Art by Paul Rios
The sudden gust of wind tilted her forward. She stood on the white railing overlooking the river, and braced her body against the steel. The wind blew her short blonde hair wild as it whipped up the river waves. The boats floated up and down the river, and she kept stretching as far as possible over the railing. The shadow of the bridge engulfed her. The massive golden girders formed perfect geometric shapes. She craned her neck back as far as possible and looked at them, trying to imagine the work it took to build this thing, this bridge, this connection between one shore and another.
She remembered the time mama took her out on Uncle Kevin’s boat. She was small then, so small she could stand on the driver’s seat and scarcely see over the steering column to glimpse the splashing waves. Sometimes, she would lean over the back side of the boat and watch the crest form behind them and wave at the people on the other boats. Sometimes, she sat in the driver’s seat, and Uncle Kevin stood behind her, his arms over her shoulders, and steered the thing. She remembered the tattoos that covered his hairy, sunburnt forearms. His receding hairline and wrap around shades. Mama sprawled on the other seat drinking a Coors while Ratt blared on the radio.
The wind picked up again and she opened her eyes. A couple roared by on jet skis, and she felt her stomach growl. She hadn’t eaten anything all morning. Marc said he had a friend who worked at the pizza place in the Old Town, but that didn’t appeal to her. She wanted salad, and the thought surprised her as it crossed her mind. Some fresh fruit. You don’t appreciate these things until you’re older and you don’t have them, she thought.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement and froze. The wind still flowed around her and she placed her hand on her thigh to verify that she still had the knife in her pocket. Two weeks ago, when Pete kicked her out of the house they were staying in, she stole it from him. It sat on the dresser all the time they lived together, this beautiful switchblade with an inlaid pearl handle. Pete told her that his grandpa gave it to him years ago, but she didn’t believe a word he said about anything. The lies he told couldn’t fit in the black knapsack she took with her everywhere, so she packed up all her belongings and left him after the last screaming match. A few extra pieces of clothes, her comb, the blanket and a few bucks in cash. And she made sure to stuff that knife in her jeans when Pete passed out from God knows what. Within a week, she made it to the valley and struck up with Kal and Jaime.
The man who walked across the bridge watched her, and she could feel his eyes. Damn pervert eyes, the son of bitch. Did he like what he saw? She stood completely still, but before he could walk past her, she jumped down from the railing, grabbed her knapsack and the plastic bag she kept the papers in and started walking. His footsteps moved at a fast clip, so she kept pace and walked as fast as she could. Jaime and Kal were on the other side of the bridge, and they tied up the dogs there.
She was fourteen when she ran away from home. The night she left, mama and her fat fuck boyfriend were arguing. He left, disappeared to some bar and Mama took it out on her. That’s how it worked. She took everything in Mama’s purse, about $43, and got in a screeching match with Mama before she left. She thought she’d be back before the week, but then she convinced Josie to hide her in the shed behind her parent’s house for the weekend. And when Josie’s parent’s came out to talk to her out of concern, she realized what was missing in her own life. They gave her another $40, to make sure she would get home, which was dumb because if they had any sense they would have drove her home themselves. She took the bus to San Francisco, and that was that. After she met Pete, she thought she’d stay there forever.
These thoughts ran through her mind as she crossed the bridge. When she got to the other side, she almost looked back but she could still hear his footsteps behind her. She saw his shoes before she stepped off the railing. The leather soles of the man’s shoes clicked on the concrete, her concrete. It made her skin crawl. The pleasure of life slipped out of her pores. The sound made her blood simmer, and she wanted the sounds to die, the sounds now in her skull.
She saw Kal and Jaime sitting on the benches. They laughed at the people that walked by as the dogs, Mook and Juanes howled at each person, barked and hated them. They saw her coming and she could tell Kal was drunk, because he waved like seeing her for the first time. She turned her eyes away from them and looked to the dogs, who sat down as she walked by. She stuck her hand out above them and Mook tilted his snout up and stuck his tongue out. She could feel a trail of saliva on her fingertips and wiped the slime on her jeans. A scattered few people strolled along the river walk ahead of her. Officer workers mostly, they came out more and more since the weather turned. To all those whose mind entitles themselves, and whose main entitlement is themselves. The bastards with tucked in shirts, and the stupid heifers wearing walking shoes and sundresses.
She could still hear this man trailing behind her. She remembered once, before she left home, Uncle Kevin walked behind her, without her knowing, and she turned around and it scared the living shit out of her. She punched him and punched him and punched him, but he just laughed and laughed and laughed.
She stopped walking now, and spun around and glared at the man. He wore a blue and red striped tie, a shiny black belt that matched those shoes and a well-pressed sky blue shirt. He grinned at her.
“See this,” she said, pointing at her face. The cut healed a long time ago, but left a streak of purple fleshy skin that stroked across her forehead like a shooting star across the sky.
“How do you like my scar?” She asked the man. He hadn’t stopped walking. At this point, he was walking past her.
“Nice,” he said. His smile became crooked and there was a moment when his eyes met hers, before they flashed away and back further down the river walk.
“I’ll stick my foot up your pussy,” she said, making sure it was just loud enough for the man to hear.
She put her hand on her thigh, where the bulge of knife showed in her jean pocket. The clanging in her heart made her face flush and she felt her eyes well up with tears, and when the tears broke free, oh but she wished it was blood spilling from her face until it covered the river walk and filled the river and poured down on everything, on everybody, drowning every fucking person without regard to life, suffocating the bastard idiots and luckless whores until the clanging in her heart stopped forever.