Valentines Week 2024
Honourable Mention


Copyright is held by the author.

YOU KNOW how the roots of big trees sometimes grow under the sidewalk and extrude through the cement? You don’t think about these things when you’re in a hurry or walking deliberately. She was walking deliberately because she was mad, or hurt, probably more of the latter. I said something mean. I guess what I said, exactly what I said, isn’t the point. I think it becomes too easy, all too easy, to say mean things when you count anniversaries in decades not in years. That’s my excuse. Trust me when I tell you that she didn’t deserve what I said and I’m an unmitigated piece of shit for saying it.

She never expected a broken sidewalk. She caught the toe of one sneaker on the crack, took a few stumbling steps forward, and fell on both knees . . . hard. I immediately thought that she might have broken something, such was the violence of her fall. I was a few steps behind. I can never keep up with her pace when we are walking for exercise or when she is angry. I mean, on steep or rough terrain, she can’t keep up with me at all, but on level ground, her deliberate stride is about the pace of an average person’s jog.

I caught up with her just as she sat back on her bottom. I put my hand on her shoulder. She didn’t make a sound. I found the flashlight on my phone and surveyed the damage. Both kneecaps were scrapped badly, but when I manipulated the joint I decided that nothing was broken. She was still silent. I helped her to her feet, put my arm around her waist and led her to the car. I carried most of her weight for her. She’s never been heavy. I helped her into the passenger seat. Since I almost never drive her car, I had to adjust the depth and angle of the seat. Her legs are very short. I fastened her belt, went around to the driver’s side, adjusted that seat and drove back to the hotel where we are staying. She still hadn’t made a sound. We come here every winter to walk, hand in hand, on the windy cold beaches after the summer throngs have gone back north. There is a comfort in our yearly migration, now that we can finally afford to do it.

I helped her out of the car and up the elevator and carried her bodily into the room and sat her on the side of the bed.

I found a clean white washcloth, soaked it in warm water, and wrung it out. I cleared away the dirt and dried blood. The cuts and scrapes didn’t look as bad once they were cleaned. I held the warm cloth against each wound and then pulled her head against my chest. She began to cry, and then to sob. I held her till she stopped, maybe a quarter of an hour.

I pulled a couple of tissues from the box on the bedside table, dried her face with one and held the other while she blew her nose. I found a gauze bandage wrap in the first aid kit I always keep around. I wrapped the thin fabric around each knee and sealed it with white tape. She lay back on her pillow. I covered her up with the sheet and comforter, being careful not to touch her knees. I dried her eyes again and stroked her pretty grey hair till she fell asleep.

She didn’t deserve what I said and I’m an unmitigated piece of shit for saying it.


Image of Alan Caldwell playing a guitar.

Alan Caldwell has been teaching in Georgia since 1994 but only began
submitting writing in May 2022. He has since been published in over two
dozen journals and magazines, including Heartwood Literary Journal,
Southern Gothic Creations, The Backwoodsman, You Might Need To Hear This,
The Chamber, Rural Fiction Magazine, Long-ridge Review, Deep Wild Journal

and many others, and is being nominated for the Pushcart Prize.