Man, did that ever hurt like shit! Oh, thank God! I can actually walk! This brace is fucking beautiful! God bless you Angelo! Shit, I didn’t even get his last name. It was on his nametag, but I don’t think I even bothered to read it. Way to go, Miranda! Someone does you a big favor and you don’t even bother to read his name on a nametag! You know, I still can’t get over it: he actually seemed to give a shit about me. I didn’t think anybody gave a shit about anyone around here. Five minutes of this place is enough to beat the Mother Theresa out of anyone. Maybe he’s new? This place hasn’t gotten to him yet. No, he said he’d been out here for a while. Then again, maybe I’m just imagining things? I mean, I’m not exactly at my best right now. This night’s been pretty tough. Maybe I’m just looking for something that isn’t there seeing what I want to see? God, I’m so fucking sick of assholes! I’m so fucking sick of people who fuck you over just for the hell of it! Maybe I just wanted to see one truly decent person before I go? Yeah, that’s it. I’m the fucking Diogenes of the streets. All that’s missing is the lantern. Maybe it’s the Florence Nightingale thing: my ankle was busted up and I’m a mess and here’s this nice guy who fixed it and was really nice to me. No, I’m way beyond anything that shallow. I don’t know. I don’t know what it was. Maybe he was in a particularly generous mood tonight? Maybe it was just what it looked like? Then again, maybe he really did give a shit? Maybe it really bothered him that I didn’t have a couple of bucks for a plastic brace so I could keep walking. Sometimes things really are what they seem to be. Even in this place.
Anyway, he definitely fixed me up good. Even with those jellybeans he calls painkillers, my ankle feels a thousand percent better. And he didn’t snitch me off to the cops, either. That’s kind of surprising. He clearly knew I was lying to him about what happened. Even if he didn’t know what happened back at the Rutledge, those guys are supposed to report any suspicious injuries. He was definitely suspicious about my ankle. He thought somebody beat me up. I guess it didn’t occur to him that maybe I hurt it beating somebody else up. Well, I didn’t hurt it kicking that asshole cop, but I could’ve. It certainly didn’t occur to him that I fucked it up running from the cops. Maybe he figured that if that were the case, I wouldn’t have come there looking for help? You don’t run from the cops and then run to the paramedics. Not if you want to stay out of jail, that is. Still, I wonder why he didn’t call the cops? You know, just to be safe? If he had, they would’ve been waiting for me before I got out the door. That’s how it works. The paramedics are really nice to you until the cops show up, and then your ass belongs to them. They’re not quite as nice as the paramedics. That’s putting it mildly.
You know something? I just realized that he’s probably going to be one of the firemen who’ll scrape my flattened ass off of the pavement tonight. This is the closest fire station to Miranda’s Place, so they’ll probably get the call. The fire engines always respond to a jumper. God knows they’ve been there every time I’ve seen one. A lot of times they get there before the cops do. I hope Angelo’s off duty by then. I hope he doesn’t show up. I don’t want him to see me like that. He was really nice and he fixed me up good. I don’t want him to see my body all smashed on the ground and feel like he wasted his time on me back there. Even worse, I don’t want him to think that somehow he could’ve done something to stop it. I don’t know if he’s the kind of guy who would feel like that, but I don’t want to take the chance that he is. Please, God, let him be off duty before sunrise. Don’t let him be there when it’s over. If not for my sake, then for his, OK? He doesn’t deserve that shit.
Despite the brace and the bandage wrap, my fucking ankle is now officially the size of a goddamned fire hydrant! Damn, it hurts! Oh, well. It’s still sore, but at least I can walk on it. I can’t run on it, but I can walk on it. That’s what I needed. I sure as hell couldn’t afford to get laid up tonight. Not when I’ve got so much I’ve got to do. And I’m running out of time. I can’t wait any longer. I’ve got to write Charlie that letter and find someone who’ll deliver it to him when he gets out of the hospital. Then I’ve got to lay low in case the cops are looking for me. I still don’t know what the fuck all that was about. Why were those guys running from them? What did they do? Why were the cops going fucking nuts? I don’t know. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I just happened to be there. Wrong place; wrong time. That’s par for the course. It’s usually not quite that bad, though. Those cops were really out for blood; God only knows why. But it doesn’t matter. I got caught up in whatever the fuck was going on and now I’m in the middle of it. I’m going to have to stay out of sight. Yeah, right! Easier said than done. It’s getting late. Most of the people out here will start going to ground. From here on out, it’s just the hardcore lunatics like me. It’s our city now. From here on in is where it gets really ugly. You think it’s been crazy so far? Trust me, my friend: you ain’t seen nothing yet!
That’s 8th Street up ahead. Heroin Central; at least it is these days. I should be able to find someone to play mailman for me there. You what I just thought of? I could’ve gotten a pen and some paper from those firemen. Shit! I should’ve asked them! I’ll bet they would’ve given it to me. Way to go, Miranda! Your best chance at getting the shit you need and you fucking blew it! Stupid bitch! Well, I can’t go back there now. I’m pretty sure I wore out my welcome. Besides, the graveyard cops go by that fire station a lot, and it must be close to their shift change. The cops go there for the free coffee. Great! Just great! Now I have to find someone out here who’s got a pen and a few sheets of paper to spare. I don’t have much money. Three bucks. Even if I did, I can’t go to a store and buy it. The 7-11 is too far away, and with this fucked-up ankle, I might not make it there and back on foot. Besides, I’d get jacked up for sure if I left this sector. It’s crazy, isn’t it? My life is so fucked up that just getting a few sheets of paper and something to write with is a major fucking deal. Oh, I could get a drink or pretty much any kind of dope you can think of or maybe even a gun if I had the cash, but I can’t get a couple pieces of paper and a goddamned pen. How’s that for a world? How the fuck do we live like this? God, what am I going to do? I’m not thinking too well tonight. My brain’s more fucked up than usual. It must be the stress – you know, as it gets closer to the time. I was afraid this might happen to me. When I get really stressed out, my brain stops working. Help me out, God. OK? Where the hell can I get something to write Charlie a note?
OK, get a fucking hold of yourself, Miranda. Just calm down. All right, I don’t know what to do. I need to do something and I don’t know how to do it. So what would Charlie tell me if he were here? He’d tell me how to do it, that’s what. Seriously, what would he do? He’d say if you don’t know how to do something then you ask someone who does. Ask someone! That’s it! I need to ask someone where I can get the shit I need! If my brain’s not working too well, then just borrow someone else’s! They don’t have to be a genius or anything. They just have to have an answer. That’s what Charlie always says. He says you don’t have to be Einstein to have the right answer to the question. He says it doesn’t matter where you get your answer, as long as it’s the right one. I need to find someone who’s been out here long enough to know where to find all kinds of shit. Fortunately for me, anyone who’s out here at this hour pretty much fits that bill to a “T.”
Where can I find someone who’ll know where to get a bunch of paper and a pen? The Big Lot? There are a lot of people there right now. No, I don’t want to go over there unless I have to. I can imagine what Ricky would do if I asked him for a fucking pen. What about the tables? Maybe, but I don’t want to walk all the way over there again. Not with the cops looking for me. They’ll put eyes on that place for a few hours. I’d better stay in the shadows. The Dunsmuir’s about three blocks down from here. I can stay in the alleys and get there without being seen. I’d only be on the street for half a block. There’s usually a few people sitting in front of the place. They keep the lights on out front. That’s what draws us to the place. If the guy’s working the desk late, maybe I can get what I need from him? I just hope he doesn’t say I have to blow him for it. Think positive, Miranda. OK, that sounds like a plan. Thank God I can walk with this brace. I’d hate to think I’d have to hobble through the rest of the night. Lord, I’d like to put in a good word with you for Angelo. I don’t know his last name, but I’m sure you do. Anyway, he was really nice to me and he didn’t have to be, and he fixed it so I can walk, so I can do what I’ve got to do. So for what it’s worth, please do something nice for him, OK?
Good God, I made it! There it is – the Dunsmuir. The walk was easier than I thought it would be. Unfortunately, I can see that the guy at the desk is gone. He’s probably out getting high or drunk. But I can still ask some of the guys who must be hanging around here somewhere. They’re probably on the other side of the stairs. See? I was right. There’s a few people hanging out in front of the place. They keep the floodlights on all night long. God knows why. They have to know that if they leave the lights on, they’re going to attract the homeless like moths to a flame. All right, let’s see who’s here. Stay away from the young guys. I don’t want to ask any young guys. They probably wouldn’t know. They’re the first ones you’d ask if you were looking for dope, but if you’re looking for something useful, then they’re not much help. Is there anybody else here? I don’t know any of those guys. I can’t hit someone up for a favor if I don’t know them. Oh, good! There’s Henry. I didn’t recognize him with that baseball hat. I wonder when he got that? Who am I kidding? He probably stole it. No matter. I’ll ask him. He might know. He’s not exactly an old-timer, but he’s pretty sharp – for a total drunk, that is.
“Well, look who’s here! Ain’t seen you in few days, Red!”
“I’ve been preoccupied.”
“That time of the month, huh?”
Oh, here we go! You see what I have to put up? I swear, if I got shot, they’d think it was because I was on my fucking period! What is it with guys? It’s not enough that they get spared that shit? No, they have to chalk everything in a woman’s life up to it! Note to the male of the species: there is a lot more to being a woman than getting your fucking period!
“Uh, no, that wasn’t it. Hey, where’d you get the hat?”
“Traded some guy for it.”
“What did it cost you?”
“Last quarter of a bottle.”
Henry giving up booze? Damn! He must have really wanted that hat!
“What were you drinking?”
“God, you got the best of that fucking deal!”
“Tell me about it! Now I got me a hat!”
“And I see you’ve got another bottle of Cisco, too.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah! Got to have that!”
No, Henry, you don’t! Nobody’s got to have that shit! You’re better off shooting dope! Shit, you’re better off drinking a bottle of drain cleaner. The result’s the same and it tastes better.
“Listen, I need to ask you something. Do you know where can I get a few sheets of paper and a pen?”
“What the hell you need that shit for?”
“I’ve got to write a letter.”
“Letter? What the fuck you doin’ writing letters? Ain’t nobody out here got a mailbox, Red.”
It never occurred to me how strange this question must sound to the average person out here. Henry must think I’ve lost it for good.
“No, I’m going to deliver it myself. Come on, it’s important. Do you know where I can get it?”
“How about the 7-11? That place is open all night.”
“No, I don’t have any money.”
“Who says you need money? Just put it under your coat and walk out.”
I actually considered that, but I figured I’d get caught. After dark, they watch you like a fucking hawk. But like I said, there’s no way I’d make it all the way over there and back without the cops jacking me. They spend a lot of time over at the 7-11. They get free coffee and sodas and shit. It’s one of their homes away from home. It’s way too dangerous.
“No, I can’t risk it. Look, I just need some paper and something to write with, so help me out. If you needed that shit and you couldn’t rip it off from a store, where would you get it?”
“What the fuck would I need that shit for?”
See? This is what Cisco does to your brain! That’s why I won’t touch that shit!
“That’s not important. Just humor me, OK? Pretend that you need a pen and a few sheets of paper right now. Pretend that your life depends on it. Where would you get it?”
“Besides stealin’ it from the 7-11?”
“Hmm. Well, there ain’t no other stores open this late. I figure your best bet would be a roach coach.”
“A roach coach?”
“Yeah. They all got notebooks and shit, on account of they got to write shit down. Keep that inventory. I seen ’em do it. And they write down the orders and shit. Yeah, I’ll bet they’d have that paper and pen for you. And they got to have some napkins, right? So if they ain’t got no paper, you use the napkins. There you go! Makes sense to me. That make sense to you?”
Christ, he’s a motherfucking genius! Now why the hell didn’t I think of that?
“That’s a good idea.”
“Of course it is! It’s my idea!”
“You’re a fucking genius, Henry!”
“It’s about time you figured that out. Now you need to tell these here motherfuckers!”
You got it, Henry. Shit, it’s the least I can do for you. You just saved my fucking plan!
“Hey, everybody? Listen up! Henry’s a fucking genius! It’s the truth!”
“Genius my ass!”
“He’s a drunk-assed motherfucker is what the fuck he is!”
I see the Peanut Gallery has weighed in. That happens all the time out here.
“Uh, I don’t think they’re buying it, Henry.”
“That’s ’cause they’s a bunch of ignorant motherfuckers! Goddamned crackhead sons of bitches! You all don’t know shit on account of all you all on the goddamned pipe!”
Oh, that’ll make them happy! I think Henry might just get himself killed tonight! You’d think he’d know better than to do shit like that!
“Fuck you, motherfucker!”
“Fuck you in the ass, Henry!”
See what I mean? We’d better wrap this up before I find myself in the middle of a fucking brawl.
“Well, I think you’re a genius. Thanks, Henry. You’ve been a big help”
“You’re welcome. So you goin’ over to the roach coach?”
“Yeah. There’s one over by the Big Lot. It’s there ’til about three or four.”
“Bring me back a burrito. Can you do that for me, Red?”
“If I can, OK?”
“If you can. Catch you later, Red.”
Yeah, I just hope he’s still alive when I get back. Have you ever heard the saying, “Don’t poke the bear?” Out here, it’s more like poking a pack of hungry lions. You really don’t want to do it. Not if you want to keep breathing.
Damn! It worked! He’s right! They do have that shit on a roach coach! I’ve seen them write things down all the time. I can get everything I need there. The only problem is, they’ll probably want something for it. I’ve got three bucks. Will that be enough? What if it isn’t? What if they want more? What if they want ten? What if they want fifty? Stop it! Damn! I always do this shit! The slightest fucking thing goes wrong and I immediately think the worst! I’ve always been that way. I don’t know why, but it’s true. I automatically dream up these unbelievably horrible scenarios when things don’t work out perfectly. Don’t do it now! It doesn’t help any. Hold it together, damn it! Don’t fuck this up! I’m only going to get one shot at it, and I don’t have a whole lot of time left. I need to think this whole thing through. I have to get it right the first time. I can’t wait until the last minute and find out that I missed something. I can’t just leave it up to my fucked-up little brain, especially not with the way it’s working tonight. Think! What do I have to do? What do I have to do to get this right?
OK, first things first: I know where I’ll get something to write with. That’s the hard part. But that’s covered now. That’s taken care of. What else do I need? I need to deliver it. Actually, I need to get it delivered. I can’t very well do it myself when I’m dead. So I’ve got to find someone to get it to Charlie. There’s no sense in even writing it until I’m sure he’ll get it. The more I think about it, this might be the hard part. Henry was right: we don’t have mailboxes. If you don’t have a home, you can’t get a letter in the mail. The only mail you get out here is hand-delivered bullshit. And our delivery system isn’t quite as reliable as the Post Office. About the only thing you can count on being delivered in a timely fashion is an arrest warrant. Or knife in your back. I’m talking both literally and figuratively. All right, so I have to get this to Charlie somehow. Unfortunately, that means I have to rely on someone else. That’s the last thing I want to do, but I don’t have a choice. I need someone to deliver it for me. Great! All right, think! Think hard! I’ve got to be careful. I’ve got to be really careful. If I fuck it up and give it to the wrong person, Charlie will never see it. I can’t let that happen. I already fucked up everything as it is. I can’t fuck this one up.
OK, don’t panic. Just think it through. Who do I ask to do it? There are a couple of people I can count on to do this right. I wouldn’t trust them to do it for anyone else, but if I tell them it’s for Charlie, they’ll do it. None of us are what you’d call reliable, but a few of us appreciate all the shit that Charlie’s done for us over the years. They won’t do it for me, but they’ll do it out of respect for him. The problem is finding them. People out here late at night move around a lot, as you’ve probably noticed. You run into someone for five minutes and then you don’t see them again for five days, even though you’re both in the same three square miles the whole fucking time. Even Charlie gets around when he wants to. I usually know where to find him, but he’s got a few secret places where he can go when he wants to get the fuck away from everybody. I know a couple of them, but he keeps the best ones for himself. He won’t tell anyone where they are. Not even me. I don’t blame him. When you find a really good place to hide, you don’t give it up for anything. I know. I’ve got a couple of my own. So do most people out here. That’s the problem for me right now.
Oh, great! Now here’s someone I didn’t want to run into tonight. His name’s Joel. I don’t know much about him except he’s been here about two years and he’s a fucking asshole, through and through. He’s what you’d call a know-it-all junkie. Now there’s an oxymoron if ever there were one! Most junkies don’t know shit. Charlie’s the exception. Joel’s an extreme example of the stereotype. He doesn’t know his ass from a fucking hole in the ground, but he likes to think that he does. He’s also a chronic whiner. He’s constantly bitching about one thing or another. But the really weird thing about him is that he’s always been especially nasty to me. I don’t know why. I just know he really hates me, which makes no sense because I’ve never done a fucking thing to him. Hell, I’m one of the few people who will even talk to him anymore. But he thinks I’m some kind of stuck-up bitch and the way he hates me, you’d think I’d killed his puppy or something. Go figure. He also likes to insist that I shouldn’t be here. Pretty fucking bizarre, huh? He honestly thinks I can somehow just waltz out of here and start a nice, normal life in suburbia or something. He likes to tell me that having TRD is no different than having a paper cut, so there’s really nothing wrong with my head and I’m just making all this shit up. Maybe that’s why he hates me? Anyway, he hits me with that shit about once a week. I think he actually comes looking for me so he can rag on me. Now that I think about it, why the hell haven’t I killed him yet? Yeah, he’s a real fucking peach. So why do I talk to him? Who knows? I’m crazy, remember? I do a lot of crazy shit. I guess it’s because he’s a complete fucking weasel and I can kick his ass without breaking a sweat. He’s no threat to me. Strangely enough, that’s as good a reason as any to talk to someone out here.
“What’s up, Joel?”
“Huh? Oh, great! It’s you! What the fuck are you doing here?”
Yeah, that’s pretty much how he says hello. As you can see, his people skills are a little lacking.
“Nothing. I just asked you what’s up?”
“Who says I’m up to anything?”
“Fine. Suit yourself. I just said hello.”
“Oh, she said hello to me! Wow! Is that supposed to make me feel special?”
See what I mean? What a fucking dick! If I wasn’t going to be face to face with God in a few hours, I’d probably kill him right now. I’d be doing everyone out here a favor.
“You know what? Fuck you! Every time I see you, you act like a fucking asshole! It’s a miracle nobody’s killed you yet!”
“Yeah, that would make you happy.”
“No, it wouldn’t. And do you know why? Because I don’t give a shit about you. I don’t waste my time thinking about you. I don’t care if you live or die. No one does.”
“Then why are you still talking to me? Why do you even fucking bother?”
Oh, great! He’s in rare form tonight! That’s a funny way of saying he’s royally pissed off and feeling sorry for himself. Now, I don’t have a problem with that. We all do it. God knows we’ve all got reason to feel sorry for ourselves. But in Joel’s case, he likes to take it out on everyone else. That’s one reason why I can’t stand the motherfucker. It’s one thing to bitch and moan about how fucked up your life is, but it’s another thing to blame everyone within earshot of you for all of your troubles. You do that to the wrong people out here and you usually get your ass kicked – or worse. No one wants to hear your bullshit. And they certainly don’t want to hear you be an asshole and blame them for your problems. I guess Joel never quite learned that lesson. It’s a wonder no one ever taught it to him with a fucking two-by-four. Still, something must’ve happened to him to set him off like this.
“All right, what happened?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re even more of an asshole than usual. That means something happened to you. What happened? Did someone kick your ass? Rip you off? What?”
“None of your fucking business!”
That’s the first thing he’s said that’s true. It might even be a record for him.
“Hey, Joel? You want to bitch about things? Go ahead. But don’t go laying it on me. I’m not the reason your life sucks. Mine sucks, too. But you don’t see me blaming you for it.”
“Yeah, right. What the fuck would you know about it?”
“Are you fucking kidding me? I’ve been out here for almost seven years. I know everything there is to know about it.”
“Bullshit? What? You think I’ve got it easy somehow? You think you’ve got it bad? Try being a goddamned woman out here! I wish I had it as easy as you!”
“You shouldn’t even be here! In fact, why are you here? Why the fuck are you out here, anyway?”
“Gee, do you have about a year to listen to the answer?”
“Fuck that! You know what I’m talking about!”
“Apparently, I don’t. Why don’t you fill me in? I think I’d like to hear this.”
“I thought you were supposed to be the smart one.”
“What’s that got to do with anything? Yeah, I’m smart. I’m smarter than some; dumber than others. Just like everybody else. What of it?”
“Smart people don’t end up out here. They don’t have to live like this. If you’re so fucking smart, then why are you here?”
“I never said I was so fucking smart.”
“You act like it.”
“No, I don’t. I don’t go around acting like I’m some fucking genius because I know I’m not. Yeah, I know shit. But I don’t know everything. In case you forgot, my name is Miranda; not Einstein.”
“Fuck you! You’re so full of shit! Why aren’t you in the Emerald City? You’re smart enough! Like you said, you know shit. Why don’t you have a home and a job and fucking two cars in the garage? You weren’t born to this shit! You don’t belong here. So why are you so fucking down and out like everyone else?”
“Because I’m a worthless fucking asshole, just like you. Just like everyone else out here.”
“Yeah, right! It must be because you like it; hanging out with a bunch of fucking junkies and losers. Shit! You must be one sick fucking bitch to like living out here!”
God, give me strength! It’s all I can do to keep from kicking the living shit out of him!
“And they call me crazy? You’re out of your fucking mind! You think I like being out here? You think I like living like this?”
“You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”
“And how the fuck do you figure that?”
“Like I said: smart people don’t end up out here. You’re smart. Hell, you even kicked your dope habit. Now you’re smart and clean! But here you are! You’re still here! Why? You don’t have to be, so I figure you must want to be here. You must get off on it. Is that it? You get off on slumming with assholes? Does it give you a thrill?”
Christ, I think he’s crazier than me! Does he honestly think I want to live like this? What the fuck kind of drugs is he on? No, there isn’t a drug in the world that can make you that much of an asshole! That has to be natural!
“Joel, are you out of your fucking mind? Do you think being smart is enough to keep you from ending up like this? In case you hadn’t noticed, there are a lot of smart people out here. Hell, look at Charlie! He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met, and he’s been out here since before we were born! If being smart didn’t keep him from ending up like this, then it’s pretty clear that being smart isn’t enough.”
“Oh, fuck Charlie! Fuck that motherfucker! Fuck all these niggers! They’re the ones who belong out here!”
Did I mention he’s a fucking racist, too? Yeah, that goes over really well out here! God help this little fucking asshole if he ever winds up in prison!
“Are you saying the only reason he’s out here is because he’s black?”
“Fuck yes! All of them! Goddamned bunch of fucking assholes; every goddamned one of them!”
“Well, then what does that say about you and me? A couple of white people and here we are.”
“It doesn’t say shit!”
“Sure it does. Look around you, Joel. We’re out here, too. Just like they are. So if the black guys are here because they’re black, then how do you explain us? How do you explain all of the other white motherfuckers out here? What’s our fucking excuse?”
“I thought you were crazy.”
“Isn’t that your excuse?”
“No, it’s a curse; not an excuse. And even then, being crazy isn’t enough to get you out here all by itself. Not unless you’re a member of the fucking tinfoil hat club. It takes more than that. There’s got to be something else. And where do you think it comes from?”
“Where does what come from?”
“The rest of it. The difference between us and the rest of the world. The difference between living a fucked up normal life and living in this shithole. If being crazy isn’t enough all by itself, then there has to be something more, right? There has to be something seriously fucking wrong with us. So what is it? Where does it come from?”
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!”
“I think you do. It comes from us. We did it. We did it to ourselves. Face it, Joel: we blew it! We fucked up. No matter how much shit was working against us, we wouldn’t have ended up like this unless we royally fucked things up. And that’s on us. All of it. You can’t blame your color or any of that shit. We did it to ourselves. Maybe all at once, or maybe it was a million little things over the years. It doesn’t matter. Because when you get to the end of it all, we fucked up somehow and that’s why we’re here. Maybe the shit was stacked against us, but we’re the ones who fucked up.”
“Hey! I never did anything to deserve this!”
“Yeah, you did. So did I. You just can’t bring yourself to admit it. But you will. One of these days. That’s one of the things this fucking place does to you: it makes you face the truth about yourself. And it’s never pretty. It’s never easy. But you’ll face it someday, because this place will make you do it! And when that happens, it’s going to be the worst fucking moment of your life. It always is.”
“Oh, fuck you, Miranda! You are so full of shit! You talk about living on the street like it’s some profound fucking experience! It’s fucking bullshit!”
“You’re half right. It’s both.”
“I don’t belong here, OK? Shit, I knew plenty of people who were ten times more fucked up than me! Do you see any of them here? No! I’m here and they’re not! They got everything! I got nothing! It’s not fucking fair!”
“No kidding. You’re right: it’s not fair. Nobody deserves this shit. And knowing that just makes it a million times worse. Look, you want to get angry? You want to go off? You want to scream your fucking lungs out? You want to shake your fist at the sky? Curse God? Curse the world? Curse me and everybody else? Go ahead! I won’t stop you. I won’t blame you, either. We all do it. But it won’t change anything. It probably won’t even make you feel any better. But hey, if it gives you ten seconds of peace, then it’s fucking worth it. So go ahead. Lash out. You’re entitled.”
“Am I entitled to lash out on your fucking face?”
“Yeah, try it and see what happens, motherfucker.”
And there’s the look on his face. He knows I don’t need my knife to kick the shit out of him. Maybe that’s part of what’s eating him: if he can’t take me, then what chance does he have out here? Against these motherfuckers? They’ll fucking eat him for lunch.
“I wish I was fucking dead!”
“If that’s true, then you can make that happen.”
“What? Are you saying I should kill myself?
“I wouldn’t say that to anybody. Not even you. Oh, I might scream it at you if I got mad enough. I do that a lot. But I’d never say it to anyone and mean it. Not after living in this fucking place. That’s a decision you have to make all by yourself. It’s the only real control any of us has left. The last ounce of power over our lives. No one’s got a right to take that away from you. In fact, it’s about the only thing they can’t take away from you.”
“So what do you think I should do?”
Suddenly he’s asking me for advice? This is a switch! He must really be in a bad way tonight.
“I think you should answer that question for yourself. No one can answer it for you. Sometimes I wish someone could, but they can’t. And out here, you have to have an answer, at least for that one.”
“Oh, God! You sound like fucking Charlie!”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. I learned from the best.”
“So what’s your answer?”
“None of your fucking business.”
“I hate this fucking place! I hate everything! I don’t want to be here anymore!”
“Then there may be hope for you. Once you start liking it; that’s when you’re fucked. I know. I’m living proof.”
“I thought you said you didn’t like it?”
“No, I said I didn’t like being here. I don’t like living like this. But this place? The craziness of it all? A lot of times I do like that. There’s a big difference.”
“So you do like it?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes I like it more than I should.”
“So you’re saying you’re fucked?”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Tonight? Tonight, I’m going to finish what I started. And that starts with ending this conversation. Good luck, Joel. You’re going to need it. You keep being a fucking asshole to everyone and someone’s going to stick a fucking knife in your gut. Either that, or bash your brains in with a cinder block. You might want to think about that before you talk to anyone else.”
Not that he will. Some people just never learn. He’s already had a million chances. I’m pretty sure he’s run out of them. I doubt he’ll last another six months. And nobody will miss him when he’s gone. Not a fucking chance in the world.
I wonder what he’s going to think when someone tells him I’m dead? Is he going to remember the last thing I said to him and suddenly figure out what I meant? Oh, who am I kidding? He’ll probably start laughing and say “Good fucking riddance!” Whatever. The idea that a fucking asshole like Joel won’t mourn my death doesn’t bother me. And if it makes him happy, then at least I can say that my death accomplished something. Yeah, it’s not much. But after living in this shit for nearly seven years, I tend to have very low expectations. It helps cut down on the sting from endless disappointments. Living on the street, you learn to settle for tiny little successes. They’re pretty much the only ones you’ll ever have.
I need to get over to that roach coach. I just hope Ricky doesn’t see me while I’m there. God, I hate that motherfucker! You know, I think I scratched my face back in that sewer pipe. It kind of itches; like when you’ve got a fresh scratch. I need to take a look at it. Are there any cops around? No? Good. The best way to check your face out here is to look in the mirror of a parked car. What? You think I carry a compact out here? Sorry, but I must have left it in my purse back at the office. Seriously, though. Believe it or not, you have to be careful when you check you face in a car mirror. If the cops see you doing it, they think you’re trying to break in and steal something. That’s not surprising, since most of the time that’s exactly what we’re doing. But hey, even we need to check our faces sometimes. And it’s not just vanity. One little cut can cause you big trouble later on. We’ve got infections out here that doctors don’t even have names for. Thank God that won’t be a problem for me after tonight, but I want to see what’s causing this pain. It’s bad enough I fucked up my ankle. I don’t need any additional medical issues tonight. And I definitely don’t want any more trouble with the cops tonight. As far as they’re concerned, I think my luck has definitely run out. As long as they’re not around, I can take a quick peek and see if there’s a big fucking scratch running across my cheek. Jesus, would you look at this? Look at these cars! We’re three blocks east of Meridian. Who the fuck parks their car in this sector at night? Are they out of their minds? They might as well leave the windows down and the fucking keys in the ignition! Anyone who would park their car here at night pretty much deserves to have it ripped off.
OK, this one has the biggest mirrors. Let’s take a look. Yeah, I got a scratch, all right. Damn! Right on my chin! It’s not bad. Pretty small. It really stings, though. Cuts on the chin always sting. Sometimes it’s the little cuts that drive you nuts. I wonder why that is?
“Hey, bitch! Why bother looking? You look like shit!”
“Get a fucking job, you fucking whore!”
“Get off the fucking street!”
“Fucking homeless bitch!”
I’m not even going to turn around. There’s no point in it. Besides, they won’t be there anymore. It’s just a couple of assholes in a passing car, giving me a little friendly advice. Yeah, I know. It happens to me almost every night. I’m used to it. Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me. Well, sometimes it does. When I first got out here, it bothered me a lot. It hurt worse than almost anything. It hurt so much that it used to make me cry. Some asshole in a suit and tie with a wonderful life would say something some really nasty shit and no matter how hard I tried not to, I’d start crying. Charlie said it was OK to cry, but I hated myself for letting it get to me like that. I’m not even sure why it did. It’s not like they were telling me anything I didn’t already know. I was a loser. I was down and out. I was a failure. What else was new? Anyway, I guess I toughened up over the years. And besides, it could be worse. Sometimes they don’t just yell shit. Sometimes they throw things at me. Sometimes it’s garbage, and a lot of times it’s beer bottles. They usually miss, but sometimes they don’t. Now that hurts! Try getting nailed between the shoulder blades with a beer bottle from a car going twenty miles an hour sometime. It’s worse than getting punched. It’s more like getting hit with a sledgehammer. You know, the strange thing is, those assholes aren’t usually out this late. Most people don’t drive through here after dark unless they absolutely have to. So what were they doing back there? I can’t imagine they absolutely had to drive through here just to yell insults at the homeless. But hey, you never know. Drunks do a lot of stupid things.
But back to this scratch on my chin. Damn! Another battle scar. This is some night, huh? First the cops bounce my head off of a fucking windshield, then that crazy bastard jumps me and scratches my face, then I damn near bust my ankle jumping into a sewer, and now this! This place is definitely taking a toll on me tonight. The way things are going, I’ll be one giant gash and bruise before it’s over. Oh, well. It doesn’t really matter. I wasn’t going to die young and leave a beautiful corpse, as the saying goes. I’m not exactly young anymore and I feel even older than that. Thirty-two going on three hundred, as I like to say. And jumping off of the roof of Miranda’s Place sure as hell isn’t conducive to leaving a beautiful corpse. I’ll be leaving one ugly, busted-up mess on the sidewalk. To tell you the truth, I almost feel bad for the poor schmuck that’s going to have to scrape me off of the pavement. Of course, he gets paid for it. That’s why I only almost feel bad for the guy. I’ve got more important things to feel bad about tonight.