A thousand years ago, about this time of year, when the snow on the mountains begins to recede, and the ground gets soft, my little friend and I decided to take a different route home from school. The monotony of going straight down third street, and back again twice each day, was about as entertaining as oatmeal every morning for breakfast. I longed for adventure.
At such moments I tended to completely forget parental admonitions to “come straight home.” It wasn’t purposeful disobedience. It had something to do with the first bird song of spring, clear blue skies, and being second born. I wasn’t the responsible one.
That day, we didn’t cross the street from school to go south. We buckled up our boots and went west toward the empty lot the city flooded in late November. It would freeze over and became a neighborhood ice pond. We decided we would go see how the ice was holding up.
We wore boots even though the snow was nearly gone, because our mothers understood seven year olds and mud. I don’t think they ever considered mud like we met though. The pond was now a thick, gooey, slopping mass covering half the block from bank to bank. Who could resist?
We stepped into the brown, oozing mud and giggled. At first it only covered an inch of our boots. But the further we went—straight across, of course—the deeper it rose. We clung to each other as each step became harder to take, and realized that maybe we should head to the nearest bank rather than the far side.
And then a blue sedan pulled up to the curb. A man in an overcoat got out. He pulled out a camera with a large flash. We were petrified. He took our picture a few times. And then he called out, “What are your names?”
He was a stranger. We became mute and pretended we didn’t hear him. We wondered if he’d venture through the mud to where we were. We froze, with our arms around each other and trembled.
Finally the man got into his car and drove away.
But the loss of momentum had doomed us. We couldn’t move. After a fierce tug on my foot, it came up out of the mud, but without either my boot or my shoe. My friend helped me guide it back inside and we began to cry.
I don’t remember getting out of there, but somehow we did. Then we hurried home as directly as we could, covering the remaining seven blocks in record time.
After that we didn’t listen to the siren call of alternate paths again. At least not that spring.
Two days later, our first grade teacher welcomed the class to school. She held up a newspaper, pointed to a picture, and walked down the aisles so we could all see. “Does anyone recognize these girls?” she asked with a smile.
There was no way our moms wouldn’t know now.