by Matt Rowan
Firstly, how I desired walking
I didn't have it down pat from the start. It took experience and a few falls, a few stumbles. But made it, at last. And when I did, did I ever trill and whistle with glee. All the way down the hall, I did. Let me tell you, indeed.
Since beginning walking, I haven't looked back, walked full steam ahead. Meanwhile, literally looked back while walking maybe a handful of times, tops.
(Now, briefly to the subject of looking back, well, it had to be that I learned by experience, in doing, which crystallized for me that looking back while walking is best avoided. What brought it truly to bear was, I was a great many weeks in the past strolling gingerly and bowlegged through the quad in my newly learned and unique fashion, on my way to a meeting with Professor Madcape of the social sciences, when a stranger's voice made sounds at my rear and kitty corner, to which I hearkened more attentively by screwing up my neck as much as I could and advancing at the stranger's words with my eyes as well as my ears, even while the rest of me strode sightlessly onward.
What my eyes descried was Professor Madcape, thrashing about in a campus pond, resembling nothing less than a stork taking a bath. He tried to avoid the indignity of his situation, feigning some purpose to his unfortunate tumble. I imagined he had been wishing too hard, had flipped his penny into the frozen pond and when it was clear it would not penetrate the surface, he climbed out onto the ice, making every effort in stomping his foot to break the coin through. To that end, he was very successful. But as I did not want to be late to my meeting with him, and knowing how he abhorred tardiness and truancy, I lent him no assistance. He was a prideful man, and I believe had I attempted to intervene, he would have shunned the overture based solely on the fact of my being one of his students.
But that was hardly it, the end to the situation. A beggar child dressed in rags had bounded up to the fray, seeking remunerative assistance for his being in dire financial straits, but I had no money to give and, anyway, I wasn't looking at him but at the thrashing Professor Madcape, and so that is how the boy died. I told you I would tell you, and I have. I was not late for my meeting with Professor Madcape, although as you might imagine, he was very late indeed. He was suffering from hypothermia in a hospital's intensive care unit whilst I waited solemnly in the dark of his office, which I'd entered by jimmying myself past the locked door. He did not arrive till the following spring, though I made it my business to camp in his office as often as the campus security guards availed me with their dereliction of duty, which was alas woefully infrequent. In those instances I was caught, the guard would chase after me with a broomstick, always a broomstick. He kept it in a holster he'd made himself, bristle-end up, and would have probably been in for trouble had campus officials known he used it so zealously.
I continue to lovingly recall Professor Madcape's first remarks to me, upon returning to work and discovering his office in shambles. He said, "I will thank you not to mock my name during lectures from this point to the end of your time in my class and forever after, until I have died or you have died," neglecting that I had passed his class with flying colors during his convalescence, and had done so while soundly mocking the substitute who had replaced him, Professor Woman's-Hands. She did not take kindly to my mockery, either, but despite her persistent discord at my rear, off I would walk, as who could catch me at my sensible pace? Few indeed.)
Now, I am going to tell you, I didn't want to walk at first. At first were my years as a baby, an infant, l'enfant terrible. I crawled, crawled well. Crawled as well as the crème-de-la-crème sometimes do crawl.
Because crawling had on the surface gone so perfectly well, never did I see the need for advancing to next tier, or "step"—oh, don't be so disappointed! I said it. I had to. Early in life, instead of walking, I became hooked on puns, which was a habit I had to break, I knew, before I could ever truly walk.
Don't blame me, though, for my addiction. Not until you've heard the full story. I was raised on puns and trained to be the best. It didn't work. I wasn't.
But I believe in the power of learning from failure; every time a pun fails, I learn to generally avoid making them, one step at a time.
In fairness, "step" as a pun has never hitherto the exceedingly recent past made sense in reference to me, so you can understand I might feel a bit of heightened enthusiasm for it, while readily acknowledging its malignancy.
But what was the reason that made me actually want to walk? It wasn't the staring I endured, crawling through halls at my high school and then to college. It wasn't the girls whom I scared away by reaching up at them and sniffing their skirts, which they mistook for something licentious. (I was merely interested by what I often found down there.) It wasn't the attackers I invited to attack me with sharp kicks to the torso, a consequence of my vulnerable position. (I would take care to mend my injuries and to neither forgive nor forget them.)
It was because of the running man. The man I saw running. His pace was even. Not too fast, but fast enough that I could tell fastness was the reason for which he ran. It was his aim. He ran because he wanted to be fast. You knew it! You just did!
And I wanted him to be so. I wanted his muscles to generate that propulsion that made him the envy of others who also run, but perhaps not to the same speed, in terms of solid and regular fastness.
It all came into being that one day, early June following my first college year, when I initiated my emergence from crawling to walking. Made my way semi-upright to my first solid steps forward, and all because of the man I tell you runs because he wants to be fast. I'd seen him in first among those who would follow. I was crawling to retrieve a newspaper from my doorstep and, getting it, I saw him. And I was smitten. I delighted in it, in all his running. Clapped my hands vigorously, and so began to walk. Poorly, at this time. But I had wanted it to be different. That someday soon I would walk...well!
I am as mentioned much improved.
And so, pursuing him in the vein of a hunchback like those of the edifice, Notre Dame, I called out, as only a true fan will, "Man! I say, Man! You who is running for fastness solely! I want to be just like you! I do! What have you for advice, to one like me who wants to run, certainly, but has not yet mastered his walking well?"
Hearing my shouts of praise, he turned to me, briefly twisted in the evil of looking back as he ran forward, but so skilled as to pull it off deftly, and he said, to my further beguilement, "You can run as fast as you want, but you can never run as fast as you believe!"
But I knew he was wrong, as I hunched finally to a standstill, in the dust the running man had kicked up.
Matt Rowan once was a ghost for many years. Since then, he's busily co-founded and co-edited Untoward Magazine. And he's had fiction appear in such places as Everyday Genius, the2ndhand, Metazen and elsewhere. Mostly he just drinks coffee, though.