Friday 21 July 2023

The Long Walk to Camelot by Robin Smith, green tea, no sugar

‘Break a leg!’ shouted my mother as I took the first step off the front porch.

The house was built sixty years before with little maintenance since. Every board creaked; every pane of glass rattled in its frame at the slightest hint of a breeze.

           One of the floorboards to the porch was rotting and jutted out over the step. My mother’s gritty, smoky shout surprised me, causing me to lose my footing. My shoe landed on the weakest part of the board. All I can remember about what happened next was seeing the front yard spinning around as I fell head-first onto the sidewalk. I didn’t cry or call out. Even if I screamed, no one would have come to my aid anyway, so I accepted my fate: I was falling. I still remember a thud as my head smacked the rough concrete of the path leading to the road. But the sharpest pain I remember was in my ankle.

            I have to dance tonight.

           The thought of staying home instead of being at school on the opening night of Camelot was not pleasant. The lump which was developing on my head was a common occurrence; no one would notice. But the limp would make dancing a bit tricky. That alone was enough motivation for me to stand up and walk the mile and a bit to the high school auditorium. I brushed dirt from my jeans and tried to shake off the throbbing in my right ankle.

            It’s always my right ankle.

           I remember looking around to see if anyone noticed my fall. The birds were hopping among the low branches of the four trees in the yard, while the neighbour’s cat stalked them from across the street. Satisfied no one saw me making a complete fool of myself, I picked up my costume bag and limped down the street.

           It was a roasting afternoon in early summer. Before I reached the end of the road, my shirt clung to me like a wet second skin. Unlike my friends’ houses, mine didn’t have air conditioning, so my summer days meant sticky, damp clothes. As I approached the crossroad, I saw that Mr Hooper was out again, walking his regular route around the neighbourhood. I smiled at him and waved. He returned my smile with a happy grin. He was always pleased to see me, as I was the only child in town who dared speak to him. Mr Hooper had an accident on the train tracks when he was very young, resulting in the loss of both his arms, just below the shoulder. All the kids feared him but me. In my house, no arms meant no pain. No arms, no bruises, no pulled hair, no stinging face, no fingernail marks on my shoulder. Without arms, Mr Hooper could hurt no one. I often wished my mother and her husband had similar accidents when they were small.

           I crossed the busy road at the end of our street. Between two houses was a dirt track that stretched out toward my destination. That time of year, it was bordered by tall billowing wildflowers of every colour imaginable. My mother called them weeds, but Grandma always told me that weeds were only flowers that grew in the wrong place. These couldn’t possibly be weeds because they were exactly where they should be. They smelled like Grandma’s bedroom, fresh and flowery – almost powdery. I let my hand touch the ones that were nearest me as I passed them to release their fragrance. It always made me feel close to her. I often remember the way the soft purple and orange flowers felt as I brushed past them, tickling my fingers as if I touched a cloud.

           Climbing up the steep, rocky slope to reach the railroad tracks, which claimed Mr Hooper’s arms all those years ago, would be awkward with my sore ankle. By the time I reached the halfway mark, I could feel it swelling into my sock, my shoe growing smaller with every step. I pushed forward, knowing that once I crossed the tracks, the other side was nearly vertical, but downhill. I had never looked forward to downhill as much as I did that day. Continuing my climb, I took one step at a time, careful not to fall or twist my ankle again. Whenever a rock shifted under my right foot, a stinging pain shot through my leg. The stones which covered the hill on either side of the tracks were loose at the best of times, but that day, they felt like sand underfoot and every step was a gamble.

      Just a few more steps to the top.

      I had taken this route many times over the years in high school. Walking was much better than riding the school bus. Bullies enjoyed it as they had a captive audience. Anyone as small and spindly as me was an easy target. If I walked to school, it took more time, but I would arrive unscathed, unmarked, and much happier.

           As I reached the top of the hill, I could see the road that stretched out below – the road which ran all the way to the school. The rest of the journey would be made up of a flat road – a nice, solid, flat road.  Although I couldn’t see the main building of the high school, I knew I wouldn’t have to walk on my ankle for much longer. I managed to make it down the hill without a missed step but decided against jumping the ditch at the bottom, a skill I had developed over the years. A cinder block someone had left in the gully made a good steppingstone between the base of the slope and the road, keeping me from clambering out of the dusty ditch below.

As I walked onto the pavement, I saw the Crazy Lady sitting on her porch. I never knew her name or heard anyone call her anything but the Crazy Lady. She was always there whenever I passed, no matter what time of day. She never spoke but sat on her porch with a pipe in her wrinkled mouth and a shotgun propped against the wall behind her rocking chair. I don’t know if she ever used that gun to threaten anyone, but I reckoned seeing it was enough of a threat for people to leave her alone. I never tried to make eye contact with her, but I don’t think she ever looked my way. Her gaze was always fixed into the distance as if she was waiting for someone to walk down the road towards her house – shotgun at the ready. I don’t think anyone ever visited because she was always on that porch by herself, only the shotgun as a companion.

By the time I passed the Crazy Lady’s house, the pain in my ankle was subsiding. I was still limping, likely out of habit. It was my fifth or sixth sprained ankle that year, I had already lost count. After passing under the dappled sunlight that pushed its way through the dark, leafing trees, the school rose into view. The only cars parked out front belonged to Mr Yarnold, the drama coach, and Miss Turnbow, the music teacher. The student cast had been rehearsing for weeks and we had a good dress rehearsal the day before. I pushed the door open to the front of the school. It was a safe place, a respite from home. I felt powerful whenever I walked into the school after hours – the only time I ever felt power as a child. It was as if I knew I shouldn’t be there, but there was no one to stop me from walking inside.

           I went straight to the history classroom that was being used as a dressing area for us girls. The boys were all in one of the math classrooms at the opposite end of the hall. The teachers had taped rolls of black construction paper over the curtainless windows for privacy. I was greeted by a few other cast members, the first few to arrive. We made up the chorus, or support actors. No actual lines, but we sang songs and did group dance numbers. That was the part I was worried about – the dancing. I changed into my first costume then sat at one of the desks to wait my turn for makeup. The rest of the cast arrived in ones and twos, nervous for the curtain on opening night.

           The first time I had been in a play was my freshman year. My best friend had a crush on an older student who had the lead role. She asked me to audition with her so she wouldn’t feel alone. Teenagers usually travelled in packs, so it was less of a request, more of a Teenage Rite that I joined her. By the time we reached the night of the performance, she realised he had a girlfriend, and she decided we should both quit. I enjoyed myself so much; I was part of something greater than I had ever been, so I stayed. Since then, I had performed in every play – musical or straight play. I felt rather selfish, but the feeling of an audience applauding after a performance made me feel I belonged. A feeling foreign to me most of the time, but those few times a year when I could walk on stage as someone else, it was a warm blanket for my teenage angst.

That was the end of the long walk to Camelot. Later, as I stood off-stage, a few hundred people sitting in the audience, I waited for my cue to be another human. As I set my foot onto the stage, the pain just disappeared. No limp, no pain, as I wholly embraced this other person I would be for the night. I loved plays because I could be someone else for a few weeks. Not some invisible girl who could fall and no one would notice or care. Not the child who would rather be at school at night on the weekend than be at home - waiting for the next occasion when a wish left whispering lips for parents to have no arms.

About the author 

Originally from Arkansas, Robin has lived in Scotland since 2008. Making a life in a completely new country, she has been inspired by the landscape, the atmosphere, and the people she's met. Robin has found writing in reflection of her own life experiences in short story format, especially refreshing. 


Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)


  1. Fantastic Robin! The part about your Grandma was particularly powerful, remembering the smell of her room as you tried to ignore your pain.

    Then the experience of being in school after hours AND being part of a play spoke to me a lot. It was feeling like you actually belonged for a few weeks.

  2. Wonderful story.