Cracked Pavement

Carolyn double knots the laces on her running shoes and steps from her apartment building.
“Morning, Caroline.” Harold sits on his front stoop in his pajamas, smoking.
She sits beside him, waves away the offer of a cigarette.
“Just six o’clock and the parking lot is almost empty. Where these people got to go so early? Work’ll still be there waiting for them at nine.” His laugh, an easy rich baritone, never fails to make Carolyn smile. “What do you make a’ that bike there?” He gestures to the dumpster with his cigarette and the length of ash falls to the stairs.
She squints. “Indeterminate color. Rusted in spots. Flat tire.”
“Think I can fix it up?”
“I know you can, Harold.” She stands and brushes the dirt from her sweatpants. “See you soon.”
“You be careful crossing that street. It’s dangerous.”
She smiles. “You say that every day.”
“And every day I mean it.”
For Harold’s benefit, she takes her time looking before crossing Edgewood and heading down the path, six miles of asphalt running mainly parallel with the street. White clover surrounds the path in a carpet of white. Tall spikes of buckthorn plantain wave in the wind created by the passing cars.
Four miles in, the path dips into the Great Oaks apartment complex and ventures into the woods.
Her cell rings. Trish.
“Rise and shine!” Trish singsongs, the way she did when they were college roommates.
“I’m awake,” Caroline says.
“I have news,” Trish says, an edge of excitement in her voice.
Caroline steels herself.
“I got the promotion!”
“Congratulations!” Caroline enthuses.
“Europe, to start,” Trish says. “Six weeks. Then Asia. We’re going to saturate the market. By the time I’m through, we’ll be in every major country of the world.”
Caroline nods and continues on the path, walking now. She passes sweet gum trees and black locust. Wild raspberries and ancient pines. Honeysuckle growing among maples. She half-listens as Trish prattles on about jet lag and currency exchange rates and the stock market. A bridge crosses a small stream and here she pauses, studying the brown foam swirling around a bag of garbage caught up on the rocks.
“That sounds terrific.”
“I asked how things were with you.”
“Oh.” She glances around for something to satisfy Trish. “Do you remember Indian gum?”
Caroline squirms. Waits.
“You need a job, Caroline.”
“I have a job.”
“A job that gives you more money. A job with a future. It’s time to move forward. I can get you an interview at my firm.”
“I’m happy where I am.”
“No you’re not.”
“Look…I’m in the middle of my run.”

“No you’re not. You’re lying in bed.”
Caroline can’t bring herself to hang up on Trish. She stuffs the phone back into her pocket and heads home, sprinting this time, each step a confirmation of what Trish had always told her. She’s lazy. She has her head in the clouds. She’ll never amount to anything.
Harold is still outside when Caroline returns from her run, frowning at the bicycle before him on the sidewalk.
“You talked to that gal again, didn’t you?”
“What? Who?”
“You always get that look on your face after you talk to Trish.”
Caroline sighs and sits.
“You see that?” Harold points to a crack in the asphalt.
Caroline nods.
“All them cracks in the pavement are the expectations of others. You let yourself fall into one a’ them and you gonna’ lose yourself for sure.” Harold smiles. “Ain’t worth losing yourself over someone else’s needs, honey.” He takes Caroline’s hand. “Come with me,” he says, and leads her to another crack in the middle of the lot. “What you see there?”
She studies the circular pile of dirt bleeding across the cracks. “An anthill?”
Harold shakes his head. “That ain’t a anthill, Caroline. That’s the remains of another soul who lost herself in the cracks.” And he smiles and steps over the crack to head back to his stoop.
For the prompt exchange this week, Grace O’Malley at gave me this prompt: “Maybe I should just leave that on you, huh?”

I gave Anna N. Mouse at this prompt: You meet an old friend at the farmers’ market. What is in his/her basket? What does it mean?

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