Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Fifteen

You probably think I’m a cold fucking bitch to just leave that poor kid like that. And you’re right: I am. But the truth is, I can’t stand guys like Danny. New arrivals. New meat. New victims. Call them what you will; they remind me too much of myself. They remind me of what a wreck I was when I got here. They remind me of what it was like back when I still had that one last shred of a connection to my old life and I was holding onto it like you wouldn’t believe. They give me a bird’s eye view of that moment in my life when it all fell apart and from then on, it was never going to get any better. It’s hard to explain. It’s like looking at yourself while you’re drowning and seeing yourself just before you go under the water for the last time. There you are: a sad, pathetic, helpless little person with your hand stretched out; begging anyone and everyone to save you. But they don’t. They don’t even see you. For whatever reason, they just keep on walking. Then you slip under the water. You drown, but you don’t die. You just find yourself out here. Thank God Danny’s a guy. I don’t think I could take running into a woman who just got here. That would hit way too close to home.

And I wasn’t lying back there. Danny still has one foot in the real world, and this place hasn’t gotten its hooks into him yet. Yeah, he’s a junkie, but he was a junkie before he got here. He can beat that. You can beat the needle. It’s not easy, but you can do it. Maybe seeing that dead guy back there will be enough to make him swear off dope forever? I hope so. He could do it. Beating the needle is pure hell, but it’s nothing compared to life out here. A few days of pain, piss and puke and a lifetime of vigilance are a small price to pay to get your life back. As long as it’s just the dope, then maybe he can make it. If he’s crazy like me, then he’s finished. You can beat dope. You can’t beat insanity. But he didn’t strike me as being crazy. I’m pretty good at spotting crazy people. It comes from being crazy myself. I’ve got a real sense for my own kind. Anyway, he can get out. Dope may bring you here, but mental illness keeps you here. It practically nails your ass to the pavement. I’m pretty sure the number one reason people end up on the street is mental illness. You end up homeless when for whatever reason you can’t make it in society anymore, but being crazy is a one-way ticket out of a normal life. If the drugs or the therapy can fix you, then fine. You can stay in the normal world. But if they can’t, then you’re basically fucked. They can string you along for a while – at least as long as your insurance holds out – but in the end, you’ll probably wind up out here. That’s if you don’t wise up and kill yourself first.

Do I sound too critical? Yeah, I probably do. OK, I admit it: I hate the mental health industry. I hate everything about it. I hate the bullshit, I hate the lies, and I hate the idea that it’s just a matter of willpower or something. You know, “As long as you’re willing to do the work, it’ll all get better.” What a crock of shit! Why can’t they just tell you the truth? Why can’t they try their shit and if it doesn’t work, they say so? How hard would that be? Sorry, Miranda. You’re incurable. We can’t help you. You’re fucked. Here’s a bunch of sleeping pills. Wash them down with a bottle of whiskey. It’ll be quick and painless. And it’s the only way out, short of blowing your goddamned brains out with a gun. It’ll spare you a lifetime of pain and misery. It’ll keep you from ever finding out just how bad things can get. Why can’t they do that? They do it with terminal patients all the time. Take it from me: incurable mental illness is every bit as terminal. Oh, what the fuck? I promised I was going to be honest with myself on this last night of my life. I have to be honest now. The truth is, I’m just jealous. I’m jealous of everyone who responded to the pills or the treatment or whatever. I’m jealous of the people who weren’t crippled by their conditions. The ones who manage to live with it. The ones who beat it. I look at them and I think of them and I say to myself, why you? Why you and not me? Why did it work for you? Were you more deserving or worthy or something? Did I do something wrong and I just don’t know it? Why did I have to end up like this? It’s not fair. I hate the fucking shrinks and their pills and everything else because they worked for so many other people and they didn’t work for me. I know it’s selfish. I know it’s wrong. I guess I even know that it wasn’t the shrinks’ fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. There are no guarantees. There never are. Some people get cancer and the doctors can save them. Others get it and they wither and die. That’s just how it is. Maybe it has to be that way, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I can accept it, but I can’t stop being angry about it. If that’s being selfish, who cares? Sue me. Do whatever you want to me. You can’t do anything to me that hasn’t already been done. That’s a fucking fact. Believe me, you’ll understand that when this night is over.


So what do you think of my world so far? Isn’t it great? Are you ready to move in? No, I didn’t think so. Hey, if you change your mind, we’ve got plenty of room and the rates are really cheap. Now that’s a bad joke. Actually, I’m sorry you had to see that. That was a bad one – that guy back there. I’ve seen worse, but not very often. Still, at least it gives you a sense of how I turned out like this. How most of us turn out like this. I was pretty much a piece of shit before I got here, but a few months out here really sealed it for me. Maybe now you understand why I want to kill myself. It really is the best thing I can do, especially now. Maybe you’re beginning to understand that. As for that dead guy back there? Well, I think it’s safe to say there’s not a damned thing anyone can do for him. I’m sure as hell not going to report it, if that’s what you’re thinking. For one thing, I’m not what you’d call a good citizen. No one out here is. More to the point, it would just make trouble for me. The cops would probably throw my ass in jail even if they didn’t think I had anything to do with it. They’d lock me up just for the hell of it. Just in case, they’d say. We have to make sure it wasn’t you. Don’t worry, honey. As long as you’re innocent; you’ve got nothing to worry about. Yeah, right! Shit like that can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months to sort out. Even if I got a fucking public defender to make noise for me, they’d just find some bullshit charge to hold me on while they twiddle their thumbs. I know. I’ve been through it before. A lot of people have. It goes with the territory. The smart ones learn how to avoid it. Charlie taught me that.

And it’s not like they’d actually try to find out who killed that guy. Oh, they might try for about fifteen minutes, but that’s about it. Then they’ll either write it off as unsolved or hang it on the first asshole they can get two cents’ worth of evidence against. Maybe it’s the wrong guy, but who gives a shit, right? Case closed. Moving right along. That’s another ugly fact of life out here. You see, as fucked up as that guy was, I could tell he was one of us. He was homeless. The fucked up shoes; the worn out clothes; the scars on his hands. Yeah, he was one of us. That makes him a low priority as far as the cops are concerned. It’s kind of a Darwinian thing, I guess. Us lower forms don’t rate the attention of the higher forms with the badges and guns. They sure as hell don’t give a shit about homeless assholes killing each other. Christ, they probably think we’re doing them a favor by killing each other. We’re policing the gene pool, so to speak. We don’t rate a couple of hotshot detectives wasting their time on a worthless piece of shit who deserved what he got and probably did the same thing to someone else somewhere along the line. You may think that’s some cold shit, but take it from me: that’s just how it is. It always has been and it always will be. That’s one thing that’s never going to change about this place. It certainly isn’t going to change in a few hours when the cops are scraping me off of the sidewalk. As far as they’re concerned, it’ll be “Here lies Miranda: an inconsiderate bitch who cut into our early morning coffee break with her fucking suicide. Couldn’t she have waited a few hours until we had nothing better to do than look at her dead ass all squished on the goddamned pavement?” Yeah, they’ll be thrilled to see me – or what’s left of me. Hey, I’m not angry about it. I don’t even take offense. I know damned well that I don’t rate anything more than that.

You know what’s weird? I can’t remember the first dead body I ever saw on skid row. You’d think I’d remember that. Weird, huh? I remember the first one I found, but not the first one I ever saw. I know I saw it out here somewhere. I must have. I’d never even been to a funeral before. I don’t even remember my parents going to any funerals. I wasn’t what you’d call “acquainted with death.” But this shit? Fuck me! The truth is, I’ve seen more dead bodies out here than I can remember. How many? Who knows? More than a dozen; less than a thousand. Something like that. Some of them were people I knew. Most of them were people I’d seen around. Some were total strangers, like that guy back there. Whether I knew them or not, I just stood there and stared like everyone else. Sometimes I was indulging my morbid fascination with death. You know, sort of rubbing my own nose in it. Other times, it was a distraction; nothing more. It was just something to do. A way to pass the time. Most of the time I wasn’t really curious – about the person, I mean. They were dead and I didn’t care how they died or why, and I didn’t care about them any more than they would’ve cared about me if it had been me lying there like a lump of shit in a pool of blood. That’s just how it goes. We’re heartless. We’re scum. We deserve to die and we deserve the awful deaths we get, just like that guy back there probably deserved what he got. The world becomes a better place when one of us cashes in. Cynical? Hardly. It’s the truth. Everyone knows it. And I’m no exception. I don’t doubt for a minute that the world will be a better place after I’m gone. I’m just praying that I’ll wake up in a better place. Please God, just give me that much. Just that much.

I freaked out the first time I found a dead body, but anymore, I couldn’t care less. That guy back there was a fucking mess, but he was nothing compared to some of the corpses I’ve come across in my day. Those slasher movies have nothing on this fucking place. You want to talk about gore? I’ve seen bodies with the head crushed like an eggshell and their brains smeared all over the sidewalk. That’s what happens when you jump off of a rooftop and land head-first. It’s pretty fucking disgusting. And I’ve seen a guy who got shot in the head and it just emptied it out. I mean fucking empty! The hole going in wasn’t very big, but the hole coming out was big enough to put your fist through! The inside of his head was cleaned out, like a pumpkin on Halloween. I stood and stared at that one for a while. How sick is that? I once saw the cops shoot a guy three times in the chest with fucking shotguns. He was some psycho who slashed a couple of people on the sidewalk. I didn’t see him do it, but he had a fucking butcher knife that looked like it was about a foot long. The cops drew down on him and told him to drop it. The crazy bastard charged at them instead. Have you ever heard the term, “Suicide by Cop?” There you go. They opened up on him and practically cut him in half! I think I was about ten or fifteen feet away when it happened. That was pretty scary. I’ve seen people get slit open across the stomach and all of their intestines and shit spilled out. I’ve seen that more than once. I’d watch them try to push their innards back inside their stomach and they’d be screaming the whole time and blood would be pouring out and I’d be fucking losing it. A couple of them died right in front of me. One guy bled on me so bad I had to throw my clothes out. Thank God the mission gave me something to wear. I’ve seen a lot of people get hit by cars. That happens all the time out here. The cops even have a name for it: Pedestrian Polo. And I’ve seen someone burned alive. I told you about that already. I think that’s the worst; probably because of my fear of burning to death. I can barely stand to think about it happening to anyone. When I was little, I read about Joan of Arc being burned at the stake and it scared the living shit out of me. I don’t know why. It just did. It still does. I guess it’s a phobia. Hey, I’m fucking crazy, remember? I guess I’m entitled to a couple of phobias.

So I’m fascinated by death. I’m weird that way. But that’s not to say that I like the dead. I don’t. I hate them. Ever since I ended up out here, I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about death. Not just my own death, but death in general. Maybe that’s to be expected? You see, death is a big part of this world. Our world. It’s not like it is in the normal world. It’s hard to explain. It’s like…well, death isn’t just something that happens out here. Not by a long shot. On skid row, death is an entity. It’s a being. A creature. It’s not alive, but it’s real. It’s not one of us, but it’s among us. It moves freely throughout the city at night. Not like in the daylight. Even here, death is a prisoner in the daylight. It’s confined to the hospitals and the nursing homes and the mortuaries. It’s constrained. It’s like a law: death is not allowed out in the daylight. Sometimes it escapes from its prison and appears in the daylight – in car accidents and heart attacks and sometimes even in murder. But it doesn’t belong. It’s so strange to the people of the daylight that when they see it, they’re fascinated by it. They take pictures of it and they write about it and they talk about it on the news. For them, death is news. But it doesn’t belong. Death is unwelcome in their world. Somehow, the daylight struck a deal with death to keep it hidden. But not the night. Death has no agreement with the night. That’s when death owns the city. It belongs here. It’s welcome. We know it. We embrace it. Death is our salvation. It’s our only way out. We can’t go back and for us, there is no forward. Death is our only escape from this nightmare. Christ, I ought to write that on a wall before I go. So what do you think of my attempt at poetry? Pretty morbid, huh? Well, what did you expect? I’ve always been more Edgar Allen Poe than Byron.

I don’t mean to sound so ominous, but death is a pretty ominous thing. If you don’t believe me, just ask that guy back in that room. And it’s very much a part of our lives. I always thought it was sort of medieval: death and this place, I mean. You see, medieval people were surrounded by death. Not like most people these days. Skid row is the exception. Only we know it the way they did. People die out here all the time – more so than anywhere else, except for maybe a war or something. Out here at night, death is usually violent or at least painful. Few of us enjoy the luxury of an easy death. It’s not in our nature. A lot of us go out hard, painful, and bloody. Even when it’s death by natural causes, it’s usually the result of a long and terrible illness, or sometimes from exposure when the weather’s bad. For us, there is no easy way out. That’s something I learned a long time ago. The people of the night die hard and for the most part, we fight like hell every step of the way. We don’t go gently into that good night. Dylan Thomas would be proud of us. And the shit doesn’t end there, either. Even the trip from death to the grave isn’t certain for us. Whether or not we get a grave depends on whether they find our bodies. Sometimes they find them right away and other times they don’t find them for weeks. Sometimes they don’t find them at all. As you saw, we don’t run to the nearest payphone and call the cops when we find a corpse. We just roll it for whatever money or useful shit it might have and then forget about it. A lot of people piss on them. It’s true. Don’t ask me why. They just do. It’s some sort of sick fucking skid row tradition. And if the cops don’t find the body in time, the fucking rats and the maggots eat it. At least, I hope they’re the ones who eat it. I don’t know. I’ve heard a lot of weird stories since I got here. These assholes are capable of anything. Hey, they fucking piss on the dead! I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of them are cannibals. Whatever happens, it’s really sad when you think about it: people end up out here and then they disappear and their body is never found and no one knows what happened to them. Then they’re forgotten. It’s like they never even existed. Invisible in life; invisible in death. If you ask me, that’s a fate worse than death. It’s proof positive that you’re not worth jack shit.

Sometimes people die in some pretty out-of-the-way places. Those are the ones they don’t find for several days, if ever. The cops will probably find that guy back there in a day or two. The smell will become unbearable and some junkie will call it in just to get the fucking corpse out of there so he can crash out without gagging on the stench. Nothing on earth smells worse than a decomposing body. That’s something else you learn out here. It’s probably the worst fucking smell in the entire universe. And once you smell one, you never forget it. God knows I’ll never forget it. Just thinking about it is enough to make me sick. And if you spend too much time around one, the smell gets into everything. It’s like poison gas or something. I’m talking about your clothes, your hair – everything. Since I’ve been out here, I’ve scrubbed myself raw more than once trying to get that fucking smell off of me. I guess that doesn’t happen too much in the normal world – coming across a dead body that’s gone unnoticed for a while. There, the dead don’t go unnoticed. Normal people don’t step over dead bodies like a pile of dog shit on the sidewalk. They certainly don’t roll them for pocket change. Jesus, if my mom and dad ever found out the fucked up things I’ve done out here! Their little girl rifling through the pockets of a murder victim, looking for something she can use and not giving a shit. If they ever found out what I’ve become, it would kill them. It would just fucking kill them. Thank God they’ll never know the truth.

I mentioned how the dead out here are forgotten. That’s always stuck with me. I don’t know why, but it hurts. It doesn’t hurt most people, but it hurts me. I think it’s got something to do with the unfairness of it all. I mean, it’s bad enough that your life went to shit and ended up out here. Someone should at least remember you when you’re gone, right? You see, normal people miss the dead. Death means a loss to them. That’s where the sorrow comes from. That’s why they have funerals and cemeteries and shit like that. The big difference between dying out here and dying in the normal world is that out here, no one grieves for you. We couldn’t care less. I never did. We might miss the guy for about five minutes, but that’s about it. There are never any tears. About the only thing we care about is what happens to the dead guy’s shit. Who gets it? Who cares? He’s dead. Let’s steal his shit. First come, first serve. Fucking parasites! Oh, Jesus, who am I kidding? I’m one of them! I’ve stolen a dead guy’s shit, and not just tonight. I’ve done it more than once. What’s it like? Well, the first time was about six months after I got here. I’d seen a few dead bodies by then. It was a rainy winter and the weather really took its toll on us. It sure as hell kicked the shit out of me. By that time, I was a full-blown junkie so nothing was beneath me anymore. Anyway, I found him over by the warehouses. He was a black guy; somewhere between sixty and maybe two thousand years old. He was stretched out on the ground, face-up and stiff as a fucking board. His eyes were wide open. I don’t know how he died. I didn’t care, either. I took his money, his blankets and his rain poncho from the mission. I didn’t think twice about it. I was just glad I got them before anyone else did. I didn’t care one damned bit. He was dead and I needed it and that was good enough for me. His shit was mine now. So I was a fucking vulture. So what? I didn’t give a shit. The same thing will happen to me when I’m dead. If someone out here finds my body before the cops do, they’ll take anything they can use. Fuck them. They’re welcome to it. Hey, what good is it to me? You can’t take it with you, right?

You can always tell when they find a dead body out here. First of all, the cops and the paramedics are there. There are lights and sirens and yellow crime scene tape and a crowd of people are standing around watching. Watching someone who’s dead. It fascinates us. Oh, yeah! The discovery of a dead body is a real source of entertainment out here. No one could care less about the son of a bitch when he was alive, but now that he’s dead, he’s providing a show for everyone. It’s fucking sick when you think about it: the poor bastard is worth more for five minutes’ entertainment now that he’s dead than he ever was when he was alive. And that’s the real truth of it out here. That’s what really hit me: out here, people are worth more to us dead than alive. That’s especially true if they die violently. We need people to die like that. They add to our legends with their deaths. Street legends. We remember some people out here only because we remember how or where they died. The “who” and the “why” are irrelevant. All we care about is the story. The legend. We’ll be standing somewhere and suddenly someone will say, “Remember old so-and-so? He died right here. Damn, it was nasty! Why, I was there when it happened!” Or they’ll say something like, “See that bashed-in awning? That’s where Joe hit when he jumped off of that roof. Yeah, I was there when he did it! What a mess!” Street legends. All of our legends are tragic. There are no victories. There are no heroes. The closest thing we’ve got to a hero is a crook who got away with it. That’s not very inspiring, is it? No, we’re not legendary. Only our deaths are. But we need legends. We don’t need the people, but we need their deaths for our legends. Sometimes I think it’s our last pathetic attempt to convince ourselves that we’re still human. At least, that’s what I told Charlie once. I didn’t understand it. I’ll never understand it, but I’ve got no right to condemn it. I’m no better than anyone else. I’ve stood with a lot of crowds watching a lot of dead bodies and I’ve never shed a tear, whether I knew the guy or not. So I wonder who’ll be standing there when they find my body? I wonder if I’ll become one of those legends? I guess it would be something if that happened. Not much, but something.

I mentioned the crime scene tape. That’s important. You might even see it tonight. It’s important because it’s a sign. The yellow tape is the mark of death. I’m sure you’ve seen it on TV. You’ve probably seen it on the news. It’s always yellow, no matter what city you’re in. It always has the same thing written on it, too: Police Line – Do Not Cross. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t need to have anything written on it at all. The tape speaks for itself. Whenever they find a dead body – or create one themselves – the first thing the cops do is put up the fucking tape. Sometimes they put it up before the guy dies, but only if they know he’s doomed. It’s a signal to the other cops. It’s a signal to us, too. If someone goes down and they take him away in an ambulance and a few minutes later the cops start putting up the tape, then you know that person is dead or at least circling the drain. But the tape is more than just an announcement. It’s a story. I’ll bet you didn’t know that, but it’s true. You just have to know how to read it. How to read the tape. Charlie taught me how. He taught me you can tell how a person died by the size of the area they tape off and how long they leave it up. And he was right. If they tape off about twenty feet in every direction and tear it down in less than an hour, it’s a natural. Death by natural causes. No big deal. Hardly worth their time. If they tape off a hundred feet and keep it up until the cops in the suits show up, then it’s a murder. That’s a pretty big deal to them. And if they tape off the whole fucking block and leave it up all night, it usually means the cops killed him. When the cops blast you, you rate the biggest crime scene. But it’s not for the dead guy. It’s for the cop who killed him. It’s kind of like his victory party. The only things missing are the booze and the strippers.

When the cops blast a guy out here, it’s a major fucking event. I’ve seen it a few times. First off, all of the other cops show up. Every fucking cop in the Emerald City shows up. Then they go over the place with a fine-toothed comb. Sometimes they’re down on their hands and knees, looking for shit. That’s so they can say that they conducted a thorough investigation and concluded that the son of a bitch got exactly what he deserved. Maybe he did? A lot of people out here definitely need to be killed. Whether they need to be shot fifteen times in the face at point-blank range is another story. You know, if you’re living on the street, it’s actually pretty cool to witness to a cop shooting. Not because seeing some guy get blown away is cool. Trust me, it isn’t. No, it’s because when you’re a witness to a cop shooting, they haul you down to the station and treat you like a fucking princess. You’re a witness, and they want you to be their witness. They want you to say the cop did the right thing and they should give him a medal or something. And they’re more than willing to bribe you for it. I speak from experience. Every time it happened to me, I got the fucking red carpet treatment. All of a sudden, I wasn’t just crazy Miranda anymore. Suddenly, nothing was too good for me. They sent out for food and got me whatever I wanted. They let me use their bathroom and one time they even let me use their shower. I got a new sweatshirt once because it was winter and it was really cold outside. They had to take me back to the scene and they didn’t want me to freeze to death before I said the cop was justified for blasting the son of a bitch. Yeah, they feed you good food and bring you coffee and cigarettes, and they smile and call you “Miss” and shit like that. If you tell them the whole thing made you sick, they’ll take you to the hospital and make sure the doctor sees you right away. And he will! They’ll make him do it! Oh, it’s damned good to be a witness to a cop shooting! Of course, as soon as it’s over, you’re right back to being some plain-old homeless fucking bitch. But it’s nice while it lasts. Hey, you take what you can get, right?

But we were talking about the tape, weren’t we? Sorry. I get sidetracked a lot. It comes from being crazy. Anyway, when the cops blast a guy, sometimes the cop who gunned the son of a bitch saves a piece of the tape. I’ve seen them do it. For them, it’s a souvenir. A trophy. Proof of the kill. They probably hang it on their wall next to the moose heads or something. Whatever. However it happens, the message is always the same: death. The yellow tape means death. You see it and you know right away: someone went down. Someone went down and they’re not getting up. Not ever. The story is there if you know how to read it. The cops will never tell you how it went down if you ask them, but you can always tell by the tape. Read the tape.


Let’s keep moving. I need to get over to the next sector if I’m going to find someone to take a letter to Charlie. OK, enough talking about death. I’m probably starting to freak you out. You’ll be freaked out enough before the night’s over. Let’s see, where are we? Oh, yeah. This bodega over here is a popular stop for the people of the night. It’s open really late and while the owner hates homeless people, he doesn’t chase me out or hit me or try to put some bullets in my ass. In my mind, that makes it a regular four-star establishment. As for the owner, I don’t even know his name. I don’t think I ever asked him. He’s a really grumpy old motherfucker, so I sometimes call him Oscar the Grouch. You know, from Sesame Street? The things I remember sometimes! He’s an old black guy with these big horn-rimmed glasses. He’s really big. I mean like two hundred and seventy pounds or something. Big and round. I wonder if he used to be a football player? He could’ve been. Anyway, it’s a wonder he can stay in business this close to the heart of skid row. It’s not like the people out here have a lot of money. Who the fuck shops here? I know he sells a lot of coffee and cigarettes, but that’s not going to pay the rent. Somebody must be buying this shit, though. Sometimes I go in and talk to him. Like I said, he’s not exactly a fan of mine, but he’s usually halfway-civil. Grumpy, but civil. It’s strange. I’ve never been able to figure him out. It’s like half of him wants to be nice to me and the other half hates my guts. I don’t get it, but then again, I don’t get a lot of things. As long as I’m here, I might as well drop by one last time. Maybe I’ll even say goodbye? I suppose he’s earned that much.

There he is, sitting behind the counter as usual. See? I told you he was big. That stool he’s sitting on must be screaming for mercy right now.

“Oh, Lord! Not you again! Girl, ain’t you got nothin’ better to do than hang around in my goddamned store?”

Like I said, I’m not exactly welcome here. At least he’s not waving a gun. Well, not yet. You never know with these bodega owners.

“Relax. I didn’t come here to bother you.”

“Oh? You come here to buy somethin’ for a change?”

“Nope.”

“Then you’re botherin’ me!”

I guess I can’t argue with the logic. Like I said: Oscar the Grouch!

“How come you’re always so sour?”

“What the fuck you talkin’ about, girl?”

“I’ve been out here every day for almost seven years and so have you, and every time I’ve seen you, you’ve always been in a bad mood. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you crack a smile. Not even once.”

“Oh, and you’re a motherfuckin’ ray of sunshine, is that it?”

“Compared to you, I’m fucking Pollyanna!”

“Who the fuck is Pollyanna?”

Yeah, that’s to be expected. After all, the “Glad Game” doesn’t exactly work out here. Would that it did.

“She doesn’t live around here.”

“Good for her. So what the fuck do you want?”

“Nothing, really. I was just in the neighborhood.”

“You’re a motherfuckin’ junkie. You’re always in the neighborhood. Ain’t no place else gonna let you in.”

“You’ve got a point. But you didn’t answer my question: how come you’re always so damned grumpy?”

“On account of I gotta deal with you people every goddamned day.”

Fair point. Like I said, I can’t argue with the logic.

“Yeah, but I never caused you any grief.”

“You never did me no favors, either.”

“Did that make me so bad?”

I think he’s searching his memory to see if I ever fucked him over. I’m pretty sure I never did. Not seriously, anyway. OK, I stole a few things from here. Hey, I was hungry.

“No, you wasn’t too bad. You never came in and broke nothin’. You ain’t never gone to sleep in my doorway or nothin’. I’ll give you that much.”

“I hate sleeping on the sidewalk. I can’t stand to sleep with a bunch of other people hanging around.”

“I thought that’s what all you motherfuckers did. Just plop your ass down wherever the fuck and pass out.”

“Most of us do. I guess I never got the hang of it.”

“So where do you sleep?”

“I’ve had a room for about a year now.”
“SRO?”

“Where else?”

“That figures. You look a lot better than you used to. You ain’t all filthy like you used to be. Your hair ain’t all fucked up anymore. And your hands ain’t black with the asphalt. I guess they got a shower where you at, huh?”

“Yeah. And I can wash my clothes in the bathtub. Hell, sometimes I even take them to a Laundromat.”

“Where the fuck you get money for that?”

“Panhandling, mostly. You bum a bunch of quarters off of people and you can do your wash.”

“Where you get the soap from? That shit costs money.”

I guess he’s not familiar with the ways of the street.

“You scrape it up.”

“Do what?”

“Scrape it up. People spill a bunch of it when they do their wash. You know, the soap powder? You just look for the little piles and you scrape it up. You can get enough to do your clothes. I mean, it’s not like I’m doing a dozen loads or anything.”

“That’s a pretty fucked-up way to live. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I’m aware of that.”

“So why the fuck you go and live like that?”

Is he fucking kidding me? He’s got a store on skid row! You’d think he would’ve figured that shit out by now.

“Well, it’s not like I’ve got a lot of options.”

“Oh, bullshit! You don’t need to be livin’ like that, girl. Ain’t none of you people need to be livin’ like that! It’s that motherfuckin’ dope! That’s why all y’all motherfuckers is fucked up like that! You’re all on that goddamned dope!”

“I hate to break it to you, but it’s not that simple.”

“Oh, really? How’s that?”

“Not everybody on the street is there because of dope. In fact, a lot of us are on dope because we’re out on the street. It’s one of those chicken-and-the-egg things. You know, which came first?”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, it is. Look at me. That’s why I got hooked.”

Jesus, he looks genuinely surprised to hear that. I would’ve thought that nothing could surprise him about this place anymore.

“So you wasn’t shootin’ that shit before you hit the streets?”

“Nope.”

“Then why the fuck did you go and start?”

“It seemed like the thing to do.”

“Come again? Shootin’ dope seemed like the thing to do? Girl, you’re fuckin’ crazy!”

“You’re right. I am. That’s why I’m here. But that’s not why I did it. The dope, I mean.”

“So why’d you go and do it?”

“It made it bearable. It gave me a few minutes’ peace here and there.”

“And look what that shit done to you!”

“It did me a lot of good; that’s what it did.”

“Good? Bein’ a goddamned junkie is somethin’ good?”

“I live on the street. I ruined everything. My whole fucking life’s over. Things can’t get any worse. So what the fuck was I saving myself for? Believe it or not, you can reach a point where you run out of reasons not to shoot dope.”

“I don’t believe that shit for a goddamned minute! I ain’t never gonna believe that shit!”

“I’m glad to hear it. You can’t understand unless you’ve been there yourself.”

“Oh, now you gonna tell me how all y’all motherfuckers ain’t never had no breaks and your mommas didn’t never love you? Bullshit! Girl, you expect me to feel sorry for you motherfuckers? I’m here every fuckin’ day, seein’ y’all doin’ all kinds of filthy shit! I don’t pity you motherfuckers one damn bit! You people are the ones what made this place a goddamned shithouse! You included!”

This is weird. This shouldn’t be happening. I wonder why hasn’t he thrown me the hell out? Is he really talking to me, or is he just venting? There’s one way to find out.

“Let me tell you something: we don’t want your pity. We want your money. We want your cigarettes. We want your whiskey. We want your coat when it’s cold. Christ, we want your fucking food! But we sure as hell don’t want your fucking pity!”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, it is! And do you know why?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“Because we can’t use it. We can’t eat it, we can’t wear it, we can’t spend it, and we can’t fucking smoke it or shoot it or pop it or whatever. So what the fuck good is it?”

“It ain’t no good. It’s motherfuckin’ worthless is what it is.”

Well, what do you know? We agree! What…what the fuck is happening, here? I think he’s serious! I think he’s actually talking to me! This isn’t supposed to happen!

“Well…OK, then. Now you’re getting it. I guess you’re smarter than I thought.”

Why is he looking at me like that?

“What?”

“Girl, I didn’t say nothin’.”

“No, I mean…why are you looking at me like that all of a sudden?”

“On account of I can’t figure you out. Girl, what the fuck are you doin’ out here?”

“I thought I just told you. I’ here because…”

“No, I mean what the fuck are you doin’ out here? Why you? You ain’t like those other motherfuckers.”

“I’m exactly like them.”

“No, you ain’t! Oh, you’re a little fucked up, all right. What with the dope and all. But you ain’t like those worthless motherfuckers out there. Them motherfuckers is all used up, but you ain’t. There’s still a piece of you in there. I can see that much.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means you’re too goddamned smart to be hangin’ out on the streets. Shootin’ that motherfuckin’ dope! Livin’ like shit! How the fuck does a white girl with brains end up shootin’ dope and livin’ on the street on the wrong side of town?”

“Because they wouldn’t let me do it on the right side?”

Well, would you look at that! He’s actually smiling! I think he’s even going to laugh!

“Oh, you gonna be a smart ass, now?”

“Come on! That was pretty funny!”

“Like hell it was!”

“Come on! Admit it! You thought it was funny! I can see it! You’re smiling!”

Damn, he’s actually cracking up! I think I got to him!

“Yeah, OK. You got me. That was a good one.”

“Hey, how about that? I actually got to see you smile before I go.”

“Go? Where the fuck you goin’?”

Damn! I didn’t mean to say that! Wait…why did I say that?

“I…I meant before I leave here tonight. Like I said, I just dropped in because I was nearby.”

“I don’t think that’s what you meant at all, girl. No, sir! That’s not what you meant at all!”

Did I just fucking tip my hand? What the hell has gotten into me?

“No, it’s nothing. I just wanted to say hello. That’s all.”

“I ain’t buyin’ that shit. Girl, I knew there was somethin’ different about you tonight. Somethin’ about the way you look. It’s like you’re here, but you ain’t.”

“It’s nothing. It comes from being crazy.”

“Yeah, crazy enough to do some crazy shit, maybe? Oh, yeah! I done seen that look before! Usually right before some motherfucker throws his ass in front of a motherfuckin’ bus! Is that what you fixin’ to do?”

Oh, shit! What the hell have I done?

“No! Nothing like that!”

“You wouldn’t be lyin’ to me, now would you?”

Damn! I’ve got to get out of here! This is not good!

“No, I’m telling you the truth. It’s nothing. I’m just…I’m just having one of those nights is all.”

“Uh-huh. Let me tell you what I think: I think you got to get the hell out of here.”

“OK, I’m leaving.”

“No, I mean you got to get out of here! You got to get your ass out of this shithole! You got to get off this motherfuckin’ street! Tonight!”

“Yeah, if only wishing made it so.”

“I ain’t fuckin’ around, girl. You’re lookin’ to me like your time’s up. I know the look. So if that’s so, then you got to get out now, while you still can.”

Jesus, didn’t I just have this conversation with Danny?

“It’s not that simple.”

“Sure it is. Make a call.”

“Make a call?”

“You heard me. Make a call. What? You ain’t got no one to call?”

Is he fucking serious?

“Uh…no. No! Christ, I can’t even remember the last time I talked on a telephone! I can’t…I can’t remember. Jesus! I can’t remember! How the fuck did this happen?”

“How the fuck did what happen?”

“Huh? Oh, nothing. I’m just talking to myself. I…do that sometimes. Pay no attention to it.”

Shit! I’d better get out of here before I babble my way into a fucking seventy-two hour psycho hold! Wait! What the fuck is he doing? He’s grabbing his telephone. Is he calling the cops?

“Here. Take it. Call ’em.”

“What?”

“Call ’em. Do it. Here’s the phone. Call your momma. Call your daddy. Call your cousin. Call anyone you want. Long distance; I don’t care. Call your ass out to East Jesus if you want. Whatever you got to do. Just call ’em. Tell ’em to come get you. I’ll give ’em the address. Call ’em up. Tell ‘em to come get you before somethin’ bad happens to you.”

Oh, my God! He’s serious! This is not fucking happening! No fucking way!

“Come on, girl! Now, don’t tell me you done forgot how to use a goddamned phone! What? You want me to show you? Here, you just push these here buttons and the shit rings. Simple! Even a crazy motherfucker could do it! Go on! Call ’em!”

“I…I don’t…”

“Fine! You don’t want to call ’em? I’ll call ’em for you. What’s the number? Give it up. I ain’t forgot how to use a goddamned telephone! The number! Come on, give it up, girl!”

“I don’t…I don’t know. I don’t…I don’t think I remember the number.”

“What? You got family, don’t you? Somebody? A girl like you? I’m bettin’ you got family somewhere. Come on! Call ’em up! Tell ’em where you are. Tell ’em to come get you. Tell ’em to come get you right now. I’ll be open all night. You can wait here ’til they get here.”

“I can’t. I’m sorry, I…I can’t do it.”

“Sure you can! Just take the motherfuckin’ phone! Go ahead! Pick the shit up and put it to your ear. See? Just like this. Simple! Call ’em up and talk. You can do that. It ain’t rocket science!”

“You don’t…you don’t understand. I can’t do it.”

“Why not? Somethin’ happen to you? Somethin’ back home? What? They mess with you? They put their hands on you?”

“No. No, nothing like that.”

“They beat you? Turn you out? Somethin’ like that? Is that what happened?”

“No.”

“Then what’s stoppin’ you? Come on, girl! You can’t be wantin’ to stay here! Fuck this shit! You need to get your ass the hell outta here! Here’s your chance! Right now! Go on, do it! Just like I done showed you! Pick up the goddamned phone and start dialin’!”

What the hell is happening? This isn’t supposed to happen! This can’t be happening! Not now! It can’t be!

“I just…I can’t…”

“Can’t what?”

“I can’t…I can’t tell them.”

“Can’t tell ’em what? Can’t tell ‘em about the shit you done to get over? Why the fuck not? That shit don’t mean nothin’. You do what you got to do. Girl, I think you be sellin’ your folks short. They ain’t gonna care about the shit you done to get over. If they’s good people, they gonna take you back. That’s what good people do. That’s what good parents do. They take you back. Hell, you ain’t the first child to fuck up. Them people are your family, and family forgives. I know.”

“I just…I couldn’t live with that.”

“Livin’s better than dyin’, girl. That’s a motherfuckin’ fact.”

“Not always. That’s a fact, too.”

“OK, then. Here, I’ll tell you what: you go think on it a bit. You go on back to that room of yours and think real hard. Sleep on it. And when you done come to your senses, you come back here and I’ll let you make your call. I’ll be here.”

“You mean it?”

“Of course I mean it! I don’t say shit I don’t mean.”

What the hell is happening? What is this? A fucking sign from God? Is this for real? I think I’m fucking hallucinating!

“For real? You’re not just fucking with me?”

“I don’t fuck with people. Not even street motherfuckers. I’m givin’ it to you straight. The offer stands, girl.”

“All right. I’ll think about it.”

“You do that. I know you done made a lot of mistakes in your life. Don’t go makin’ another one. You get the fuck out of here while you still can. Don’t wait ‘til it’s too late. You do that and you gonna be just another motherfucker wastin’ away. Don’t go doin’ that shit to yourself.”

“I…I have to go.”

Christ, I feel like my head’s spinning! I think I’m going to fall over! What the fuck just happened? Will someone tell me what the fuck just happened?

“Hey, girl! You gonna be OK? Don’t bullshit me! You gonna be OK if I let you walk out of here?”

“Yeah, I’ll be OK.”

“All right then. I’ll hold you to that. Don’t you go do nothin’ crazy now. You stay the fuck away from them buses, you hear?”

“No, I won’t…do anything crazy. Thank you. I mean that.”

“You know this ain’t me feelin’ sorry for you. We already talked about that shit. Folks gotta do what’s right; that’s all.”

“I believe you.”

Get out of here, Miranda! Don’t look at the phone! Don’t look in his eyes! Get out of here before you fucking keel over!

“I’ll see you tomorrow, girl. You come back here tomorrow, any time. I’ll be here.”

“Yeah. Tomorrow. Hey, what’s your name?”

“Jefferson. Now, don’t go callin’ me Jeff! It ain’t Jeff! It ain’t Jeffrey, neither. It’s Jefferson. Nothin’ else and nothin’ but!”

“Got it. I’m Miranda.”

“You don’t hear that one too often. That’s a pretty name.”

“Thanks. My mom thought so.”

“She was right.”

“I’ll…see you, OK?”

“You do that, girl. You do that real soon.”

“Hey, Jefferson? A couple months ago, I stole a sandwich from the cooler. You had your back turned and I took it. I just wanted to say, I’m sorry.”

“Hell, girl! Who you think you’re foolin’ with that shit? I saw you! Damn, I saw your ass every motherfuckin’ time you ripped me off!”

“You did?”

“Hell, yes! I see everythin’ what goes on in here! Comes with the job. Got to have eyes in the back of your head, you want to work in a place like this.”

“So why didn’t you kick my ass? Or call the cops?”

“On account of you looked hungry. I figured you needed it.”

“I did. A lot. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Just don’t tell nobody else. Can’t have folks thinkin’ I’m goin’ soft.”

“I won’t. Thanks again. For everything. I mean it. Thank you.”

Just keep walking! Out the door! Go! Keep moving! Don’t look back! Damn! Can you believe that? What the fuck just happened? That’s not supposed to happen! Not out here. What the fuck? I guess I was wrong about him. For that matter, I guess I was wrong about a lot of things. I thought Charlie was the only one out here worth a damn. But that guy was serious! He was really offering to help! All this time and he never said shit to me. Now offers to help me on the last night of my life? That can’t be a coincidence, can it? Is God throwing me a lifeboat or something? Or does he just want to show me that there are still a few good people left out here? Whatever it was, it was one hell of a lesson. Maybe that’s it? Maybe that’s all I’m going to learn tonight? Maybe wandering around and seeing all of these places one last time isn’t going to teach me shit? Maybe I was supposed to learn this before I go? If it is, it’s pretty fucking ironic. I mean, it’s not like it can do me any good anymore. But it’s something. It’s something I didn’t realize until now. Well, better now than never, right? Damn! Now I wish I’d gotten to know him. I’ve seen that guy almost every night since I got here and I never would’ve thought in a million years that he’d give a flying fuck about me, no matter what. I really wish I’d gotten to know him. Maybe if I’d met him the day after I got here, I would’ve made that call? I doubt it, but maybe he would’ve convinced me? I don’t know what I’d have done if he’d given me that speech way back then. I honestly don’t know. Oh, well. Another missed opportunity. It figures. It’s the fucking story of my life. God, please do something nice for him. Jefferson. Let him win the lottery or whatever. What he just did for me is worth more than anyone could possibly imagine. Even if it can’t save me. Please do something nice for him, because I can’t. And he deserves it. More than even he realizes.

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