We walk in the brush along the side of the pond and try to feel good about ourselves. I am young out here, in the middle of the woods, where no one can see me but her. The only thing standing between me and old age is being seen—framed by a gaze that will follow me everywhere as soon as I step off the land. But for now I am alright, circling around this pond with my best friend, feeling like I could do the loop a million times if I wanted. If that’s what it took to stay here forever. Her name is Mary and she’s been my best friend for the past 10 years. Her eyes are shaped like delicate almonds, and her mouth is rough and sincere. Every time I walk with her, I feel like the two of us drop off the face of the Earth and emerge somewhere else completely different, a place where time doesn’t move like it does normally. So here, at the pond, where time is sweet and gentle, we walk. When I walk with Mary, the wrinkles on my face subside, if only temporarily. Temporarily is enough for me, though. I consider myself someone who doesn’t place much value in lengthy arrangements in general. I know how rare such things are, so I decide against even trying to pursue them.
“Sometimes I feel like dying,” Mary says to me. I look up and try to feel her words in my mouth. “Me too,” I say, even though I know I don’t. “Why do you think that is, huh?” Mary raises her voice, clearly passionate about the subject. “Why do you think that all of us older people—that is, in our 40s, or 50s, or whatnot—feel like dying, even though we’ve only lived practically half our lives?” We stop walking for a second and face each other synchronously. “Mary…” I hesitate. She waits. “Were you baptized?” I ask. “No,” she says, a frown creeping up her lips. She shakes her head slightly. “I don’t know why I asked you that.” The words spill out of my mouth. “Were you?” “Yeah, I was.” I admit this automatically, without hesitation. “Do you ever wish you weren’t?” She asks me. I haven’t ever thought about this before. I try not to let my words betray this—to give myself away as some unthinking machine. I take a deep breath. “I’ve thought about if I hadn’t been baptized, what my life would be like.” I pause. “But I’ve never wished I hadn’t been. Or if I had been.” We’re at the edge of the pond, looking out upon the small expanse of smooth water. I think about the frogs that might lie beneath its surface. It’s winter, so the water is cold and frozen over. Mary picks up a stone and throws it into the water, watching it break the icy layer with a violent splash. Without words, we move back to the path and continue walking around the pond. “Wait,” I let out. Mary looks over her shoulder to meet my gaze. “Why don’t we sit here for a while?” She silently agrees. We sit down on a piece of driftwood, side by side. I pick up a rock and hold it in my hand. She picks one up, too, but it doesn’t stay in her hand for long. She tosses it into the water. Just like the last one she threw, it breaks the ice. “Why do you walk with me, Julia?” What? Why would she ask me something so obvious. “I’m sorry?” “No, seriously. I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m just curious. Why do you walk with me?” I tilt my head and try to speak truthfully. “We’ve been doing this for nearly a decade now,” I say. “Yes, but… what is it that draws you to me so strongly that you feel the need to go on walks with me every week?” “I guess… it’s not just you that I’m drawn to.” I gesture clumsily with my hands to the sky. “It’s this place, too.” “Okay.” Mary shifts in place on the driftwood. “Why do you go on walks with me, in this place.” I reach for my head. “You always ask so many questions.” “You don’t have to answer. I’m just curious.” “Sure.” We sit in silence for a while as the sun follows its path down to the ground. Just beyond us, across the pond, is a break in the trees, where it looks like the sun’s trajectory will end. Sure enough, before long, it slips underneath this break, into the world below us. After it gets dark, we slip away, too. Away from the edge of the pond, back to the trail that encircles the water. “I could walk this loop a million times,” I say to Mary. It’s the first true thing I’ve said. She turns to me. “Seriously?” “Well. Couldn’t you?” My voice sounds timid in the dark. “No.” Mary pauses before continuing, “No, I couldn’t.” Darkness casts a different shadow on her voice, too. She sounds more sinister than she did in the daylight. Through the darkness, just barely, I can make out those eyes I know so well. They’re staring at the pond. “Mary,” I venture, “What are you looking at?” “Nothing,” she says, her gaze unwavering. She moves forward, toward the pond again, and comes up beside a bank I’ve never seen before. I follow her at a distance. I suddenly notice the dress Mary is wearing, and wonder how I hadn’t before. A magnificent white linen garment, it looks as delicate as the air. As she gets closer to the water, she lifts up the edges of the dress. Holding her dress up with one hand, she reaches the other out to break the ice. She taps the pond as if she’s knocking on a door until it finally cracks under her force. Edging along the corner of the pond, she continues to tap the ice methodically until she’s done significant damage. “How many feet wide does that look?” Mary’s voice cuts through the air and lands on my body. I move closer to her until I can see the results of her project. “Maybe six feet,” I say. “Okay. I have to get home soon,” she says. I oblige, and before long, we’re walking in a straight line, back to where we came from. I glance up at the sky. It’s overcast, so what few stars I can see are shrouded in fog. Clouds wisp back and forth, teasing us with glimpses of the moon. Soon we’re back at the parking lot, where our cars sit like obedient animals. “I enjoyed this,” Mary says. “I did too,” I say, “Same time next week?” I know I don’t even need to say the last part, though, because these walks have become so routine. Even though I can’t hear Mary say anything in response, through the darkness, I’m sure I can see her nodding. So, we get in our respective cars and drive far away from my favorite place in the world. On the drive home, I recall a couple weeks ago, when we were taking our ritual walk, and Mary brought with her some similarly provocative statements. I’ve always been astounded by her and the way her mind works. Difficult to understand, yet such a pleasure to be around. Although we rarely see eye to eye, her words have always brought me comfort, though I can never place the reasons why.
It’s been six weeks since we took this last walk around the pond. Over these six weeks, I have abstained from six pond walks; I haven’t been able to go for a walk by myself without feeling guilty that I would be leaving Mary out. When I amable to sleep, I have simple and vivid dreams, where I find myself walking with her around the pond, and we never stop nor slow down. One of these days, I’m going to wake up from one of these dreams with the urge to go down to the pond by myself, just to retrace my and Mary’s millions of steps. I wonder what else I’ll find.