She Would Walk Home

“Well,” she said, “doesn’t this beat all? We do often say that we should walk more.” Cynthia stood next to her husband Donnie in the driveway, looking down at the fluid stain where their car had sat the night before. She was reminded of walks she used to take during grade school. That had been a time of feeling particularly landlocked, in more than one sense of the word.

Her mom had lived with a boyfriend whose home sat about two hundred yards up the hill from some train tracks. Their town was in an isolated part of the state that didn’t lure outside visitors, so it was mostly freight that went by, the train world’s equivalent of a lumbering bully. Cynthia would walk along the tracks, to the long stone tunnel that was probably a little over half a mile away. She would always stroll through to the other side. The tunnel was just long enough to give a breath of panic when she was in the middle; a few times a train had come just after she’d walked out, and it always gave her pause, but she would never stop doing it: The tunnel was like a threshold, and once she was on the other side, she felt the world behind her disintegrate. The walks also provided Cynthia with the solace of her thoughts, at a time when she was still mistaking the confusion of youth for the normalcy of life; her only bedfellow was the occasional train, thundering by with a gritty and faceless rage. Nothing could have punctuated her emotions better. She would climb up and sit atop the tunnel, straddling the tracks until dusk began to settle. Then she would walk home in the shadows.

The trains that came at night seemed to have a different personality. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt more akin to them, and when she would lay in bed and hear them outside, it was like a young boy tapping on her window.

And, years later, she stood there, in the driveway, with a missing car. They were stranded, and yet she could remember an age when going from one point to another felt about as easy as leaping onto a bypassing rocket ship—or train. She looked through the sparse homes of their neighborhood, out at the tracks that ran about a half mile-away.

“Hey Donnie, I think someone forgot to return our car last night.” Knowing how stressed Donnie could get, she’d sometimes try to be funny.

He looked over at her and pulled back the corners of his mouth a little, which was what he always did when he was thinking. At the moment, all he seemed to be thinking was, What . . . in . . . the . . .

“Want me to wait—” she began.

“No, no,” he interrupted. “Go ahead. I’ll call Tim and tell him I’ll be late. I suppose I better call the cops too, eh?”

“Might as well. I don’t suspect they’ll be much help, but they could surprise us. Even a broken clock’s right twice a day.” She paused. Then, “Guess I better start walking.” The copy place where she worked was close enough anyway, but she always got a ride with Donnie since it was on his way. “I love you, Donners.”

“I love you too, Cynthesizer.”

Work went by as it is wont to do when there are other things on the brain. Cynthia would look out the window every time a blue car drove by. She called Donnie when she was on her lunch break and he told her the cops would keep an eye out. They took his information and that was about all they could say. It was pretty irritating how the local police force had always seemed to feel that doing true detective work rested beyond all reasoning.

As the day crept by, she began to map out an idea, and by the time she got home it had festered enough to resemble tangibility. She could hardly contain her excitement when Donnie walked in.

“That record player was still in the trunk of the car, right?”

“Yeah, I kept forgetting to bring it back inside.”

A little over a week ago, they had helped move Donnie’s cousin Julia to a dark suburb in the hills, where Cynthia suspected undercover aliens lived. Julia had forgotten her record player in the trunk somehow and Donnie had been claiming he’d drive it up to her when he got a chance. “So we put an ad in the paper, asking to buy a record player that has… I don’t know, all the specifics of Jules’s—”

“It had a CD player built into it. Is that rare?”

“It is to me, but I’m old,” she said. “Anyway, don’t you think whoever stole the car is liable to drive it over to sell the record player? They’re probably not exactly masterminds, if they’re going around stealing cars right out of people’s driveways, you know?”

“That’s true, but they did it,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“I guess I mean—if someone commits a completely stupid crime but is able to get away with it, well, what does that say about us, those left in his dust?”

“Good point, but that’s not my intended can of worms. My point is… well, I’ve made my point. Do you want to try it? Put out an ad? What’s the worst that can happen?”

“From inviting a criminal to our house? Do you really want me to answer that?”

“Well, we can either sit around and wait for our law enforcement to stop acting like they’re still in The Police Academy—the movie—or we can do something about it ourselves. Martially.”

He blinked. “Oh right, martial law. Well, sure. Why not? If nothing else, it’ll be a funny story to tell Jules when we explain what happened to her record player.”

They sat down that night at dinner and wrote out the want ad for the paper—which, luckily for them, most of the people in their hometown still read. They sent it off the next morning, and admired it in print the day after that. “The swift wheels of renegade justice,” Cynthia said, smiling.

There was a message on their answering machine that night. As they listened to it, it was like looking at a developed negative of their baited trap: One thing they hadn’t thought about was that anyone selling a record player would probably expect the buyer to come to them. But Cynthia figured this added to its guise. The message was from a woman named Evelyn who sounded older. They figured they’d better check it out anyway; maybe her son had brought home this mysterious record player. Donnie called their neighbor Will and asked if they could borrow his car.

Evelyn lived in a small house off the highway, just barely on the outskirts of town. The house and its island garage seemed to have a story.

“I love your home, Evelyn,” Cynthia said. “Have you lived here long?”

“Oh yes. Longer than you can imagine. It was in my husband’s family. It’s cute during the day, but at night the ghosts come out.” She added, “I’m serious—it’s haunted.” Then, abruptly: “Here’s the record player.” She shifted her glance. “My husband’s had it since college, which I find morbid. I’m just trying to whittle down his shit while he’s not looking. Maybe he’ll move out when he finds his home no longer retains his youth—speaking of ghosts.” She breathed out something that resembled laughter.

Cynthia looked at Donnie from the corner of her eye; she felt both terrified of Evelyn and enthralled.

They made up some story of not being able to use the record player because they needed one that also had a tape deck, and left the woman’s haunted home. Just as they were leaving, Evelyn said to them, “I’m sure I’ll see you again. It’s a small town.” There wasn’t malice in her tone, but Cynthia found it an interesting comment.

When they returned Will’s car, they offered to make him dinner, but he said maybe he’d come over the next day for breakfast instead. They agreed and walked back to their home. There were no additional messages on the machine, but they figured it was only the first day. They got to work boiling some pasta shells for dinner.

Later, as they sat and enjoyed their meal in a distracted silence, the phone rang and they both jumped. They looked at one another. Typically, they didn’t answer the phone when they were eating dinner, and tradition overcame their reflexes. The machine picked it up; a man told them he felt he had just what they were looking for in a record player. “If you’d like,” the man said. “You can come over tomorrow and give it the once-over. I’ll be home all day. All day and all night.”

Donnie spoke first. “He sounds like a criminal.”

“Really? That’s exciting. How do you mean?”

“I knew a guy named Tanner—”

“I remember him—kinda.”

“You do?”

“Barely,” Cynthia said. “Was he the guy who worked at the movie theater?”


“Huh. I guess not, then.”

“Well anyway, he left town when we graduated high school, and he moved to Fresno of all places. He held up a bank there.”


“I heard.”

“Wow. So you think . . . what do you think, exactly?“

“That guy who just called sounded like Tanner,” Donnie said. He paused. “Sorry, I guess I have no real reason to call the man a thief.”

“Wishful thinking, maybe.”

He gave her a humorless smile. “I suppose. Anyway, I’ll call him back after dinner.”

He did, and thankfully the man’s name was not Tanner. They arranged to meet the next day, just before lunch. Cynthia found it all rather thrilling. It felt like her own Lifetime Original Movie. They talked about ways to thwart the man should he be their thief and their plan became increasingly cinematic. They finally decided, should they see their car at the man’s home, they would wait until the cover of night, then take their spare key, creep up and steal it back. There was nothing the man could do, other than steal it back again should he come to realize what had happened, but that just seemed downright unrealistic.

They went to bed feeling a childish excitement.

The next morning, their neighbor Will came over for breakfast. Conversation naturally turned to why they had needed his car yesterday. They eagerly told him their whole plan, then asked if they could use it again after breakfast. As they expected, he was happy to let them do so, but expressed concern: What if they were, in fact, going into the den of a criminal? They should not take this lightly. He told them that they should really let the police handle it, which wasn’t much of a surprise as his kid brother was a cop and he had a sad and blind faith in the force. Donnie pointed out that the police had already claimed it unlikely to find the thief, and would surely think little of their plan. Will thought about this for a moment, then asked if he could use their phone.

“Hi Jack,” he said. “Are you working right now? Can you do something for me? I have some friends who are going to try and buy a record player and they don’t know the owner. They feel threatened by him.” Pause. “No. Well, because things are crazy in this day and age. You should know that better than—okay, I see. I know. But do you think you could just accompany them? Today. Right now, actually . . . oh sure, since when do you have a hobby? Oh God, no, that doesn’t count. Just do it real quick; tell her you have to be undercover and you’ll be done by lunch.” Another pause. “Thank you, Jack. I really appreciate it. Just come over to my place. Yes, right now, idiot. Yes… okay. Say hi to Monica for me. Smell ya later.” Will hung up the phone. “My brother’s not working today but he’ll go with you guys,” he said, looking at Cynthia and Donnie. “He always packs heat too.”

Jack showed up shortly after they finished breakfast. He was very nice, though Cynthia thought he looked sort of small to be a threat to criminals. They all piled into Jack’s car, Cynthia riding shotgun, and took off.

“So, hey guys,” Jack said as soon as they left the house. “I’ve actually got a quick errand I have to run before we do this. I have to return something to someone. It’s on the way, though. I tried to tell Will, but…” He trailed off. Donnie said that was fine and Cynthia agreed.

They drove down the highway and Cynthia got a sense of déjà vu. Before long she realized they were near Evelyn’s house. Then, as though awaiting a cue, they pulled into Evelyn’s driveway. They parked and Jack opened the glove box. He grabbed something, then opened his door. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and like a gust of wind, he was gone.

“Hey Don?” Cynthia said.


“That was a pair of panties.”

“What was?”

Cynthia turned and looked back at him. “What Jack just grabbed out of the glove box. It was a pair of panties. Do you think he’s been getting fresh with our old friend Evelyn?”

“So it would seem. Talk about a funny coinkeedink,” Donnie said, the surprise reducing his voice to a whisper. They both looked up just as Jack disappeared behind the island garage. A few minutes later, they heard the gravel crunch behind them; it was an approaching car. They both turned, instinctively lowering their heads out of sight.

It was their own blue Corolla, passenger-side window smashed out, pulling up.

“Can we yell ‘cut’? ‘Cause this movie is getting weird,” Cynthia said. They both ducked lower as a strange man climbed out. He looked quizzically at Jack’s car before taking an inflated raft from the front seat of their Corolla and maneuvering it into the trunk. Cynthia got the sudden impression that he was getting ready for a vacation, maybe a camping trip. By the looks of him, he could certainly use a day of relaxation.

The man shut the trunk and walked around to the front of the house, giving Jack’s car one more glance; if he saw Cynthia and Donnie, he didn’t seem bothered. The steps of the porch cried out as he walked up and entered the house.

“I guess your Tanner-Sounding Man didn’t steal the car after all,” Cynthia whispered.

“I guess not.”

Just then, Jack and Evelyn came creeping from behind the garage; her hair was a mess and one of her spaghetti-straps was undone. As they crept to Jack’s car, where Cynthia and Donnie watched in awe, the front door opened and out came the man. He had a fishing rod in his hand, and as he stood on the porch, he seemed able to distinguish the behavior of his wife like she wore a thought bubble. The man broke into a sprint so quickly it startled everyone. Jack pawed at the door handle for a moment before running off down the road, followed by the man who still held his fishing rod. Evelyn watched them for a moment before turning around and slowly walking up into the house.

Cynthia and Donnie looked at each other. “What do you think about all that?” Donnie asked.

Cynthia looked down the road toward where the men had vanished. “Well, Donovan… I’m not sure, really. So sad. That poor man.”

“I was thinking the same thing.”

“He probably just stole our car to take it camping with his woman. With Evelyn.”

“You think so?” Donnie asked. “Well, he did have that water-wing. Er, raft. Maybe he was going up to Lake County.”

“Bet he was.”

They sat in silence for a moment. Cynthia looked up at the railroad tracks on the other side of the highway. Then she said it: “Whaddya say we just walk home?”

They looked at each other. “Let The Lonely Heart borrow the car for the weekend?” Donnie asked.

“Yeah. We can come get it next week, since we know where it is.”

Donnie nodded. “We can just creep in at night and take it back.”

“Sure, why not? We still have the spare key.”

“What if he hot-wired it?”

“Well, then I guess we won’t even need the key.”

They got out of the car and started walking. Evelyn looked off in the distance. “You mind walking on the tracks?” she said. Donnie took her arm and they went down the street toward a freight train as it thundered by. A stretch of maple trees lined either side of them and their branches reached out to one another above the road. Cynthia admired it as they walked under and through; it was almost like a tunnel.