Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Thirty-Five

Charlie once told me he’d rather be back in Vietnam with a slingshot than be a woman on skid row. Believe me, I can relate. I never went to Vietnam, but being a woman out here is being the victim of all victims. Oh, I’m not playing the victim card, here. I’m not saying “Poor little me!” Yeah, I feel that way almost every day, but I know all too well that I’m here because I belong here. As a result, being a victim is just part of the package. Still, it’s a special kind of hell for a woman out here. You can forget all of the bullshit you think you know about gender roles and how women are equal to men. That shit might play in the normal world, but out here? Not by a long shot. Out here, it’s survival of the meanest. Survival of the strongest. Survival of the cruelest. In a game like that, most men have the advantage over most women. The ones that don’t get picked off pretty soon after they get here. The weak ones. The weak men. There are exceptions, like little fucking weasels like T.C., but they’re pretty rare. Weak men out here are basically dead men walking, and they don’t keep walking for very long. A lot of them don’t even last long enough to start looking like they’re homeless. The stronger and meaner men don’t like having them around, but they like to keep the women around for sex and torture. They need us for that. It’s not like in prison, where they don’t have access to women. They’re not all going to turn gay and start fucking the weaker men in the ass, although some of them do that, too. No, the vast majority of them are straight and so they need women around so that they can get laid on occasion; not that a lot of them bother to ask the women if they’re OK with it. No, they need us to get their rocks off from time to time. That’s pretty much all we are to them. Everything out here serves a purpose or else it’s not allowed to exist. That includes the people. Women serve a hellish purpose. It’s foisted upon us. We don’t have any choice in the matter, and we’re not strong enough and there aren’t enough of us around to change the situation. We just have to accept it. We just have to deal with it. We just have to survive it – if we can. If that isn’t hell, I don’t know what is.

While we’re on the subject of the private little hells that women out here have to endure, another one is kids. A lot of the women I’ve met out here have kids. Fortunately, they don’t have them here with them. They left them somewhere, but now they have to deal with that. The men have to deal with it, too, but I think it’s a lot worse for women. Maybe I’m being sexist? I mean, I’ve seen guys out here who get all torn up because they can’t see their kids and they don’t know what’s going on with them and they sure as hell don’t want their kids to know how they’re all down and out. Clearly, it rips them apart. But I think it’s different for women. It’s the whole maternal instinct thing. I think it tears at a woman worse when she loses her kids. It’s cold comfort to say, “Well, at least they’re not out here with me,” but it’s at least something. And that’s something that I think a lot of people get wrong about skid row. You hear about whole families living on the street and how kids are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, but I’ve never seen a kid out here in the whole time I’ve been on the street. And I’m grateful for that. I’m a pretty cold bitch, but even I couldn’t stand seeing that. I’ve known a lot of women out here who have kids, but their kids all live somewhere else. They’re being raised by some relative or they’re in foster care. Some of the older kids are already in juvenile hall or even prison. Some of them are dead. Kids today are a lot like us: they do whatever they want and they don’t give a shit about anyone else, and they settle their disputes by beating the shit out of each other. Or sometimes by killing each other. A lot of them have paid the price for living like that; just like we have.

I remember there was this woman out here named Martha who lost all three of her kids before they turned twenty. Three boys – all of them murdered. Can you believe it? They were into gangs and dope dealing and a lot of crooked shit. They were some asshole kids and she was no saint, but she was their mother and she loved them all the same. It wasn’t her fault they were so fucked up. She wasn’t one of those mothers who didn’t give a shit and just let her kids run wild. She did what she could. She tried to raise them right, but in the end, their friends had more influence over them than she did. That’s nothing new. I know that when I was a kid, my few friends had more influence over me than my parents did. Of course, I didn’t wind up joining a gang or getting murdered because of it. I think losing them was what drove her out here. It broke her. How could it not? I miss Martha. I really liked her. She was one of the few people out here who still had a heart. She did her best to hide it, but I could see it. She was nostalgic like me, too. She used to think a lot about her old life. She used to tell me about how she sang in the church choir. She had a beautiful singing voice. Powerful. She used to sing gospel songs sometimes. I wish I could sing like that. I couldn’t carry a tune if it came with handles. She was tough, too. She was a big woman and she could take care of herself. And when she yelled at you? Oh, God! It was like you were eight years old and your mom just caught you playing with matches! She could freeze you with a hard look. I could tell she was a good mother. Her life should’ve turned out better, but it didn’t, and I’ll never know why. She killed herself about three years ago. She jumped off of a freeway overpass, I think. Something like that. She just couldn’t take it anymore. God knows I can relate to that. I hope she’s with her boys in a better place. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose one of your kids; let alone to lose all of them. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their kids. Kids aren’t supposed to be murdered. But I guess they’re not supposed to go crazy and end up on the street and kill themselves, either. A lot of things happen that aren’t supposed to. That’s just how it is.

People out here talk about their kids, but I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone show me a picture of their kid. They never seem to have any, or if they do, they keep them hidden away somewhere. Somewhere safe. They’re not for sharing. I can understand that. I’ll bet looking at pictures of your kid brings out too many emotions. Too many feelings that you’re supposed to keep to yourself. They’re private feelings. Maybe the pictures remind you of how you not only let yourself down; you let down some poor kid who was depending on you? That kid has to go through life knowing what a piece of shit his mother is. Or his father. That kid will see his friends living with parents who love them and he’ll know exactly what he’s missing out on. I think the best thing that can happen to a kid whose parents are out here is that they never know about them. It’s better if they don’t have a clue. If they’re lucky, they grow up far away and their foster parents lie to them so that they never learn the truth. Then maybe they’ll have a nice, normal life. One where they never know that places like this exist.

I’m not even sure I can have kids. It’s not that I’ve gone through menopause or anything. Hell, I’m only thirty-two. But the last several years have been pretty tough, and between living on the street and shooting dope and getting my ass kicked about a million times, I’m not sure I could get pregnant anymore. I’ll bet living on the street sterilizes you, eventually. Out here, you’re exposed to something like ten million toxic chemicals every fucking day. They don’t even have names for them all. It’s amazing we don’t all just drop dead at once. And on top of that, I’ve OD’d a few times and I’ve had some bad reactions to medicines over the years. Between overdoses, bad reactions and ass kickings; I think I’ve puked up about a gallon of blood since I got here. I puked up about half a pint after Ricky wailed on me back there. Women can’t take a pounding the way a man can. Not if they want to have kids. Anyway, if I can’t have kids, then I accept it. It’s for the best. I mean, it won’t matter after tonight, but even if it did, I don’t want kids. People like me shouldn’t have kids. Kids should be kept as far away from me as possible. Jesus, could you imagine me with a kid? I’m a completely fucked-up person, so I’m bound to be a completely fucked-up mother, right? It’s bad enough I have to be like this. It’s bad enough I have to live like this. I’ve got no right to put some poor kid through it. And I’m afraid of passing on my TRD. They say it’s probably hereditary. That would be a fate worse than death. For the kid, I mean. God, imagine me as a mother! How could I tell my kid not to do something when the chances are I’ve done it a thousand times myself? Hey mom, what do you mean, don’t use dope? You were a goddamned junkie! What do you mean, don’t have sex until you’re married? You were the senior class slut! Shit, I’ll bet you don’t even know who my father is! What do you mean, don’t do that because it’s bad for me? Did that ever stop you? What do you know? You’re crazy, remember! You’re a junkie! You’re a thief! You fucked up so bad, you ended up on the street! And now you want to tell me what to do? Fuck that shit! Hey, what could I say? It’s all true. What could I tell them? Do as I say; not as I do? Oh, yeah, that ought to fucking do it! No, I’m definitely not cut out to be a mother. They should’ve tied my fucking tubes at birth. I guess that’s another reason why I stopped having sex. That’s pretty much the one sure way to keep from getting pregnant. Well, that and suicide.


Well, I guess that’s it. The night’s almost over. It’s time for my final act. Exit: stage right! My God, it’s really here! It’s really all over! My whole fucking life led up to this. To this place. To this moment. It’s so…I don’t know to describe it. Overwhelming? Yeah, it’s pretty fucking overwhelming. I can’t describe how it feels. It’s like a million things are all happening at once. I can’t believe it! It’s over! It’s really all over! No more of this shit! I can’t fucking believe it! I’m finished! No more skid row, no more living out on the street, no more dope, no more TRD, no more being scared out of my mind. It’s finally over. You can’t imagine what this is like for me. I feel like I’m going to start laughing. I don’t why. I just do. I can’t believe it! This is it! This is really it! I mean, I’ve got one last thing to do in my life and then that’s it. It’s all fucking over. It’s like being a condemned prisoner or something. He hears the door open and the warden and the guards come in and he knows that this is it. It’s time. It’s all over. All that’s left is the walk down the hall and a few meaningless last words. I think that’s how I feel right now. I’m scared, but I’m not. I know it’s real, but it all seems unreal. I almost feel like I could float. I can’t tell if I’m going to start laughing or crying. Maybe I’ll do both? Why the fuck not?

So all that’s left to do is to get the letter to Carl. Then it’s back to Miranda’s place and the great beyond. I’ll wait until the first sliver of light comes over the horizon. I’ve spent most of my life in the night. I want to end it there. It’s not much further to that liquor store. Jesus, he’d better be there! Him and his fucking couch. I hope to hell they didn’t move the thing or else God knows where the fuck he’ll be! Fortunately, I’ve got Irv as my plan “B” if anything goes to shit. So is there anything else? Come on, think! This is it, Miranda! This is your last chance to do anything for the rest of your life! So what do I want to do? Sing a song? I said I’d like to hear a good song one last time. Of course, I didn’t say I wanted to sing it. I told you I couldn’t carry a tune. No, I know what. I know what I want to do. One last dance. One last solo spin for no reason other than because I like to do it. No cops or psychos or anyone else to make fun of me. Just me, because no one ever asked me to dance and now they never will. Close your eyes. Throw your head back. Stretch out your arms. Spin. Around and around. Spin. Dance. Forget. Forget everything that’s happened and everything that’s going to happen. It doesn’t exist. It never existed. The whole world is just me. Spinning around. I don’t see anything. I don’t hear anything. I’m not here. I never grew up. I never went crazy. I’m eight years old. My parents love me. My brothers love me. God loves me. Life is perfect. It’s a warm summer day. It’s so beautiful. I have the whole world to myself. It’s going to stay like this forever. Dance. Just dance. One last time.


I’m almost there. So that’s it. There’s nothing left but the hand-off. Listen: it’s getting quiet. It’s late. Even for us. The people of the night are starting to turn in. Pretty soon, only the zombies will be left. Zombies like me. These are the hours where everything stops and pretty much all that’s left to do is sit and think. Take it from me, that’s a bad thing. It’s the worst time of the night. It’s the time when you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t lie to yourself or distract yourself from thinking about what a complete piece of shit you are. You can’t help but feel guilty about all of the shit that you’ve done. You can’t escape the realization that this is where you are and you’re never getting out and that once upon a time, you had a normal life. It’s the time when you’ve got the whole world to yourself and you sure as hell don’t want it. They ought to call it Miranda’s hour. That would be fitting. I can’t remember how many nights I’ve spent like this; sitting alone in the dark when it’s so quiet, you can hear a fucking pin drop. Thinking about how everything went to shit and how I wish I’d never been born. I know I’ve said it a million times already, but I thought things would be different tonight. I expected to be with Charlie right now, thinking and talking about old times and listening to him make it sound like there was some grand design and it was all a lot of fun and it served a real purpose. Charlie can find the bright side of damn near anything. Not because he’s some kind of Pollyanna, but because he sees things that nobody else does. He understands things that other people can only dream of understanding. He’s like that one special teacher you have in school if you’re really lucky. He makes it all worthwhile and changes your life. I can’t believe how much I owe him. He did so much for me. I used to like to think that I didn’t owe anybody anything, but now I realize how much I to so many people. I owe Charlie for keeping me going all these years. I owe him for making me hold on to that one, last decent shred of myself. I owe my parents for loving me and being the best parents in the world. I owe my brothers for being there for me and for looking out for me when I was a kid. I owe the people at Social Services for getting me a room when they knew I was never going to get out of here, no matter what they did. I owe Angelo the paramedic for taping up my ankle and giving me this brace. I owe Loomis for actually giving a shit and for not kicking my ass and throwing me in jail when he knew it was me who kicked that cop. I owe Leonard for offering to let me call home. I owe Reverend Ehlers for trying one last time to save my soul. I owe Oscar for being a good guy in a liquor store who always smiled at me. I owe Irv for understanding when he realized that I’m going to kill myself tonight. I owe Walt for giving me the chance to do one last decent thing for a guy who got screwed over in life just like me. And I owe some guy in a roach coach whose name I don’t know for giving me a soda and helping me wash the blood out of my hair when I could barely stand up. God, I owe so many people so much, and I never did a fucking thing for any of them. I let them all down. How am I going to face God knowing that? Hell, I let God down most of all. I’ll bet he had plans for me. He gave me a brain. By that, I mean he gave me an intellect. I could’ve done something with it, but I wasted it. I’ll bet God’s plans didn’t include living on the street and being a junkie and fucking people over. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways. They don’t say he works in psychotic ones. That’s because he doesn’t. See what I did with the life you gave me, Lord? See how I repaid you? They say God forgives all sins. I honestly don’t know if I believe that anymore. How can he forgive me? I don’t deserve it. I sure as hell haven’t earned it. How can I ask God for something I don’t deserve when all I’ve ever done is spit in his face? How can I expect him to do so much for me when I never did a fucking thing for him? My God, it hurts to be ashamed of yourself. This place teaches you that.

Look at them. The people of the night. The people of the street. Remember what I said about zombies? Look how they just stand there, like statues. Look how they sleep on the sidewalk. You can’t tell if they’re alive or dead. Sometimes they can’t, either. Look at the bonfires in the streets. People who barely look human anymore, huddled around fires in the night in the middle of a major city. God, it’s like something out of the Dark Ages! How did we come to this? How did any of us come to this? How is this even possible in this day and age? How can a place like this exist right next door to the Emerald City? We’re living in the richest, most powerful country in the world. How could something like this happen? Why didn’t somebody say stop! Enough! This is wrong! We can’t let this shit happen! Why couldn’t they stop it before it happened to me? Why couldn’t I stop it before it happened to me? Why didn’t I have the strength or the brains or the sense to turn it around before it was too late? Why did I fail? Why did I fall so far? Why did I let myself get sucked into this upside-down world? Is this what was meant to be? Is this the price of failure? Are all of us so worthless that this nightmare world is the only place left for us? How can this be? How can all of this be? How can any of this exist? O, brave new world that has such people in it! How could it all come down to this?

All right, enough! This is stupid! Stop it! I need to stop feeling sorry for myself! I’ve got no right to feel sorry for myself! It’s no one’s fault but mine. I made the decisions. I made the mistakes. I committed the sins. God gave me free will and this is what I did with it. God didn’t make this world. People like me did. Life is what you make of it. If there’s nothing to make of it, then you’re better off dead. This place is what happens when you let the living dead create their own world. A world just as dead as they are. It’s high time I took responsibility for myself. I had my chance. I had my chance and I blew it, and that’s nobody’s fault but mine. I blew it and now it’s over. Period. End of story. It’s time to go home. The final home. It’s time to look God in the eye and accept whatever I’ve got coming to me. There’s no sense putting it off any longer. When I get up there, I’ll get down on my knees and say I’m sorry because I really am. At least that much is true. That’s important. I’m not unrepentant. I really am sorry. I just hope that being sorry is enough, because it’s all I’ve got left. I want to believe God’s promises, but sometimes I’m afraid that I don’t have it in me. I’ve seen too many times where the answer was no. I just wish my faith was stronger. I wish I was sure. I wish I had no doubt that God is real and that he loves me and he’ll forgive me for all of the fucked-up things I’ve done. I try to believe. I pray for faith. It’s just hard when you’ve seen what I’ve seen. It’s hard when you’ve been disappointed so many times. Why did it have to be like that? Why couldn’t I at least hang on to my faith? Please, God. If you’re really there, please forgive me and let me rest in peace and maybe you could even explain it all to me. Of course, I’d settle for the first two. What is it they say? Two out of three ain’t bad? I’ll settle for that.


I’d better get a move on. It’s definitely going to start raining, and those clouds look like they’ve got a lot of rain in them. No drizzle tonight. No, it’s going to come down in a downpour. I need to get back to Miranda’s Place before that happens. I said at the beginning of the night that I hoped it wouldn’t rain. That hasn’t changed. I hate the rain. I pretty much always have, but once you’ve lived on the street, you learn to hate it like you wouldn’t believe. Don’t give me any bullshit about how the earth needs it. When you live on the street, rain brings a special kind of misery. It also kills. I can’t begin to count the number of people I’ve seen die of pneumonia out here, and it’s usually because they got caught in a storm and couldn’t find a dry place to crash. Fuck the rain. If there were any justice left in the world, every skid row on earth would be in the middle of the fucking desert. At least that way, we’d stay dry. Hell, maybe we wouldn’t have to freeze to death, either?

I think my eye’s starting to swell shut. It hurts like a fucking bitch, and it’s getting hard to blink. It feels like my eyelid is scraping against something rough every time I blink. It’s infuriating, but you learn to get used to shit like that when you live out here. And my fucking ankle feels like it’s on fire! It doesn’t just hurt; it fucking burns! That’s what I get for trekking to and fro all night on it. God, I’m a complete wreck! Then again, I guess I should be grateful: after a beating like that, I should probably be in a fucking coma. That would be something, wouldn’t it? I’d wake up in an alley in a few days, filthy, crawling with lice, and probably more brain-damaged than ever. Oh, and I’d probably wake up with my clothes missing and some piece of shit’s sperm leaking out of my vagina. And my mouth, and my asshole, and who knows what else? A comatose woman out here might just as well have a sign on her back that reads “free fuck!” Thank God that didn’t happen! And thank God that in a little while, I’ll never have to worry about anything like that again. It’s almost over. Just one more thing to do, and then I can finish it. I can finally finish it. Forever.

Just keep moving. Don’t think about the pain. Forget about the pain. I can do this. It’s just a few more blocks. You know, it’s amazing how well I know the layout of this sector. It’s a miracle I don’t get lost more often. All my life, I’ve gone around barely aware of what I’m doing. My mind wanders like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve always been that way. I get so sucked up into whatever I’m thinking about that I completely zone out from the real world. It’s a lot like sleepwalking. It’s a dangerous thing. I used to do it all the time when I was a kid. I’d be riding my bike and all of a sudden I’d become aware of my surroundings and I’d have no memory of how I got there. I wouldn’t know how long I’d been switched off, so to speak. Sometimes I’d even crash into a tree or a bunch of bushes. I got pretty banged up once. And I didn’t stop doing it when I learned how to drive. Talk about dangerous! I can’t tell you how many times I zoned out while driving somewhere. I’d suddenly come back to reality and it was a fucking miracle I didn’t crash while I was out of it. It freaked the shit out of me. I don’t know how the fuck I was able to function like that. Maybe I can be conscious and unconscious at the same time? Is that even possible? There’s certainly nothing good about it. Living a big chunk of your life on autopilot is thoroughly fucked up. I hate it. I always have. But there’s nothing I can do about it. Sometimes it freaks me out because I’ll have absolutely no memory of what the fuck I did while I was on autopilot. Sometimes I wondered if I’d killed someone during those periods. It’s a weird way to live, let me tell you. Sometimes I wonder about how much I missed during those times when I zoned out. Then again, it probably wasn’t worth remembering.

OK, trying to forget about the pain isn’t working too well. I need to stop. I need to take my weight off of this fucking ankle for a minute. Just for a minute. Just rest for a minute. Fuck! Now my eye feels like it’s on fucking fire! Yeah, if I lived until morning, it would definitely be swollen completely shut. I probably wouldn’t be able to see a goddamned thing out of it for at least three or four days. And now that I’m back on the street full-time, there’s a better than average chance that it would get infected. Shit, I might even lose it! I think I mentioned how terrified I’ve always been about going blind. Well, being blind in one eye would be at least half as terrifying, and then I’d be scared shitless all the time about losing the other eye. We’ve got a few cyclopses out here. That’s the general term out here for someone with one eye. We’re not what you’d call politically correct about people with disabilities. Most of them lost an eye in a fight, but I know one or two who got injured somehow and didn’t get proper treatment and the resulting infection caused them to lose the eye. Either way, it puts them at a real disadvantage. If you ever wondered where the term “blindsided” came from, well, there you go. If you can’t see an attacker coming from one side, then you can bet your fucking ass that’s exactly where he’ll be coming from when he comes to stick a knife in your gut. I’ll pass, thank you very much. If it were up to me, I’d have grown a second pair of eyes in the back of my head the minute I wound up out here. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be out here with only one eye. Like I said, I’ve seen what happens to the people who do.

Time for another cigarette. I might as well finish the pack before I croak, right? You know what? These cigarettes are really fucking good! It’s a wonder I ever stopped smoking. Oh, I know: cigarettes are bad for you. Hey, every fucking thing I’ve done in the last six and a half years has been bad for me! These things are the least of my worries. Besides, I’m going to be dead soon. They can’t hurt me now. No one ever wound up choking to death from emphysema from a single pack of cigarettes. I’ve got to tell you, imminent death is a very liberating thing. You don’t have to worry about anything anymore. Well, at least not in this life. You still have to worry about the next life. You have to worry about going to hell. It never ceases to amaze me just how many people don’t give hell a second thought. Some of them actually look forward to it. Now that really throws me! I never understood how so many people could think that going to hell is a good thing. They talk about it like it’s going to be one big party. Why would anyone think that? I’ve read a lot of descriptions of hell and none of them sounded like a party. I remember reading one by James Joyce. I think it was in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I’m not really sure right now. My brain isn’t working too well tonight. Impending death and a severe beating will do that to you. Anyway, it scared the living shit out of me; just like everything else. He said it was pitch fucking dark in there. You can’t see anything – ever. You can’t move an inch because of all the people jammed in there. Worms eat your eyes. The filth and the stench are supposed to be beyond description. And you’re on fire for eternity. I told you how I was always afraid of burning to death. I’m more afraid of burning alive for all time. How the fuck does someone think that’ll be a party? What the fuck makes them think the devil’s going to be good to them? Do they really think he’s the hero Milton described in Paradise Lost? How can they think that? I guess they don’t think about it at all. That must be it. They’re just not thinking. Lucky bastards. I wish I could stop thinking. Thinking too much has always been one of my great curses.

All right, let’s get moving again. If I start screaming from the pain, try to pay it no mind. We can cut through that lot over there and get to Carl’s couch a lot faster. I just need to scope the place out first. I don’t want any more surprises. I’ve had enough of them tonight for ten fucking lifetimes!

Wait a minute! We’ve got company! There’s someone over there. At this hour? In this sector? I thought only zombies were out and about around here. Holy shit! I don’t fucking believe it! Would you look at that! Over there, by the corner! Do you see her? That girl sitting on the wall? The blonde with the fucking suitcase! Christ! Tonight of all nights! I said I wished that God would send me a sign. Is this it? Christ, she’s me! She’s fucking me! Look at her! See her clothes? See how she looks completely normal? There’s only one possible explanation: she’s a new arrival. She must have just gotten here. I’m talking about tonight! She’s fresh off of the fucking bus! Christ, this could be her first night on the street! I don’t believe it! It’s like looking at a fucking mirror all those years ago! What did I say earlier? The one thing I couldn’t stand seeing is some girl who just ended up on the street? And there she is! Talk about rubbing salt in the wound! I can’t fucking believe it! I guess it’s true what they say: one life ends; another one begins. No, that’s wrong. Not a life. A nightmare. One nightmare ends; another one begins. It never fucking fails. As long as there are people, there are going to be nightmares. It’s just a question of who’s nightmare will it be? This time, it’s going to be hers. Hey, God? What the fuck is this? Are you showing me my fucking replacement? Is that what she is? Is she here to take my place? What? Does this place always need a woman to fuck with? I’m about to cash in, so another woman has to take my fucking place? Is that it? Is she going to go through all of the shit that I went through? Is she going to be standing here in a few years; totally broken and counting down the hours until she fucking kills herself? And when she does, will another woman take her place? Is that part of the grand design?

What the hell should I do? Should I run away? Should I talk to her? Should I welcome her to hell? Should I tell her what’s in store for her? Should I tell her she’s better off dead? That she ought to kill herself right now before she ever knows a fucking thing about this miserable fucking place? I’d be doing her a favor, that’s for sure. Hell, I’d be doing her a favor if I walked up and killed her! Just slit her fucking throat! Maybe I should just go? Don’t say anything to her. That’s probably the best idea. Maybe I’ve got no place telling her anything? Maybe she’s supposed to find out the hard way, just like I did? If this is her fate, then who am I to interfere? I mean, she’s certainly better off not knowing about me. What would I say to her, anyway? “Hi, my name is Miranda. I’m going to kill myself in a little bit. Thanks for taking my place. Boy, are you ever fucked!” Would you want someone to do that to you? I don’t believe this! I should just go. I should just keep walking. Don’t say a fucking word. There’s nothing I can do. She’s another failure. Another castoff. Another victim. Another one of the living dead. At least, she will be. She will be soon. Sooner than she thinks.

I can’t do it! I fucking can’t do it! I know what’s waiting for her! I know what she’s going through! I know what she’s about to go through! Shit, I know exactly what she’s thinking right now. You never forget the day you get here. She’s scared. Scared? She’s fucking terrified out of her mind! She wants to scream. She wants to run away, but she’s got nowhere to go. She’s telling herself there’s still a way out. She’s telling herself that somehow, she’ll get out of here in a couple of days and all of this shit will be nothing more than a bad memory. Yeah, right! She doesn’t have a fucking clue! She has no idea what’s waiting for her. Christ, just look at her! Blonde. Young. She’s not bad looking. She looks about, what? Twenty-two? Maybe less? Christ, she’s still a kid! These fucking animals are going to eat her alive! Oh, who am I kidding? They’ll do a lot worse to her before they eat her. What can she do? It’s late. There’s nowhere to go. There aren’t any old-timers around who might take pity on her. There’s no one to keep the fucking wolves at bay. She’s pretty much a sitting duck, and that’s being charitable. She’s a goddamned gang rape waiting to happen. She won’t have to wait long. Not in this place. After that – assuming she survives it – she’ll be a walking zombie and it’ll be one rape after another for the rest of her life. I doubt she knows how to defend herself. Not unless she brought a machine gun. I don’t think she weighs much over a hundred pounds. Christ, she’ll be sucking dicks for a five-dollar rock in no time. Maybe she already is? Oh, that’s it! I’ve got to do something! I don’t know what, but I’ve got to do something. I can’t stick around to show her the ropes. I can’t be her Charlie. So what can I do? Whatever it is, it has to be fast. I’m almost out of time. What can I do in ten minutes besides slit her fucking throat and spare her a lot of misery? I guess I can warn her. That’s all I can do. I can warn her. Maybe that’ll be enough? Maybe it’ll do more harm than good? I don’t know. I know I can’t just leave her to the wolves. I can’t save her, but I can warn her. Maybe it’ll give her a fighting chance? God, I hope so.

“Hey, there.”

Jesus, did you see the way she nearly jumped out of her skin? Oh, yeah! She’s a new arrival, all right! Fresh off of the fucking bus. It’s like looking in a mirror six and a half years ago, right down to that stupid fucking suitcase.

“Don’t worry. It’s OK. I’m not going to hurt you. I just said hey.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just…I’m kind of…”

“You don’t have to explain. Are you new?”

“Huh?”

She’s dazed. She can’t even think straight. This is going to be some little trip down memory lane.

“I said, are you new? Did you just get here? Is this your first night on the street?”

“Uh, yeah. How’d you know?”

“You look like it. After a while, you get a sense for these things.”

“I was at the bus station. I thought maybe I could stay there, but…”

“But they chased you out. The security guards? Yeah, I know. Been there; done that. So, do you know where you are?”

“Not really. I just kind of wandered over here. I saw some people and I thought…”

“Yeah, I know what you thought. Stop thinking it. You’re not in a good place. I can tell you that much.”

“Yeah, I figured that out already. This place scares the hell out of me.”

“Good. It’s supposed to.”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

You and me both, sweetheart! You and me both!

“Don’t feel bad. There’s a lot of that going around. What’s your name?”

“Helen.”

“Helen, I’m Miranda. Welcome to hell.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s kind of the standard greeting for new arrivals. Skid row; hell; a rose by any other name. So are you from around here?”

“Around here?”

“Are you from this city?”

“No, I ain’t from around here.”

She’s got a slight Southern accent. At least, I think it’s a Southern accent. Whatever it is, she’s definitely not from around here. She’s the proverbial fish out of water.

“So what brought you here?”

“Here?”

“To this city?”

“Oh, my boyfriend.”

Ah, yes! The old story! You’d be amazed how many women out here took their first step toward this fucking place because of a boyfriend. It’s enough to make you want to be a fucking dyke.

“Let me guess: he came out here and you followed him?”

“Uh-huh.”

“And it didn’t work out, huh?”

“Hell, no.”

Does it ever? Jesus fucking Christ! What is it with us? Women, I mean. Why do we just drop everything and follow guys to the ends of the earth and think it’s all going to work out? Why are we so fucking stupid about that shit?

“So where’s this boyfriend of yours?”

“He ain’t here.”

“I can see that. Where is he?”

“He got locked up.”

And the hits just keep on coming! Believe it or not, I’ve heard this exact same story at least a dozen times since I wound up out here.

“What did they get him for?”

“They say he…he was in a car and…”

“GTA?”

“What’s that?”

“Grand theft auto. He ripped off a car?”

“I don’t…I don’t know. They said he did, but…”

“Uh-huh. So is he getting out any time soon?”

“I don’t know. I don’t…I don’t think so. He’s been in trouble before.”

Yeah, haven’t they all? What is it with guys? Are they genetically programmed to go to fucking jail or something? Sometimes, I really think they are. Fucking stupid!

“For the same shit?”

“Yeah. I don’t know what it is with him and cars. He’s…always been like that.”

“So he’s a repeat offender? You know they give you a shitload of time for that, right? He’s probably not going to be released, and I take it you don’t have enough for his bail. Helen, he’s not coming back any time soon.”

That probably wasn’t what she wanted to hear. When the asshole gets out, he’ll probably end up right here. Somehow, I don’t think there’s going to be a romantic reunion.

“All right. So what’s your story, Helen? How’d you end up on the street?”

“Huh? Oh, well…after my…after my boyfriend got locked up, I couldn’t keep the apartment. You know, I didn’t have no job or nothing.”

“So they just tossed you out?”

“They sure did. This here’s all I got.”

One suitcase. God, is that how it starts for everyone out here? Or is it just the women? Or maybe just the really stupid women like Helen and me?

“I know the feeling. Hey, do you want a cigarette?”

“Yeah! Please!”

“Here you go.”

Damn! She’s shaking like a fucking leaf! From fear? She must really need a cigarette. Then again…

“You’re a lifesaver, lady! I ain’t had a smoke since this morning!”

Oh, shit! I didn’t see it before, but now I do. Look at her face. Look at the way she holds her arms. See how she’s squeezing them together? And the shaking? Oh, just fucking great! Now I know why she’s down here! She’s a goddamned junkie! God, she really is me!

“You don’t look good, Helen. Are you sick?”

“No, I’m OK.”

“I don’t mean that kind of sick. Are you sick? When’s the last time you got down?”

Look at her face. She’s thunderstruck. I guess she thought she was fooling everyone. Yeah, I guess we all do. Until we come to our senses, at least.

“How’d you know?”

“Birds of a feather.”

“Huh?”

I can see my witticisms are wasted on her. It’s too bad I can’t tell Charlie about this kid. She needs to read some books fast!

“It means I’m a junkie, too.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid so. So when’s the last time you got down?”

“Yesterday.”

“And you’re starting to get sick, right?”

“A little.”

Well, if she’s already a junkie, then she’s got one foot in the door. Who knows? It might actually make adjusting to this place easier for her. Yeah, until she gets eaten alive!

“You look a little young, Helen. So how’d you get hooked already?”

“Oh, my boyfriend.”

Jesus, did I even have to ask? Ladies, let this be one of those teachable moments: if the guy you’re with tells you it’s a good idea to start shooting dope, fucking dump his ass!

“The one who’s in jail?”

“Uh-huh.”

“He got you hooked?”

“Kind of. You know, he was doing it for a long time. He said if I really loved him, well, you know.”

Ah, yes! True love, sealed with a needle! There’s a fucking storybook romance for you!

“Yeah, I know. Sounds to me like he’s not much of a boyfriend.”

“No, he ain’t bad. Really. He’s just a little…well…”

I swear, love is blind, deaf, stupid and fucked in the head sometimes!

“You know he’s an asshole, right?”

“No! No, he ain’t! Really! He’s just...”

“Helen, look around you. Look where you are. He got you hooked and dragged you out here. Now you’re out on the goddamned street by yourself. That doesn’t sound like someone who gives a shit about you.”

“It wasn’t his fault.”

“Maybe not, but he sounds like a fucking asshole all the same. You’re better off without him.”

“You call this being better off?”

She’s got a point. She obviously liked the guy. Hell, she probably loved him. If he kept a roof over her head, maybe she was better off with him? No, she wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. He really fucked her over. He got her hooked. He wanted that control over her. He brought her out here so that she’d be totally dependent on him. Then he fucked up and got himself busted. She’s lucky she wasn’t in that car with him. Now she’s here. If you ask me, this shit was inevitable from the minute she hooked up with that fucking loser.

“So do you know what you’re going to do?”

“No.”

“Do you know anyone in this town?”

“No. I ain’t never really got to meet no one. We weren’t here too long.”

“There’s no one you can stay with?”

“If there was, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Touché.”

“What?”

“It means, I get it. So basically, you’re fucked.”

“I guess so. Hey, can I…can I stay with you?”

“I don’t have a place. I’m on the street.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was kind of hoping…I don’t know what to do!”

Oh, God! Is she is ever fucked! What the hell am I supposed to do? I’m beginning to think talking to her was a really bad idea. What did I think I was going to do for her? I’m a walking dead woman! Christ! It’s like the blind leading the blind! And where the hell am I going to lead her?

“What about back home? Do you have any family back there?”

“Sort of, but...”

Yeah, I know what that means. I’ve been talking about it all night long. She’s on the outs with her family. Maybe because of the boyfriend; maybe because she’s a junkie? I’m guessing her situation’s a lot worse than mine. You get a sense for that out here at night. Unlike me, she knows for sure that she’s been blackballed. Whatever the reason, they won’t take her back. You run into a lot of that on skid row.

“Are you still close to anyone back there?”

“Not really. Well, just my sister.”

“She won’t help you out?”

“She can’t.”

“Why not?”

“She’s got a baby. Things ain’t real good for her. She’s barely getting by as it is.”

“And there’s no one else?”

“Afraid not. I’ve been on my own pretty much since I was about sixteen.”

So basically, she’s massively fucked. She’s got no options. Not one. So what am I supposed to do? Should I tell her that her life is over and invite her to join me on the rooftop later? Should I lie to her? Should I tell her everything’s going to be fine and tomorrow is another day and all of that Pollyanna bullshit? Fuck, no! I’m not going to do that to someone right before I die. No fucking way. But I’ve got to do something, right? But what? What the fuck do I do? I’m not Charlie. I can’t save a lost sheep. Christ, she looks so young!

“How old are you? Twenty-one? Twenty-two?”

“Oh, hardly! I’m nineteen.”

Jesus Christ! Nineteen? And she’s already fucking homeless in the Emerald City? Talk about being born under an evil star!

“I’ll be twenty in a couple of…”

“You’re out here in the middle of the fucking night and you’re not even twenty?”

“It ain’t no big deal. Like I said, I’ve been on my own since I was sixteen. That’s when my mom threw me out.”

Great! Just fucking great! Cute, blonde, and not even twenty! Some fucking asshole’s going to have her turning tricks within a week! The next thing you know, they’ll have her dressed up like a schoolgirl, doing barely legal porn! Yeah, we get assholes combing the missions and the runaway shelters looking for young girls for that shit. They’ll find her. They always find them. Yeah, she’d do. With the right look, she could pass for sixteen. The southern accent’s a plus for those fucking vultures. Plenty of guys would get their rocks off watching this kid grind. Oh, God! I don’t even what to think about what they’ll do to her! Fucking sick motherfuckers! God damn it! I don’t need this fucking shit! Not now! Not tonight! It’s not my problem! It’s none of my fucking business! Oh, who am I kidding? I know exactly what’s going to happen if I just leave her here! Fuck! Fuck! Oh, to hell with it! I’m not going to die with this shit on my conscience. But I’ve got to make this fast. Real fast!

“Grab your bag and come with me.”

“Where are we going?”

“Someplace safe. Well, it’s as safe as anyplace you’re going to find out here. But we’ve got to hurry. Come on!”

I can’t fucking believe I’m doing this! I’m interrupting my fucking suicide to help Little Bo Peep! God, if this doesn’t prove that I’m completely out of my fucking mind, then I don’t know what will!

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