It was too far. Much too far.
Anna took a deep breath and leaned back against the cold, rough brick wall of the house. Surely it hadn’t always been that far? Closing her eyes she counted to ten, as slowly as she could manage. When she opened them it would have come closer.
Cautiously she opened one eye. And then the other. No, it was still too far away.
She drew in a shaky breath and pushed herself upright. The plastic carrier bag clutched tightly in her left hand rustled as it brushed against the wall. She balled it up and rammed it into the pocket of her hoodie. She didn’t need any distractions.
She counted to ten again, even more slowly this time, nervously tapping out the numbers onto the palm of her right hand, with the first two fingers of her left. As she reached ten, her fingers hovered above her hand before slowly performing the final tap. That hadn’t helped either. It was still too far away.
But even if she managed it – managed to reach it – she would still have to come back. Maybe that would be easier? It never seemed quite so far coming back. If she could actually get there, coming back would surely be a doddle.
Drawing in another shallow breath, Anna took a cautious step forward with her right foot, hesitantly bringing her left to join it. She wobbled slightly and put out her hands to steady herself. Okay. She’d made a start. There was no going back now.
A loud noise approaching on her right caused her to tense and her hands balled into fists at her sides as the motorcycle sped past, the biker and his passenger calling out loudly to someone across the street. She took another step forward, her eyes fixed firmly on her goal. It still wasn’t getting any closer. In fact she felt it was moving further into the distance. Ever more unattainable.
She could feel an invisible cord pulling her back towards the house. Trying to stop her progress. Nearly every atom of her being wanted to let it, but one tiny, tiny part was whispering to her to carry on. Ignore the pull, fight against it. She took another step, the slightest smile curling the edges of her lips. Yes, she could make it. However far it was.
A car raced past, music blaring from the open windows, and she flinched and stepped away from the edge of the pavement and nearer to the row of red-brick, terraced houses. The afternoon sun was casting long shadows on the cracked pavement in front of her, and she stepped forward again, watching as her shadow skittered ahead. Ever leading the way, but always evading capture.
She looked up and stared once more at her goal. Did it seem slightly closer? Could she really do this?
Another deep shuddering breath and she took not one, but two steps forward. Her heart began to hammer in her chest and she put out a hand to steady herself against a lamppost. Two steps. She was going to make it. It really did look closer now.
She found she had wound her arm around the lamppost for support, and the warm, ridged, slightly rough, painted metal felt curiously comforting to her touch. She leant her face against it and closed her eyes again. Count to ten and it will be closer.
As she mouthed the final number, she opened her eyes again and they fell on the next lamppost along the street. If she could just make it to that one, she would be nearly there. That didn’t seem too far. Just a few more steps.
Another shaky breath and she forced herself to let go of the lamppost. Just a few more steps. That could take a lifetime.
By the time she reached the second lamppost, a feeling of triumph filled her head, and her heart was hammering even more violently in her chest. She clung to the tall post with both hands and leaned her forehead against it, closing her eyes again while she caught her breath. Maybe not a lifetime then. Maybe she could really do this.
Straightening up, she stared along the street to her goal. Now it really did seem closer. And there were two more lampposts on the way. Why had she never noticed the lampposts before? They were making this so much easier.
The sun had sunk lower in the sky and was only just visible above the roofs of the houses now, causing the shadows to lengthen still further. Anna watched as hers stretched out in front of her and almost reached the next lamppost. If she just followed it, it would lead the way for her. That was the answer – she must follow her shadow. Just concentrate on that and she would reach her destination.
She arrived at the next post just as her shadow disappeared as the sun finally sank behind the houses, and she shivered as the air took on a slight chill. She braced herself against the lamppost and took a deep breath. So, no more shadows to follow. It was just her and the lampposts now. She had to find a way to reach the next one. Then she would be nearly there.
A boy on a skateboard shot past her from behind and she clutched her support even tighter. He turned and laughed at her over his shoulder as he sped by, leaping off the board when he reached his destination. How quickly he got there. She stared after him, envy rising up and constricting her throat. He made it all look so simple. Like it used to be. She took a deep breath. Like it would be again.
By the time she reached the last lamppost, dusk was noticeably falling. Time was running out. She was going to have to hurry for the last leg. And it really was the last leg. She could very nearly reach out and touch her destination. Just a few more yards.
She let go of the post and took her final steps forward. Three in a row and she reached the stone step leading up to the door. Grasping the door handle, she pushed it down and took a step into the shop, letting out a long breath as the door closed behind her.
The man behind the counter glanced up and smiled. “Hello Anna. You made it.”
She nodded and took two steps into the shop. “Hello Reg. Yes. May I have a pint of milk please?”
“Certainly.” He reached into the fridge and placed a carton on the counter. “How long today?”
“Two hours?” He beamed at her. “That’s good, girl. You’ve shaved another fifteen minutes off.”
“It is good, isn’t it?” She looked up at him as she handed over the money.
“It’s great. You keep it up, you’re doing great.” He handed her her change. “I’m closing in five minutes. Do you want a lift home?”
She shook her head. “No, thank you. I can manage. It’s always easier going home.”
He nodded. “Of course. Well you take care, love. And well done.”
She smiled her thanks, and then taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped back out onto the pavement.
The only other customer in the shop moved over to the counter to pay for his goods, and looked curiously at Reg.
“She travelled for two hours to get here? Surely she has a shop nearer to her? She was only buying milk.”
“This is her local shop,” Reg took his money. “She lives six doors down.”