do you need anything?"

"I'm okay. Maybe just some cigarettes."

That ended their conversation. She brushed past him into the bedroom. He shut the bathroom door. By the time he finished, she was dressed and in the kitchen. She poured coffee, facing away from the bedroom. He said nothing to her, just walked back into his study. Seconds later she heard the tippy-tap of his fingers flying over the keys of the computer's keyboard. She turned around and faced the study door. Something tickled her cheek. When she moved her hand to brush at the itch, she was surprised to find her fingers wet with tears.

Tears? She smiled through them. This was all her fault. Ben was Ben, but she was cold. She shook her head, sipped her coffee, and picked up her coat. She examined the large coffee stain on it. Ben had jogged her elbow last week. She had burned her arm in the process. Ben just being Ben. She remembered the way the policeman's eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled.

Impatient with herself, she brushed the thought away like a tear, and began to go through her pockets for loose change and the dozen or so folded post-it notes that found their way into her coat between cleanings.

Instead of pulling out a fistful of either, she pulled out a well-crumpled piece of paper. It was the piece of paper the cop had given her the day before. Georgia held it, afraid of what she might find when she straightened it out. With a deep breath, she pulled at what she now knew to be a note. Her eyes growing wider at every word, Georgia read.

"I know that you think that this is probably a strange way to meet somebody, but I thought I'd take a chance. You have never met me before. I am a police officer, and I see you every day on your way to . . ."


Working again. Ben sat back with a sigh of contentment. This version of The Crosswalk was going much better than the first. He leaned forward and read the last few lines he had written.

I know this is a strange way to meet somebody, but I had to try. My name is Don Simmons and I am a police officer. I see you every day on your way to and from work and could not wait to meet you. Maybe we could have coffee . . .

Some time later, Ben heard the sound of the front door slamming. Must be Georgia going to the cleaners. He started printing The Crosswalk, unaware that in the living room, the pendulum of the grandfather clock was swinging to a stop.


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