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In the Fool’s Footsteps – Prologue

The Wanderer

The floor creaks under the shifting weight of a girl. Her shadow stretches along the wall to be met and absorbed by the other shades—the hall tree, the curtains on the door, the umbrella stand. With a calm hand she pulls open the drawer on the table to retrieve a pencil and scrap of paper. She pushes the drawer shut, pauses when it catches, repositions it, and pushes again until it closes. The pencil scratches against the paper. The crackling of the shifting page seems deafening in the darkness, but she does not pause anymore.

I have left. Be happy for me.

She folds the paper and places it beside the lamp, in the spot that the bills and other mail usually occupy. From the table top, she grabs an envelope marked “grocery money” and tucks it inside a book. One word—Journal—is etched down the middle of the strong spine.

Centered on the front cover is a smiling boy. He strolls along a well-trodden mountain path. Over his shoulder is a sack tied to a stick, hobo-style. He looks around at the clouds, the birds, and the trees. He doesn’t appear to care where he’s been, and he’s not paying attention to his destination. In the bottom right corner of the picture, the leather-encased foot, beribboned and jingle-belled, hovers at the edge of a cliff. The foot, with neither the consent nor the knowledge of its owner, is ready to settle into the element of air.

Turning, the girl allows her eyes to skip across the familiar shadows before reaching out to touch the cold metal of the doorknob. She grasps the knob, turns it and pulls. She steps over the threshold.

— Kimberly Harding, Meander

“Take it!”

The old woman thrust a grubby package toward me. She was curled up on her side in a snow bank off the path that meandered through the Don Valley, and it was hard to make her out in the pre-dawn gloom. Her breath hung in the cold air. I slowed my pace. By the time I reached her, she had managed to get to her knees. I crouched in front of her and she smiled.

“You’ll take it, then?” she asked.

“That’s alright. You keep it,” I said.

“But it’s yours. You’re going to need it to—”

“—to find my way,” I finished for her. “I know. I know. That’s okay.”

“Please take it!” she gasped.

I pulled Cherise’s afghan from my pack and spread it across the old woman’s shoulders. “I want you to have it,” I murmured to the early morning and the shivering crone, whose face clouded with anxiety.

“I want you to have this,” she replied, scrambling to unwrap the dirty package. The afghan fell from her shoulders. Black tree trunks loomed around her, crowding in on the cardboard hovel she lived in. Her rags hung from her body, clothing that might have been beautiful in another era. Greasy grey strings of hair pulled at the radiance of that ancient face.

She pressed the package into my hands and nodded vigourously. I accepted it, stood and took a step back from her. My left foot landed squarely in a slush puddle.

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