Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Forty

Jesus, Miranda! What the fuck is the matter with you? Stop screaming! Everybody will hear you! What do I do? I don’t know what to do! I have to…I can’t! I can’t just leave him here! Not here! Not like this! Not in this fucking alley! I can’t leave him here like a piece of fucking garbage! Please, God! Don’t make me do this! Don’t make me leave him like this! Not like this! It’s not fair! It’s not fair! He doesn’t deserve this! Please don’t make me do this!

“I’m sorry, Charlie! I can’t…I can’t take you with me! I can’t! I’m not strong enough! I have to leave you. I have to leave you here. I’m so sorry! Please forgive me! I can’t carry you! I can’t!”

God damn it! Stop crying! Pull your ass together! Charlie would smack me in the mouth if he saw me coming apart like this! I have to go! I have to finish it! Charlie’s dead! He’s gone! And if he’s gone, then I don’t want to live another goddamned second on this fucking earth!

“I have to go, Charlie. I have to finish it. I don’t want to leave you. But you’re not here anymore. You’re up there. And I’m right behind you. I swear, I’m right behind you! Just hold on for a few more minutes, OK? I’ll be right there. I’ll be right there!”

What’s that? I hear something. It’s a car! Out in front of the alley gate! I know that sound. The engine. The high idle speed. Charlie taught me to listen for it. It’s a cop car! Only they sound like that. Someone found the body. Cole’s body. That must be it. They found the body and called the cops. I have to go. I have to go, Charlie. I have to go before they find me. I’m sorry. I have to leave. I have to leave you. But I’ll be there soon. I’ll be there before you know it. You just wait for me. You just wait for me a few minutes. Just a few minutes longer. I’ll be right there. I’ll be right there and then we’ll have lots of time. We’ll have all of the time in the world. All of the time in the universe. I promise. You wait there, Charlie. You wait there for me. I’m coming. I’m coming. I’ll be right behind you. I swear!

“Goodbye, Charlie. You rest in peace, you hear? It’s over. For both of us. It’s finally over. God, I can’t stand leaving you like this. It’s not fair. It’s not fair! God, he deserves better than this! How could you do this to him? He deserves better than this! What the fuck is the matter with you? Is this your idea of fucking mercy? Is it?”

Nice going, Miranda! Scream your fucking head off with the cops out front! Let them all know you’re here! Stupid! I’m sorry, Charlie. I know you always said it doesn’t matter what happens to your body after you die, but I just can’t stand to see you lying there. Lying there like all of the other dead bodies I’ve seen. But don’t worry. They’ll find you. They’ll take care of you. It won’t be much, but they’ll take care of you. I’m sorry you won’t get a funeral. I don’t know if I’ll get one, either. But you’re right: it doesn’t matter. I understand that, now. We’ll see each other real soon. Real soon. I’ll be right there, Charlie. You just wait a few minutes. I’ll be there before you know it. I’ll be right there with you. I’ve just got one more thing left to do. Goodbye, Charlie. I love you. Thanks for everything. For everything. I owe you. And I’m coming. I’m right behind you.

God, I can’t even think straight! Stop crying! I’m not out of this yet. I’ve got to focus. OK, I need to think. What now? I’ve got to stay off of the street. The cops are out front, by the gate. They haven’t gone in, yet. Even they can’t just drive into Ambush Alley. They’ve got to crawl through the same opening that I did. Either that, or wait a few hours for the guys in the main building over there to unlock the gate. They can’t do that. They can’t wait that long. And it’s starting to rain harder, now. That should distract them. They won’t want to come out of their cars until they have to. They’re waiting for the others. The other cops. More are probably on their way right now. Think! How do I get out of here? One block over is pretty dark. Most of the streetlights don’t work. We broke half of them and the cops shot out the other half. Good! I can get out that way. Oh, God! Charlie! Shit! Stay focused, Miranda! It’s almost over! Don’t fuck it up now! Stop crying! Stop thinking about Charlie! Don’t look back! Don’t look at him like that! He’s gone! That’s not him back there! Not anymore. That’s just a corpse. Just like the one you saw back in that wrecked building. Just like the hundreds of others you’ve seen. It’s not Charlie anymore. Charlie’s in heaven. He’s OK. You’ll see him in a few minutes. You’ll be together again. Just don’t fuck it up now! Stop crying!

That’s better. God, I can barely stand! Every bit of me hurts like shit! Don’t think about it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I need to get out of here, and I can’t let them see me. Not with two dead bodies around here, and not with me still covered in blood. So I need to avoid the cops. I know how to do that. Charlie taught me how. Stay in the alley on this side of the street, slide between the buildings on the end and wait until the street’s clear. Stay sharp. Don’t just look. Listen. They’re coming. The other cops. They’re on their way. Pay attention, Miranda. Don’t fuck it up now. You’ll hear them coming. One good thing about a murder: the fucking cops make a ton of noise when they show up at the scene. It’s a big fucking deal. They want to get there fast. They peel around corners like maniacs and put down twenty feet of four-wheel lock-skid when they stop in front of the crime scene. And there are the first ones! Yeah, coming to a screeching halt right by the gate! Real stealthy, guys. Good. They won’t be able to sneak up on me. They’ll never see me when they’re hauling ass like that. Once I’m across the street, I can get behind that row of buildings and take the alleys back to Miranda’s Place. They won’t look for me over there. Nobody in their right mind would run from a murder down that way. Not unless there was someplace down that way that they had to be at before sunrise, like me.

I can barely walk! Just don’t think about it. Keep moving. Keep moving, damn it! Lean against the wall if you have to, but keep moving! I can see the cops by the gate. They’re lighting it up with their flashlights. Yeah, they know what’s in there. They probably can’t see Cole’s body from there, but they know. I can tell by the way they’re acting. Hey, as long as they keep focusing on Ambush Alley, they won’t be looking over here. Just keep moving. Don’t stop for anything. It’s like Charlie always said: if you’re going to be a target, then be a moving target. They’re a hell of a lot harder to hit. Jesus, here come the rest of the cop cars! Christ, you’d think they sent every fucking cop in the downtown area! That’s a murder for you. It doesn’t matter how close the cops are to the end of their shift; a murder gets them all out in a hurry. Just keep going. I’m almost out of here. There’s the end of the alley. They won’t look over here. Not yet, at least. I don’t want to be anywhere near here when they start searching the area. They might set up one of their perimeters and lock this place down. If they do and I’m still in here, then I’m royally fucked. There’s no way I could sneak out in this condition. I can’t let them catch me. Keep moving!

I wonder how long it’ll take them to find Charlie? Not very long, I think. They may not even put it together. A dead junkie in an alley? No wounds? And the rain might wash away the bloodstains he got from me holding him. They might just chalk it up to an OD or a natural. They might not even look for the knife. Cops can be pretty dumb sometimes. So fucking what? So what if they don’t find it? So what if they don’t hang this shit on Charlie? Good! He doesn’t deserve it. He deserves better. He deserves the best. They should build a fucking statue of him fifty stories tall so that everybody in the world knows who he was. They should write stories about him and tell their kids about him and hope like hell they grow up to be half the man he was. I feel sorry for everyone who never had the chance to meet him. Everyone who never had a chance to know him. They’ll never know what they missed. But I know what they missed. Christ! I’ve spent the whole fucking night feeling sorry for myself when I’m probably the luckiest goddamned woman on earth! I knew Charlie. He was my father. He was my father and my teacher and my best friend and he saved me from a fate worse than death and I was there for him when he died. What more could anyone ask for in one fucking lifetime?

Yes! I made it! Half a dozen cops and they didn’t even look back this way! Stupid motherfuckers! I burned you again! You’re not going to catch me! You’re not going to keep me from doing this! I’ve got this shit! This block is pitch fucking dark. I can disappear in the shadows if they start searching. They’ll never find me. It’s a straight shot home. Home. A fucking parking garage at the far end of skid row where I’m going to kill myself. That’s my home. That’s what home means to me anymore. Yeah, that pretty much sums up my entire fucking life out here. Charlie was right. He once told me it’s all just a fucking game. The last move doesn’t matter and the next one hasn’t happened yet, so all that really matters is this one single moment. The moment between your last move and your next one. No one on skid row gives a shit about the future, and we’re all trying to forget the past. All there is for us is this one fucking moment right now. It’s all just a fucking game. What else could it be? It doesn’t mean a damned thing. And when it’s over, they just set up the pieces and start a new one. Two pieces will disappear tonight, and two more will take our places. We won’t know them and they won’t know us, but the game goes on. What happened in the last one doesn’t count for shit. Just like us. We don’t count for shit. Nobody gives a rat’s ass if we live or die. Why should they? We’re a bunch of fucking parasites who live in a dead part of the city that the whole goddamned world wrote off a long time ago. They swept us all up and dumped us in this great big garbage can and never gave us a second thought. What else do you do with trash? Even the living trash? And besides, we’re all losers. What’s a game without losers? I don’t know who we’re playing against. It must be somebody. Somebody must be winning, right? Then again, maybe not? Maybe this is a game that nobody wins? Or maybe you only win when you cash in? Does that mean that Charlie and I won? I don’t know. I guess I’m about to find out. He already knows.

The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to live if Charlie’s gone. I wouldn’t last a day out here without him, and I wouldn’t want to. He was the only truly good thing out here. The only truly good person. The only truly great person. That’s what he was: great. A great man. And wherever he is, that’s where I want to be. That’s where I’m going to be. I’ll follow him into hell if I have to. Hang on, Charlie. I’m coming. I’m almost there. Almost home. God, it’s almost over! Just a few more minutes. I can’t believe it. It’s finally, really over! My whole fucking life’s going to be over in a few minutes. I can’t even begin to describe it. I feel like I’m going to start laughing my ass off! I just wish I didn’t hurt so much. God, it hurts! I’ve never hurt this much in my life! Maybe this is God’s way of making sure I suffer a little before I go? You know, I’ll be dead in less than a second when I hit the pavement, so he wants me to know what it would’ve felt like. Gee, thanks! Oh, who am I kidding? I deserve it. I deserve a lot worse. Keep going, Miranda. Just keep moving. No matter how much it hurts, just keep moving.

Well, I guess I’m in the clear. No cops around. The fucking helicopters are down for the night by now, so I don’t have to worry about them. Besides, it’s raining harder, now. Not too hard, but hard enough. They don’t usually fly in the rain. So now it’s a straight shot to Miranda’s Place. God, I don’t know if I’m going to make it! It hurts so much! I’ve never been in this much pain before. Believe me, that’s saying something! Living out here taught me more about pain than anyone should ever know. I feel like my legs are going to pop out of their joints. Hell, I’m not even sure they’re still in their joints! My back hurts like shit. I think I wrenched it. My neck’s fucking killing me. I feel like someone tried to twist my head off and damn near succeeded. My eye’s swelling shut and I think maybe I’ve got some broken ribs. If Ricky didn’t break them, then Cole probably did. It’s getting hard to breathe. Broken ribs will do that to you. That and a panic attack. God, I hope I’m not about to have one of those! No, it doesn’t feel like that. Lucky me. I’m so tired. I just want to lie down and go to sleep. But I can’t. I’m out of time. It’s almost sunrise. I’ve got to keep going. I’ve got to finish this before then. It’s not much farther. A couple of more blocks. It’s not too far.

God, it’s so quiet! What happened? Where is everybody? It’s not usually this empty over here. It’s like the whole city vanished or something. It’s surreal. It’s like another world. This is what I was telling you about. This is the time when your mind just breaks its bonds. This is when reality goes out the window. There are no rules here. Not now. Time and reality cease to exist. Even God stops watching. When it’s like this; anything’s possible. Everything you thought you knew no longer applies. This is how it seduces you. This is how it draws you in. It’s like I told you before: the first time you experience it, you know there’s nowhere else for you. You know you’re a part of it. It’s in your fucking blood. It’s in your soul. It becomes you. You become it. Take a good look around. This is what I’ve been talking about tonight. This is what made me. It’s also what destroyed me. This is what I was looking for tonight. Exactly this. This moment. This feeling. This strangeness. I wanted to make some sense out of it, but now I understand: there is no sense in it. It’s beyond sense. It’s beyond reason. All you can do is accept it. Become a part of it. And once you do, there’s no turning back. There’s only one way out. One fucking permanent way out. Abandon all hope, motherfucker. You got that right, Dante.

I think I’m really going to miss this time of night. I mean, how many people get to say they’ve had the whole world to themselves? That’s what it’s like right now. This is what I was trying to tell you about. This is when it all vanishes except you and the empty city and the night. This is when it owns you. It’s like the night wraps its arms around you. You can feel it. It takes you in. It tells you that you belong. And you know that it’s true. You don’t belong anywhere else. You never did. You never will. You were made for this shit. The whole world disappears and it’s just you and a dead city and the pitch black night. God, it’s beautiful! It’s evil and it’s scary and it’s all wrong and it’s perfect. It’s complete. It’s like there’s no division between where you end and it begins. There’s just you and the dead city and the night and nobody else wants any of it. Nobody wants you. Nobody wants this ruined part of the city. And nobody wants the night. Nobody but me. But it doesn’t last. It’s only a moment. Only a moment and then it fades. The sun comes up and it all disappears. It disappears and this time, I’ll disappear with it. All of this will be gone soon. The sun will come up and it’ll all be gone and no one will ever know it was here. Nobody will know about this moment. This night. Nobody but us. Nobody but you and me. And when it comes back tomorrow, I won’t be here. You won’t be here. We all come and go, but the city stays. The night returns. But not me. Not anymore. I’ll disappear just like all of this, but I won’t come back. Not this time. I won’t even leave an echo. Before you know it, no one will know I was ever here. That’s how it is. That’s how it’s always been out here. That’s how it has to be.

And this time, it’s different. It’s different because Charlie’s gone. He’s dead. He’s not coming back, either. I can feel his absence. It’s like something fundamental is missing. Something primal. Something necessary. There’s a new emptiness out here. I don’t know if anyone will feel it the way I do. A lot of people are going to miss Charlie. They’ll know he’s gone soon enough. Word of his death will spread like wildfire. Charlie’s an institution out here. He’s a legend. And now all that’s left is the legend. People will tell stories about him. Well, they’ll tell them until the people who were lucky enough to know him are gone. Then he’ll be completely gone. The only thing left of him will be the sayings he contributed to the Prophet’s Wall, and since he never signed them – none of us do – no one will know who he was. They’ll read his words and be blown away by his wisdom and his insight, but they won’t know who he was. I think that’s a crime, but Charlie always said that’s the way it’s supposed to be. He said wisdom and knowledge don’t belong to anyone. They belong to everyone. He said you shouldn’t get credit for saying what everyone should already know. Sometimes I think Charlie was the closest thing to a truly selfless person since Jesus. And now he’s gone. And if he’s gone, then I don’t want to spend another fucking minute on this earth.

Fuck! Here comes the rain! It’s starting to really come down, now. So much for my little moment. I prayed to God it wouldn’t rain tonight and here it is. It figures. Well, at least it’s not too bad. Not yet. Maybe I can finish this before it starts coming down hard? It’s just a little further. I can see Miranda’s Place from here. See the lights in the distance? Just east of here? That’s it. They stay on until about half past six. Just keep walking, Miranda. Don’t stop. God, it hurts! It hurts so much! Forget it! Don’t think about the pain! Just block it out. I can do it. I’ve done it before. Lots of times. So much pain. So many nights where I ached so much, I thought I was going to die. But I didn’t. I never did. It’s like God decided that people could hurt me, but never kill me. I have to do that for myself. Keep going. Just a little further and I’m home. Home free. I can do it. I’ve got just enough left in me to do it. That’s all I need: just enough. Just enough is good enough. Oh, God! It hurts so much! I can’t stand it! But I can’t stop! I’m out of time! I’ve got to get there! Keep going! Don’t stop! Breathe! Just try to breathe! I won’t stop, but I can slow it down a bit. Just a little bit. I can lean on the wall. If I lean on the wall, I can keep going. Just a little further. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about the pain. It’ll all be over soon enough.

Hey, do you want to hear something strange? I mean stranger than the shit I’ve been babbling? I was just wondering what I look like right now. Besides the blood and the torn clothes and the swollen eye, I mean. The way I’m all stooped over? The way I can’t walk straight? The way I can’t put me weight on my ankle? God, I must look like a walking corpse or something! What would somebody think if they saw me? A normal person, I mean. What would they think if they saw this completely fucked-up woman wincing in pain and limping her way down an empty street in the rain? Just another homeless asshole on skid row at night? Just another one of the walking dead? Just another stupid bitch with her face all busted up, dragging her ass back to a cardboard box on the sidewalk somewhere? Or would they see something more? Would they have any idea that I’m on my way to die? Would they wonder what I’ve been through? Would they think about all of the things that I’ve thought about and remembered on this last night of my life? Would they think about all of the lives I’ve touched and the things I’ve done and the feelings I’ve had in my life? Would they wonder how this fucked-up woman got to be so battered and broken? Would they wonder how she fell so far in such a short life? Would they even care? Would they try to stop me? Would it mean anything to them if they knew that they were watching a human life come to an end? People die every day and we never think about how much goes with them. A whole life. People, places, feelings, thoughts and memories. A lifetime of hopes and dreams and nightmares. Everything they are and everything they were and everything they could’ve been. Everything that makes us human. It’s all gone in an instant. Somebody’s daughter. Somebody’s son. Somebody’s friend. Somebody’s teacher. Somebody’s student. Somebody’s best hope. Somebody’s biggest disappointment. Somebody who never thought that they’d end up like this. A wise old man with nothing to call his own, who took pity on a shattered woman and raised her like a daughter in the ninth circle of hell so that at least she’d have a chance? Or a used-up, broken, barely human woman who used to be a happy little girl who loved to climb trees and ride her bike? Do we ever think about that when we see someone walking past us? Do we ever think that we might be watching the last act of their life? Maybe it’s too much to ask? Maybe that kind of insight is too much to bear? Maybe if we did, then we couldn’t go on living ourselves? I don’t know. I just know that if someone saw me right now, would they think to themselves, “This is what a life looks like when it comes to an end?” I don’t know how anyone could look at me right now and not think that. But none of that matters. There’s no one out here to see me. I’m all alone. Between the hour and the rain, I’m all alone. I’m glad. I’m glad I was there with Charlie at the end. I’m glad he died in my arms instead of alone. I’m glad I made him smile one last time. Yeah, that’s important. That’s a good thing. That’s the best thing. But I don’t want anyone else out here when I go. Dying is the most intensely personal thing in life. Even if fifty people die right next to you, it’s still happening to you all by yourself. I always knew that, but right now? Staring it right in the face? I’ve never felt so alone in the world. I can barely begin to describe it. There’s just…nothing. Nothing else. Not a soul. Not a word. Not a thought. There’s just me. It’s a horrible feeling. People who say they want the whole world to themselves have no idea what they’re asking. I know. I’ve got it. Right now, I’m the only living thing in the universe. I’m not surprised. I mean, I always knew I’d go out alone. I never envisioned it any other way. I couldn’t. That’s how it has to be. At least that much is going according to the plan.

God almighty, I did it! I made it! I made it to Miranda’s Place! I can barely believe it! I thought I was going to keel over back there. I almost did. That last block was beyond hell! God, my ankle’s so swollen; it’s almost as big as my calf! I had to loosen my shoe to keep my foot from exploding! And I can barely see anything out of this eye. I guess it’s just about swollen shut. No matter. I won’t need it anymore. There’s nothing left for me to see, anyway. So this is it: the last act. The last act in the play called Miranda. The stage is set, the orchestra’s ready, and it’s time for the star of the show to take the stage for the last time and finish the play. I’ve strutted and fretted my hour upon the stage, and now it’s time for me to be heard no more. Shakespeare. Hamlet. One of Charlie’s favorites. Right now, they seem like the most fitting words ever written.

Now, just let me catch my breath. God damn! I’m not done with the walking yet! Oh, no! It’s still seven stories, straight up! That’s fourteen fucking flights of stairs! Talk about walking the long walk! Jesus Christ! At least they’ve got a hand rail in the stairwell. I’m going to need it! I can grab the hand rail with both hands and pull myself up. I’m guessing that’s the only way I’m going to make it up the stairs. I originally planned to walk up the levels. You know, take that one last walk of my life. Forget it! I’d never make it! The stairs will have to do. So I’ll just take it slowly and hang onto the hand rail for dear life. Jesus, how fucking crazy is that? Hang on for dear life on the way to committing suicide? That’s the contradiction of all contradictions! If that doesn’t prove once and for all that I’m totally bat-shit crazy, then I don’t know what will. God, Charlie would’ve gotten such a laugh out of that one! I’ll have to tell him when I see him again.

Well, that was pure hell! I almost puked on the stairs a few times, but I made it! I’m completely winded, but I made it. The last walk of my life. Why should it have been any easier than anything else in my life, right? So anyway, here I am: back on the roof of Miranda’s Place. The end of the line. My last night began here, and now it ends here. A perfect circle. For a while there, I didn’t think I was going to make it. It felt like it took forever to get here. It wasn’t that far, but…well; I guess it’s a minor miracle, seeing as how I can barely walk. I’d better lean against the wall. I’m afraid if I fall down now, I won’t be able to get up. In fact, I’m pretty fucking sure of it. So I suppose I’d better not fall down, right? Christ, those stairs were a motherfucker! I didn’t want to take the stairs, you know. It wasn’t in my original plan. I had planned on walking up the levels one at a time. You know, kind of like the way they walk condemned prisoners to the death house. They call it walking the long walk. That’s what I was talking about. That was supposed to be my long walk. Of course, those motherfuckers don’t have to walk up fourteen goddamned flights of stairs after they’ve been beat to fucking shit! Talk about cruel and unusual punishment! I wish I could’ve gone up the levels, though. I really wanted to do it one more time. I used to like walking up and down the empty levels. It was quiet and the lights were on and I always had the whole place to myself. It was one of the few peaceful things I ever got to do out here. Oh, well. If Charlie’s right, I won’t have to worry about peaceful things anymore. I’ll be at peace forever. No more worries. No more pain. No more failure. Just peace and paradise for both of us. God, please let him be right. I know he’s always right about everything, but please let him be right about this.

Even now, I can’t get over this night. I feel like I’ve lived a dozen lifetimes since the sun went down. Maybe I have? If I have, then they sure as hell weren’t the lifetimes I wanted to live. I read once where Thomas Wolfe said that death was the longest, best, and final voyage. I don’t know. This night has been my voyage to death, and it damn sure wasn’t the best. It feels like the longest, though. I’ll give him that one. Shakespeare said that dying pays off all debts. I hope to God that’s true. I guess Emily Dickinson said it best: dying is a wild night and a new road. I can’t argue with that. Not after tonight. I think Emily must’ve been channeling my future when she wrote that one. I’ll have to ask her when I see her. Jesus, so many questions! If I’ve learned anything, it’s that dying with a million unanswered questions is the mark of a life not worth having lived. If you leave with a million questions, then you’ve obviously done something seriously wrong. I’m living proof. And dying proof.

It’s really coming down hard, now. The rain, I mean. I hate that it’s raining. Tonight of all nights. Oh, well. At least it’ll wash away the blood. There’s going to be a lot of blood. I thought about that a lot. No matter how I land, it’s unavoidable. When you hit the ground, your body tears open from the impact. We’re a lot more fragile than most people think. It doesn’t look like much when you’re standing over them on the sidewalk, but when you flip a jumper over, it’s a real fucking mess. I know. I’ve seen it. Sometimes it’s really bad. The innards spill out all over the place. It looks like a cow swallowed a grenade or something. It’s fucking gross. So maybe the rain is a Godsend? And the clouds will keep the sun at bay a few minutes longer. How much longer? Long enough. Time enough. Time enough for what? Oh, I know! Time enough for a last cigarette. Smoke ’em if you got ’em, right? It’ll be the last chance I ever have. Besides, it’s tradition. It’s like we were saying back there: the condemned always get a blindfold and a last cigarette. Charlie was always against the idea of blindfolds. He was right. He always said that out here, we meet death with our eyes wide open. That’s how he did it. He didn’t close his eyes at the last minute. Neither will I. I’ll try to keep my eyes open on the way down. That’s important. I should face death. Face my death. I faced his, and believe me, I wasn’t ready to do that. But I did it. Besides, I’ve done enough hiding tonight. I’ve done enough running. I’m sick of being scared. This is about me taking control. It’s always been about that. So I’m not going to hide from it. I’m not going to look away at the last second. I’m going out like Charlie taught me. I’m going out like he did. I owe it to him to make him proud. That’s what daughters are supposed to do for their fathers, right?

Christ, I can’t even light the damned cigarette! Fucking matches! They blow out in the rain! No. No, it’s not the matches. It’s not the rain, either. It’s me. I’m shaking. Look at me! I’m shaking like a fucking leaf! Why? Because I’m scared, that’s why! I’m scared to fucking death! I’m not scared of death. I’m scared of dying. This is it! My time is up! It’s all over! I’m going to fucking die! I’m going to die and I’m afraid! All of the talk and thinking about it and all of the bullshit and watching Charlie die and I’m still afraid of dying! I want to die so much, but I’m scared shitless of it! Why? What the fuck is wrong with me? Fuck, Miranda! You’ve been over this in your head a million times! Get your shit together! Charlie wasn’t afraid! Don’t you be afraid, either! Remember what he taught you! All right. Just calm down. I need to hold my hand still. That’s it. Now, light the fucking cigarette. See? That wasn’t so hard, was it? Give yourself a hand, Miranda! You managed to light a cigarette in the rain. Yeah, right! Just take it easy. I’ve still got time. Time to finish this cigarette. Time for one last look. But not at this place. Fuck that! I’m not taking a last look at skid row. I’m not going out with that vision in my eyes. No fucking way! Especially since I know that Charlie’s not there anymore. So what do I look at? The Emerald City? No, not that, either. I was going to, but I changed my mind. Tonight changed my mind. The Emerald City is nothing more than a symbol to me. A reminder. A reminder of failure. I reminder of what I can’t have. I reminder of where I don’t belong. No, I’m taking a last look at the whole fucking world. I don’t know where I’ll be in a few minutes, but I’ll take one last look at where I was. It’s only fitting. I was here. I don’t know if anyone will remember me after I’m gone, but I was here. I left a mark. I can’t say what it was, or if it was good or bad, but I left a mark. And in spite of everything that’s happened, Charlie was right about one thing: I mattered. I wasn’t completely useless. I meant something to Charlie. I knew things that nobody else but Charlie did. If I learned anything tonight, it’s that I mattered. I didn’t matter much, but at least I mattered at all. That’s important. That’s what counts. It’s not about how much you mattered. It’s about whether you did or didn’t. It doesn’t even matter for how long. A minute here; a second there. It’s enough. Mr. Conroy, Reverend Ehlers, Officer Loomis, an old guy named Jefferson who said I could use his phone, a guy in a roach coach who I don’t even know, but he gave me a soda and helped wash the blood out of my hair when I couldn’t do it myself. They all gave a shit. They gave a shit about me. Even if it was only for a minute; they gave a shit about me. And Charlie said he loved me. He said I was his daughter. He’s right. I was. I am. I’m a daughter with two great fathers. Two great fathers who deserved better than me. My family loved me, too. Even though I treated them like shit and caused them nothing but grief, they loved me. My mom, my dad, my brothers and Charlie. They all loved me. They loved me and I loved them. I didn’t deserve them, but I got them. They were mine. They were mine and I was theirs. That’s enough. Maybe I didn’t make a damned bit of difference in the world or do a minute’s good, but if people like that loved me in spite of everything else, then I must be worth something. Maybe not much, but something. And that’s enough. That’s good enough. That’s something you learn when you lose everything. That’s something you learn on skid row. You learn to settle for good enough. Dreams are for other people. Normal people. They’re not for people like me. For people like us, wandering the streets and alleys in the night. The best we can hope for is good enough. It’s not until you wind up out here that you realize just how little that is.

Oh, great! The rain’s coming down harder now. Those are some major fucking storm clouds out there. Maybe it’s a sign? If it is, I don’t know what the hell it means. Maybe it means my life was stormy and so my death has to be stormy, too? I can barely see the light breaking over the horizon. It’s like a razor-thin sliver of silver. God, it’s so quiet. It’s like there really is nobody left on earth but me. I think that’s God’s way of telling me it’s time. It’s my curtain call. He’s putting the whole world on hold for me. It’ll be light in a couple of minutes. I have to finish it now. Come on, Miranda! This was the plan. When you make a plan, you stick to it. That’s what Charlie taught you. Stick to the plan. I’ve stuck to it all night long, haven’t I? Every fucking thing in the world went wrong, but I didn’t stray from my plan. I persevered. Perseverance in the face of all this shit. It’s not easy. Think of it as another merit badge for my Girl Scout sash. It’s funny: I kind of wish I had it with me right now. I’d love to see it one last time. One last thing from a time when my life was perfect. God, I’d love to hold it just one more time. I was so proud of it. I’ll bet mom still has it put away somewhere. I’ll bet she saved it. Maybe she’ll bury it with me? She used to love sewing the badges on because it made me so happy. It made her little girl smile. Now see how I repay her. She makes my sash to make me happy and I go and turn it into a fucking shroud! Way to go, Miranda! I’m sorry. I’m coming home, mom. I’m coming home, dad. Not the way you wanted, but it’s better this way. It’s the only way I could do it. You don’t have to worry anymore. You don’t have to wonder. You don’t have to leave a light on for me anymore. It’s finally over. Our long night is finally over. I love you. I love you all so much. I know it’s going to hurt when you learn I’m gone, but maybe it’ll finally bring you some peace. Deep down, I always knew you both cried yourselves to sleep every night since I disappeared. I’m sorry I put you through that. I had no right to put you through that. Now you won’t have to cry anymore. Well, just once more. One more time when they break the news. I know it’s going to hurt you so much. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you. I hope you understand that someday. I never meant to hurt anyone. I didn’t mean to let you all down. I didn’t mean to steal your only daughter from you. I had no right to do that. I understand that now. I wish I understood it back then, but I didn’t. Now it’s too late. All I can do now is give her back to you and make sure she never hurts you again. And maybe if you knew that I took your daughter away, but I gave her to someone special who never had a daughter, but really deserved one…well, you all deserved better than what you got. I let all of you down. It’s all my fault. I guess I should just leave it at that.

Well, I guess that’s it, my friend. Dante, my friend. Our little trip through hell is finally over. It started here and it ends here. The inferno. I’m sorry I can’t take you to purgatory and paradise after this. It would’ve been pretty neat to go through the whole Divine Comedy together. I’m sorry I can’t make that happen for you. All I can show you is the inferno. Hell. The place of eternal sorrow and torment. And I think you’ll agree that you’ve seen it tonight. Remember how I said that by the time it was over, you’d be willing to give me a push? Now you understand why. And I’m not going to ask you to give me a push. I wouldn’t do that to you. I wouldn’t do it to anyone. You know, it only just now hit me: with Charlie gone; you’re the only friend I have in the world. And to think, I didn’t even know you before yesterday. Who would believe it? Anyway, I’ve got to hand it to you: you really hung in there. You’ve seen a lot. More than most people ever will. You’ve learned about an entire world that’s right in front of damned near everyone, and yet most people don’t even know it exists. And you’ve learned why they don’t want to know that it exists. You’ve seen just how low people can sink. You’ve seen just how twisted they can become. And you’ve seen how easy it is. How anyone can end up like this. Maybe that’s the scariest part of it all? You’ve learned just how fragile a normal life is. A few bad breaks in all of the wrong spots and the next thing you know, you’re down here in the alleys with the rest of us: strung out, crazy, broken, and hopeless. I know that seeing some of this shit was hard on you. I want to apologize for that. It couldn’t be helped. But now you know what happened to me, and I hope to God it never happens to you. I hope I taught you to recognize the warning signs so you can avoid it. If you ever do see yourself headed in this direction, you’d better slam on the fucking brakes! Do whatever you have to, but put a stop to it fast! Anyway, I hope it doesn’t come to that. And I hope to God you never come back here. Not ever. Not even to visit. Good people shouldn’t visit hell. They should avoid it like the plague. After tonight, you understand that better than most.

Hey, I know you’re going to wait here until it’s over. You don’t have to, if you don’t want to see…well, you know. But if you do say until it’s over, I’d really appreciate it. I mean that. And I really want to thank you for sticking with me tonight. I want to thank you for listening to me rant. It’s about the only thing I’m good at anymore; especially when my mind starts coming apart at the seams like it did late tonight. I know that I probably drove you crazy with all of my bullshit. I tend to do that. I’m sorry. It’s why most people avoid me out here. And I’ve got to tell you: you’ve got the patience of a goddamned saint! Most people would’ve punched me in the fucking mouth and split on me in five minutes. But not you. You hung in there until the very end. I owe you for that. More than you can imagine. I’m sorry I’ll never have the chance to pay you back. And hey, could you do me one more favor? Try to remember me. Not the bad stuff. Yeah, I know that’s most of it, but try to remember the good stuff. I’d like to think that at least someone will remember me. Like I said before: that’s important. In the end, it’s the most important thing. Until tonight, I honestly thought that no one would ever hear a word of my story. I thought it would all be lost here; stuck in this place just like I’m stuck. I thought that it would never escape; just like I never escaped. Just like no one ever escapes from hell. But you can. You’re not one of us. You’re not damned like we are. You can get out. And you can remember me. You know the whole truth now: warts and all. About me. About this place. About this insane world we’ve created. That’s some serious shit. It’ll be a while before it all hits you, but it will. Someday. And maybe someday, you’ll understand me better than I ever did. If you do, then I hope that’s a good thing. I’d hate to think that I somehow hurt you by showing you this place and telling you so much. If I did, then I’m sorry. It wasn’t my intention. Anyway, it meant a lot to have someone to talk to tonight. It made it easier. God, it made it worthwhile. It made it better. A lot better. So thanks for playing Dante to my Virgil. I wish I’d gotten to know you. Anyone who can put up with me for five minutes is definitely worth knowing. I’m sorry that I won’t get the chance. So listen: you take care of yourself, OK? You go and have a good life. You deserve it. Leave this place behind and don’t ever look back. I mean it. And you watch your back. Remember that. Like I told you before: it’s the one you don’t see that will kill you. Goodbye, my friend. I’ll miss you.

And that’s that. OK, Miranda, let’s do this. Over to the wall. I already picked the spot. Right where I was standing when this fucking night started. The circle’s complete. All that’s left is the fall. Seven stories straight down to the sidewalk. I figure the fall will take about three seconds. I’ve dropped a few soda cans over the side and counted how long it took them to fall. About three seconds. Three seconds and it’s over. I don’t have to do anything except let it happen. Falling is easy. Look how far I’ve fallen already. It’s the easiest thing in the world. I probably won’t feel much when I hit. The impact should knock me out instantly. Well, that’s what the paramedics told me. Yeah, I actually asked them about it, once. Even if it doesn’t, the damage will happen so fast that I’ll be dead before my fucked-up little brain knows what’s happened. It’ll be like a flash. A flash of pain. A flash of fear. A flash of God only knows what. And then it’ll be over. I can handle it. I can handle a flash. I handled a hell of a lot more than that tonight. Yeah, I can take it. It’s only for a second. Less than a second. I can take it. I’ve been over it in my head a million times. I know every second of it. I know everything there is to know about it. I’m ready. I can handle it. I can do this. Charlie’s waiting. So let’s get it done.

The cigarette’s done. I’ve had my last cigarette. It’s time to get up on the wall. I’ll sit on the edge, take a deep breath, and push myself off. Let myself sort of slide off. Easy, right? Oh, God! It hurts! Christ, every inch of my fucking body hurts! I almost feel like I could just stand here and do nothing and I’d be dead in a few minutes, anyway. No, I’m not that lucky. Come on! I’ve got to get my leg up there. Start with the bad one. Yeah, right! They’re both bad! All right, start with the one with the fucked up ankle. That’s it. Oh, Jesus! Shit, it hurts! Oh! Mother of God! Jesus, I need to shut the fuck up! I can’t be a fucking baby about this. Not now. I need to die with some dignity. Charlie did. Come on, that’s it. One leg up. One leg over the side. Done! Oh, God almighty! Fuck! Try straddling a concrete wall after some psycho kicks you in the cunt with a fucking cowboy boot! Jesus fucking Christ! OK, try again. Swing the other leg over. Be careful this time. That’s it. Get it up there! Push it over the side! Do it! Hurry! You’re running out of time! Fuck! Fucking rain! The wall’s soaked! Good! Maybe I’ll slip off! Then I won’t have to jump. Yeah, like that’s going to happen! Come on! Ready…swing your damned leg! Up! Jesus Christ! Oh, God it hurts! It hurts so much! That’s OK. Don’t think about the pain. It’ll all be over soon. No more pain. No more pain ever again. That’s it. See? I did it. I’m up. I’ve got my legs over the side. I’m ready. All right, just sit here for a second. Just for a second. I need to get a hold of myself. I need to stop shaking. I need to stop crying. Stop crying! There’s nothing to be scared of! Remember, I’m more afraid of living than of dying. Remember that. I just need to catch my breath. That’s it. See? There’s nothing to be afraid of. Everybody dies. Not everybody gets to say when. Or how. But I do. I decide. No one else. This is me taking control. I never had any control over my life, but I’ve got control over this. I’ve got control over my death. I’m in charge. I’m doing this. Nobody’s doing it to me.

It’s almost over. Just another few seconds. Another few seconds and it’ll all be over. Falling is easy. I don’t have to do anything. Just let it happen. Just fall. Keep your eyes open. Remember what Charlie says: we go out with our eyes wide open. Don’t let him down now! God, I can’t stop shaking! I’m scared! I’m so fucking scared! Oh, God! Help me! I’m so scared! Calm down! Just calm down! That’s it. Help me, God. Help me do this. Give me strength. Please? I should…I should say a prayer. Yeah, that’s what I should do. I should say a prayer. What should I say? Oh my God, I am…I am heartily sorry for having offended you. And I detest…I…I can’t remember. I can’t remember the words. I can’t think! Oh, God! I can’t even think! I’m sorry, God. I’m sorry, mom. I’m sorry, dad. Please don’t be mad. Please don’t hate me. I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! God, please…please take care of them. Please take care of my mom and dad. Take care of my brothers. And take care of Charlie. He’s up there with you. He’s waiting for me. I’ll see him soon. We’ll be in heaven together soon. Just a few more seconds. He promised. Charlie promised. And he always keeps his promises. Always. Everything’s going to be fine. Charlie said so. And he’s never wrong.

Stop crying! Don’t be a fucking baby! I can do this! I’m going to do this! There’s no other way! It’s time! I know that! I should’ve done this years ago. I should’ve done it before I ever wound up out here. I should’ve done it before I became such a fucking loser. I should’ve done it before I became a worthless junkie. I should’ve done it before I… before I ever killed anyone. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to kill him. I had to kill him. He was trying to…he was going to...oh, what the fuck difference does it make? He was going to kill me. He was going to rape me and he was going to torture me and he was going to kill me. I couldn’t let him do that. No fucking way. I had to do it. But I didn’t mean to kill him. I didn’t want to kill him. I’m sorry, God. I didn’t mean it. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I didn’t have a choice. I just…I just had to make him stop. You understand that, don’t you? Please don’t hold it against me. I know I should’ve been stronger, but I’m not. I’m not like you. I’m not like Charlie. I wish I could be, but I’m not. This is who I am. Nothing more. I’m sorry it wasn’t good enough.

Come on! Hurry! Get it over with! The sun’s coming out! I can barely see the light on the horizon! I’m out of time! Now, Miranda! Now! Do it! Stop crying! You know what you have to do! Jump! Jump, damn it! Jump! Do it! One little push and you’re home free! You can go home! Finally! Home! Think about it, Miranda! Think about how much it hurts every single day of your fucking life! Think about what’s waiting for you if you don’t do this! Do you want to go back to this shit? Do you want to live like this for another fifty fucking years? Charlie’s gone! You’re all alone! There’s nothing left! It’s now or never! Finish it! Oh God, help me! Help me, please! I don’t want to live anymore! Please, God, no more! I don’t want to live like this anymore. I can’t live like this anymore! I’m so sorry! Please don’t hate me for it! Help me, please! I’m so sorry! I want to go home! Please, God, take me home! I want to go home! I want to go home! I want to go home! Please help me! Please, God! No more! God forgive me! Do it! Do it! Go on, jump! Now! Now! I’m sorry! Please God, forgive me! Goodbye, mom. Goodbye, dad. Goodbye everyone. I’m so sorry. I…I’m sorry for…No! No more! Do it! Jump! Now! Finish it now! Do it! One push! Just one push! One little push and you’re home free! One push and you’re free! Now! Do it! One push and you’re home! Do it, Miranda! Jump! Fucking jump!

Oh my God! I did it! I did it! Oh my God! I did it! Oh, God! Oh, God! I did it! I jumped! I jumped! I’m falling! I’m falling! I’m falling and I did it! I did it! I’m falling! I’m falling and I’m falling faster and faster and it’ll only hurt for a second and it’s almost over and it’ll only hurt for a second and I’m scared and oh, God, I’m afraid! I’m afraid and I’m scared and I’m so scared and I’m falling and I’m so scared and I’m sorry God and I’m sorry mom and I’m sorry dad and I love you all and please don’t hate me and I’m falling and it’ll only hurt for a second and I’m scared and it’ll all be over in a second and I’m sorry God and I’m scared and I’m scared and I’m scared and I’m sorry mom and I’m sorry dad and I love you so much and it’ll only hurt for a second and please don’t let it hurt and it’ll only hurt for a second and I’m falling faster and faster and don’t let me go to hell and I’m falling and it’ll all be over in a second and I’ll never hurt again and I love you mom and I love you dad and I love you Charlie and I’m so sorry and I’m scared and it’ll only hurt for a second and please forgive me and I’m sorry and I love you all and please don’t let it hurt and I’m so scared and I’m sorry and it’ll only hurt for a second and I love you so much and I…

My name is Miranda. This is what happened to me. This is how I ended up. I was here. Remember me.

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