Thursday, April 11, 2024

“Crossing Avenue” • by Robert Runté

Ryan stood on the corner, torn between turning left on Avenue for the subway and home, or turning right on Avenue and that new bar in the Downey Building. He certainly preferred home and Netflix, but he had promised himself he’d make more of an effort to be social. But would going to a bar—alone—really count as being social?

Lost in indecision, he hadn’t noticed the older woman coming up on his right until she had looped her arm through his, and was dragging him forward across Avenue.

“A bit of hesitation is natural,” the woman said, “but you’ve been standing at the corner for nearly five minutes!”

His attention divided between the unexpected grip on his arm, and the stream of cars cutting across the far side of the crosswalk, Ryan managed only a puzzled, “Sorry?”

“I can always spot the re-dos,” the woman said. “Always takes a moment to reorient oneself, to face what has to be faced…” The woman wagged a finger at Ryan. “But one can’t let that drag out, or one freezes up! Loses the momentum!”

“I’m sorry?” Ryan said again, as she dragged him up onto the opposite curb. He’d thought for a moment the old lady might have grabbed him for help crossing the street, but now she was pulling on him to keep going.

“Nothing to apologize for!” she said brightly, completely oblivious to his tone. “Happens all the time. You just need a little bit of a push to get started, is all.”

“Look,” Ryan said, planting his feet and refusing to budge. “I’m afraid there’s—”

“Oh, everyone’s afraid, dear! Bit of cold feet, can’t face what’s coming—all perfectly normal! Wouldn’t be human otherwise.” She continued urging Ryan forward. “But can’t let that stop you! You have to maintain your momentum or it all comes crumbling down. And that could make it even worse! Right? But don’t worry, that’s why I’m here. I’ll see you through!”

“Through what?” Ryan demanded, again trying to dig in his heels against the old lady’s miraculous strength.

“All of it, dear! The whole terrible business. Your parents sprung for the platinum package, so we’ll see you right through to the end.” She had a hand on his back, now, as well as the one grasping his elbow, moving him forward. “Though the more of it you can manage yourself, the greater the therapeutic value.”

“What are you on about?” Ryan huffed as he seriously struggled to disentangle himself from the old lady’s iron grip.

“Walk as you talk, dear,” the woman insisted. “They can only give you so much lead time, you know. We’re already down to just seconds!”

She dragged him protesting past a row of shuttered storefronts, moving steadily away from Avenue. Ryan started to suspect some sort of mugging, because Avenue marked the boundary between business-downtown and sketchy-downtown. He glanced around to see if there was someone he could call out to, but how would that even look: a strapping young man in a hoodie, tangling with some little old lady on the wrong side of Avenue?

The woman abruptly came to a halt in front of a partially opened door, cut into a larger garage door. She yanked Ryan over and down so she could whisper in his ear, “Remember, the tire iron is on the shelf to your right. You mustn’t hesitate, this time!” Then she shoved him through the door.

Off balance, but determined to get away, Ryan pivoted back towards the door, but found it blocked as she followed him in. Before he could steel himself to rush her, there was a crash behind him. It was taking a moment for Ryan’s eyes to adjust to the sudden dark, but the sounds of fighting were unmistakable. There were three—no four—men scrambling around chest-high tool cabinets, a rusty welding kit, and a tipped-over card table in an otherwise empty garage. As Ryan’s vision adapted to the greenish light forcing itself through the grime-smeared windows, he saw the young man in a hoodie swing a tire iron into the head of one of the three biker-guys. The biker went sprawling, his face brutally smashed, as the other two jumped back.

“Oh!” the old lady said, finally releasing her grip on Ryan. “But if that’s the re-do…” she said, pointing at the young man, “then who are you?” she asked, turning to stare at Ryan.

Ryan raised his hands in a warding gesture as he backed away from the fight, made his way around the crazy lady, and had backed most of the way out the door when he heard a shot.

Ryan was slammed to the ground, thrown half-way to the curb. He couldn’t see who had hit him. There wasn’t anyone there. It was hard catching his breath. The woman appeared framed in the doorway, looking down at him.

“Oh, I see!” she said. “You’re the innocent bystander! Just in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But nobody could figure out why you had been standing—just there. Why you’d even come down this street.”

Ryan couldn’t breathe.

“Huh! My bad! Such a silly mistake.”




Robert Runté is Senior Editor with A former professor, he has won three Aurora Awards for his literary criticism and currently reviews for the Ottawa Review of Books. His own fiction has been published over 90 times, and several of his short stories have been reprinted in “best of” collections.

“Crossing Avenue” was first published in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review.


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Richie said...

A really cool idea - I'd love to see more in this universe. Is it just a simulation being rewound or is the old-lady a time-traveller?