Another train. It careened it’s way across the track five houses down from the apartment complex. Aldo startled awake. It was 7, at night. He had slept through lunch and most of the afternoon again. It was getting to be habitual. Then again, sleep was all he seemed able to do properly in recent weeks.
He stirred himself alert enough to find a shirt and locate his shoes at the door. The shirt was on the green chair five and a half feet from the door, and his shoes sat below it facing towards the mat and kickplate. He checked the lights, the blinds and finally his front door lock as he exited. Downing the two floors of steps, deliberately overstepping the last second step of every flight, he walked out of the complex into the gradually dissipating afternoon sun. He found it was slightly cooler out and was grateful enough to have on the long sleeve shirt. Aldo laughed lightly to himself. This had more to do with his lack of laundering clothes than it did his foresight in selecting them.
His apartment complex sat adjacent to a railroad crossing that divided two towns. Often he would walk between them for no reason outside of putting one mottled shoe in front of the other. And that actually was the truth. People that saw him meandering about presumed him drunk or aimlessly foraging between meth ticks. In fairness to any would-be eyebrow raisers, Aldo’s disposition wasn’t the most approachable. He had months ago turned a blind eye on his hair, both head and facial. His proclivity for bathing and washing clothes also fell by the wayside. More often than not he just washed his hands. Average in height, he was and remained a thin man. Jogging was a hobby Aldo once favored, but in months past he discovered walking got the same results without the hassle of having his trek over too soon.
Aldo preferred to walk more than anything else. It gave him just enough vascular locomotion to move his brain along. He thought, a lot, likely way too much. Too often his thought patterns became ornate, overlapping and tangling, causing him to murmur half-processed solutions. His thinking led to walking, which led to more thinking, which then led to talking, of course which then led to people thinking and talking and presuming about him.
But Aldo never cared or noticed. The walking helped, a little. Sleep did too, sometimes. It was when he sat still, awake, that the thoughts didn’t pattern, they stacked. Piling one on the other until a feverish weight held him clammy on his couch. So he walked, a lot.
Neither his town or the adjoining one were anything to look at. On the eastern side of the tracks, the town was recognized as “city-proper”, while the western end was classified as an “urban-suburb”. It didn’t make a damn bit of difference to Aldo or to anyone else who lived on either side. Both towns were indistinguishable from the next. The only thing the railroad track did was give some people a .05% tax break depending on what side they lived on.
Aldo’s typical walk closed a loop with the track being the center line dividing the middle. He always walked the western half first. On his mind as of late, aside from exploitation of migrant farmers and the false claims of the FTO, the seven day old pile of dogshit no one picked up from the front stoop, the crushing realization that his favorite chips had been produced with corn syrup — and the possible ulcerated tumor to ignite in his stomach as a result of eating them for years — he recalled a conversation he had just last night.
It actually was not a conversation, more someone driving past him in a blue truck screaming “faggot” from their window. Aldo had just reached the tracks when the truck slowed to cross them and take the time to address him. Rather than become enraged, he instead wondered why they would say that, as they sped off.
His shirt seemed normal, his shoes looked plain if not dirty. His shorts? Were they “too short”? Was he walking in a manner that portrayed a different sexual orientation than the one he knew? Years ago, friends of his were gay and Aldo reasoned he did not look or behave anything like them. The whole ordeal confused him.
On the eastern side of the tracks divide, a small, almost nondescript building housed a strip club. It’s “hey day” — if it ever had one — had long since passed. Three cars were parked in the cracked and whitening asphalt lot. A few of the women performers stood outside the building, smoking with a few patrons under an awning. A single potted plant sat absently off to the edge of the cement. As Aldo walked by, he took notice of the women standing there. One was in a large white t-shirt, with her hair pulled aggressively into a pony tail. The other two wore flimsy bikini tops and jean shorts. Both had permed, blonde hair and peeked skin. He found that not a single one of them were attractive and upon that realization, started to wonder if what the men in the truck had said was true. Clearly these women were of a caliber to dance and entertain men. “Even mildly or less than attractive women could still stir a man’s spirit, right?” he wondered. Then thought. Then vexed.
By the time he reached the third intersection, he was near convinced that he was a closeted homosexual. He felt even more shame for carrying on a life he now saw was likely false. All those years of pursuing women, having girlfriends, never feeling any attraction to men — it must have all been some elaborate ruse upon himself. He had even gotten married — to a woman! And had she known? Was their marriage some silent plot to help him mask a sexual identity he had not understood heretofore?
But he couldn’t ask her, she was gone. Jessa had died seven months ago. It was at that time when he started thinking; then when he started walking.
The questions and analytics came and came with each step. By the edge of the eastern loop, Aldo was talking aloud to himself, counting back to his first girlfriend in middle school and moving forward. He scrutinized each relationship, finding both flaws to justify his current speculation, as well as proofs to dismiss it. The line of thinking was halted momentarily when he passed a McDonald’s. Noting the new “Dollar Menu” he smoldered briefly about the increased cancer percentages that would likely come from such “value”. And on he walked, taking care to avoid sidewalk cracks despite his concentration.
Approaching the tracks once more, Aldo was now on the same side of the street as the strip club. A lit yellow sign could be seen first, bedecked with the promotion of fine food, liquor and women. Women. The word gonged in his head. Women — the things he presumed he liked up until two hours ago when someone told him otherwise.
His stomach knotted as he got closer to the building. At a distance, the same crowd of people could be seen smoking under the awning. This time, Aldo noticed both the women and the men. Two men with crew-cuts and facial hair sat on a ledge conversing with the blonde women from earlier. The men wore large football jerseys but appeared to be thinner than the performing women. In noting that detail, Aldo surmised that he must therefore want to be with those men. He had clearly recognized a positive physical attribute in them, whereas being entirely appalled by the women. He began to walk faster, feeling as if he had nailed his own coffin.
It was then the club door opened and a new woman stepped out to smoke. She was slightly older than the others, but not so much to be out of place. Her hair was naturally wavy, unlike the permed women flanking her. As she lit her cigarette, she looked up, catching Aldo’s eyes. He had slowed his pace to look at her. A lump found his throat. She looked like Jessa. He had actually stopped walking. Aldo smiled at her while his brain turned completely over. She furrowed her brow and took a drag on her cigarette. Realizing his awkward presence, Aldo turned and stepped briskly away.
The sun had all but set by the time he reached his apartment stoop again. The walk from the tracks had been uplifting, he hadn’t even counted the stones to front stoop. Instead, he remembered all that he was enamored with in Jessa. The way she laughed and her wild hair. The dimples above her ass; the birthmark below her breast. Her patience. The nights she would talk him down as he repeatedly checked the door locks or became restless from a news headline. He was better with her. He jogged and shaved and combed his hair. She calmed his heart down.
As he walked up the stairs still avoiding the every second step, Aldo found a sense of ease in remembering Jessa. He knew that in a few hours, he would likely be overcome with sadness as he recalled her death, but relished the calm reprieve he had in thinking of her in the moment. In his clarity, he mused on his earlier concerns, how ridiculous they seemed. It never ceased to amaze him how intense he became and conversely how easily she seemed to make sense of it for him.
Moving aside a pile of clothes, Aldo sat by his window that faced the railroad. Already, he was starting to recall visions of her funeral but he did his best to try and focus on another memory of her. Standing up, he checked the locks three times and hoped for a chance to sleep. Tomorrow night he would look for that woman by the strip club again.
This piece is for anyone who has dealt directly or indirectly with OCD.