Walking Distance

Joseph Beckman was a young married man who lived in a small rented house in the High Point district of Memphis. His wife, Della, was beautiful and daily exhibited little enigmatic facets that he lay thinking about in bed at night, like a kid playing some kind of fantasy game: she was impulsive and quick-eyed and fierce, and had mood swings; her temperamental nature and sharp wit fascinated him. He loved her dark skin and the luster of her black hair, her deep-brown eyes, the soft curves at the corners of her mouth, the sound of her voice. Sometimes he would find himself watching her sleep, appreciating the lines of her body and the way her thumb curled into her fist resting on the pillow.

Growing up he had spent so much time alone, just him and his mother in a small apartment near the university, where she worked until the year he entered the police academy. That year she passed away, like a sort of unspoken expression concerning her feelings about his wanting to join the police force. Because he was shy and clumsy with people, her going seemed like some final declaration about him, a judgment whose coming had always been expected. When he met Della, who at the time was a temp in the courthouse offices, it was his nervous shyness, and his quiet humor, that charmed her. Now he was often filled with a sense of near disbelief at his own good fortune. He felt lucky, and he loved the way the others, his shift mates in the precinct and everyone he knew and worked with, followed her with their gaze, the way they looked at him and envied him this shining girl. Sometimes, when he watched her sleep, she would suddenly open her eyes and look at him as if she did not recognize him. “Don’t do that,” she would say. “It’s creepy.”

“I can’t help it. I can’t believe you’re here.”

“Well, stop it.”

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