The sidewalk is hard. Flat. Continuously stretching to my right and left, the perfect squares fading into the distance.
I stand with my sneakers on the edge of the curb. It was high noon, and my shadow was a small figure, shrinking away from the bare concrete and into my shoes. Commuters sped down the street in front of me; trucks, cars, quarter-tons and half-semis. They whip my clothes about in the wind, filling my ears with the sound of their motors.
Despite the traffic I face, my sidewalk is empty for as far as I could see on either side. The buildings to my back are identical molds of the same residential house, with perfectly trimmed lawns, perfectly painted mailboxes, and perfectly operating families on the inside. I could walk a mile in either direction and not be able to tell if I'd moved.
But through the stream of vehicles, I can see the sidewalk across the street. A different sidewalk.
There are gardens there, with assortments of oddly colored flowers and bushes. There are trees, and the buildings are tall, and short, and fat, and narrow. They're leaning sideways and their roofs are flat, and peaked, and angled.
And there are people. People of all shapes and colors and lives, walking and jogging and biking on that other sidewalk.
The only thing that separated me from them was the four rows of pavement. Pavement covered in the constantly moving landmines that were vehicles.
I want to go to that other sidewalk. I clenched my fists. Sweat pooled in my palms, a drop running down my back. The sun's gaze was harsh and judgemental, impressing its disapproval upon me.
I want to go to that sidewalk. I stepped off the curb, unable to stop staring at that length of gray concrete.
There was a voice behind me. Not an alarmed voice, but the voice that was made when calling a child in for lunch or greeting a neighbor.
I ignore it and continue, stepping closer to the river of machinery. Their sounds fill my ears and whip my clothes in every direction, but all I can look at are the colors and people on the other side.
I want to go to that sidewalk.
The voice called again, except, this time, I heard a word. My name.
I do not think of it, and I step past the fog line on the street. It had gotten so loud, hammering my skull with motors and tires and music.
So many colors over there.
I just want to go to that sidewalk.
Startled, I turn to see a woman staring at me, her eyes wide. She looked familiar.
She opened her mouth to say something, but there was a blast of a horn and I jumped, looking up the street. A semi was hurtling toward me, and the stench of the brakes suddenly filled my nose.
My eyes widen, and a single thought cuts through my head.
I don't want to die. Then there were many colors, all the colors I could imagine. In the distance, I thought I could hear a woman scream.
"We are very sorry, ma'am. If there's anything you need, let us know."
Beth Albany stood on the sidewalk of a street in San Francisco, staring at the remains of a car wreck. The pieces of her son had been collected and covered in a sheet. There were ambulances and police everywhere, and a truck driver blabbering in panic about how "he didn't see him in time."
Beth didn't hear them. Unable to look at her son's remains, she looked across the street.
It wasn't a sight to see. The storefronts had been closed down, and the parking lots were covered in trash. Homeless milled about, sleeping and panhandling. This wasn't a rich part of town. This was where people went when they couldn't afford to stay in their houses and couldn't afford to leave the city.
Behind Beth was an apartment complex, a gray block of a building stretching down the street. It wasn't anything special, but it had been her life. Their life.
Beth choked, and she grabbed at her jacket, falling to her knees. She couldn't see, she couldn't think, and sobs heaved through her body.
Later that week, when Beth saw her son's doctor, she practically hung off his coat, pleading with him for answers.
"You knew about Al's disease," she said, her eyes pained and confused. "Please, tell me, what did he see this time? Why did he do this?"
The doctor sighed, pulling his glasses down and rubbing the bridge of his nose. A deep weariness was etched in the lines around his eyes. "I wish I could tell you, Beth." He sighed, sitting down in a chair. "Delirium is so rare among teenagers. There's just so much we don't know." He saw Beth staring at him intensely, not satisfied with the answer.
The doctor paused, thinking. "It's possible his actions could have been provoked by a strong sense of need, a sense he had to do something or get somewhere. He could've convinced himself there was something he saw that he wanted."
Beth was sitting with her palms in her lap, biting her lip.
The doctor was uncertain for a moment, then asked, "Do you remember if he had shown any signs of ... decline? Before?"
"No ..." Beth looked down, silent for a long moment. "Sometimes he'd say things like "colorful flowers" and "the other side."" Beth choked, shaking her head. "And there was one word, one thing he wouldn't stop repeating."
"What word was that?"