I am boot prints in butterscotch mud on the off-white linoleum floor. I start at the Tim Horton’s counter in the back corner of the Shell Station, or rather, that is where I end.
The heavy tread of steel-toed boots made me, large enough that I was not made by a woman, at least not any normally proportioned woman. I wind through the candy aisle, past the small chest freezer with assorted cheeses, over the wiry black mat, and out onto the concrete step. A large step from the concrete to the asphalt and I wander away from the gas pumps towards the side walk. A long stride between muddy patches, I am purposeful.
Though dry now, not an hour ago I was slick and slippery. A mother of three rambunctious boys ranging in age from three to six and a darling baby girl slid her pristine white sneaker right through me but caught herself on the display of car wax. The infant, previously peacefully asleep, awoke at the jostling and wailed while the boys dashed past their mother towards the row of sweets, besmirching their own shoes with my tan essence. Ignoring the woman’s near injury because he didn’t want to drag out the mop, the attendant didn’t make eye contact as she wrangled the children while paying for gas and a five-hour energy shot.
Out on the sidewalk I appear less substantial on the rough concrete than the linoleum floor of the gas station, but it’s a trick of the light. I am thicker here, but will wash away completely in the afternoon rain. If it were sunny, I might adhere to the shoes of joggers and pedestrians making their way to the bus stop, but the clouds and unseasonable chill keep the people at bay within their homes. Alone, I walk the pavement for two blocks. Here I veer off into swath cut in the tall grass and transform into a mirror of myself in the light brown mud of the path just beyond the weeds.
It is here that I enter the woods, dark, dank, and smelling of rotten leaves and loam. There is mud here in the woods, but this isn’t where I was born. The depressions with my face travel yet further back into the trees following a path seldom used save by those who know it exists and are willing to brave the sprays of wild mulberry bushes whose prickles rake from either side. Here I am still soft and slurped at the boots that made me as they passed, sticking to the soles like tar.
Sometimes I am nearly erased by the drier, firmer patches of earth interwoven with tree roots, and other times I dissolve into nearly black puddles of old, foul water, but still I travel. Clearly outlined against the pale, naked wood of a fallen tree I reappear, pointing out the direction of my origin deeper within the trees. Hidden in the stump of the tree is something metal, rusty, and stained, also covered in mud. I paused here by that stump where my impression in the ground is so perfect that two letters of the brand name of the boot are discernable, FT, but those particular shapes mean little to me.
I follow that footway until it reaches the swamp, then the path goes one way and I enter the muck creating foot-shaped puddles of my own, each with several feet of bog in between. Here I am trying to sneak unnoticed among the reeds and cattails, but I stand out as footprints shouldn’t be here in the mire away from the muddy path.
But now I am out of the woods and out of the marsh and out of the brush. Close now to the place of my creation. A yard rutted and bereft of grass. Here the mud is deep and fresh, and I stride boldly through the middle towards the empty shell of a house, raw wood frames with onyx tarps fluttering in the breeze. Boards, equipment, and chunks of concrete and other debris are strewn about the yard, but I skirt about these with ease, keeping to the mud.
I could emerge from any of the covered holes along the ground floor, but I come from the largest, the one directly in the middle of the back of the house. This is almost the place where I start, just outside the trembling black plastic, where the mud first touched boots, but the boots were not clean. Here my mud is red, but when the canvas lifts there is a glimpse of pale skin and chestnut hair in a sea of red on the smooth grey floor.
Ugly brown close to the doorway, I revert to vivid crimson next to pale blue staring eyes. At her end, this is where I begin.
I Write, I Edit, I Write Again! Witness!