Sebastian Matthews is a writer and collagist living in Asheville. He teaches creative writing for the Great Smokies Writing Program. His third collection of poetry, Beginner's Guide to a Head-On...
She is famous for walking back and forth along Tunnel and River Roads. She roams as far out as Bee Tree and far into town as the Asheville Mall. That’s about a 10-mile range. You can see her striding determinedly along the edge of the road most every morning and then again in the afternoon. There’s something about the sight of her on the side of a road that hardly anyone dares to walk—handbag clutched to her side, blonde-white hair tight to her head—that I find strangely affecting. It’s hard to tell exactly, but I’d say she’s in her early 60s. Tall. Seems Scandinavian.
Once, in a heavy rain, I pulled over and asked if she wanted a lift. She didn’t look at me, her head down, a quick shake in the negative. I’ve heard this is the case for many people who try to lend her assistance. Is it fierce pride? Necessity? Never do you see her looking weary or exhausted; even when she is moving slow, there is steadfastness demonstrated in her gait, a one-foot-then-another brand of doggedness.
Often, she’s almost speed walking—her free arm swinging out elegantly, stride elongated a couple of notches—and in those moments she looks almost happy, as she were made to walk, becomes her fullest self inside her strides. I assume she is going to work, maybe at one of the big box stores. Though lately I’ve come to believe she never stops walking, like the mythical shark that can never rest. That maybe she is making that loop endlessly, from the mall to home, home to mall. Or maybe there is no home. Or she never makes it to the mall. That she is doing it for those of us who notice such things, who have come to believe she is telling us something of the utmost importance