GM - Story #7

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Chapter 4

With the dented car long-since towed, the police vehicles vacated from the area. As the sun crested the hill across the channel, Jackson grabbed his crutch and hobbled down the embankment past the sculpture of the troll. Cliff watched him navigate the uneven sand-covered cobblestone, limping and sliding to the street with his good right leg and his crutch making up for the missing foot at the bottom of his left.

“Infection,” Duff said. “Stepped on a rusty nail in an ally. Blew up like a balloon. Dude ignored it for weeks. Finally went to the clinic, but they couldn’t save it. Walked into the emergency room with two feet. Came out a week later with one.”

Duff tucked his stringy hair under a “Desert Storm” hat and followed closely behind Jackson.

“Off to work,” he winked.

“I gotta go too,” Winona said, lifting the tarp and gently nudging the wispy little girl laying in the dirt.

She looked like a doll to Cliff. Her white skin brightened the dinghy space between the rafters of the bridge. Her dark black hair contrasted with her rosy cheeks and pale blue sun dress.

She made the tiniest high-pitched moan as her espresso brown eyes flinched open. She yawned like a hummingbird and looked nervously from side to side.

“Hello again little girl,” Winona spoke slowly. “You feel like telling us your name this morning?”

The girl’s eyes darted nervously. She recoiled behind her tarp and pulled it in front of her face. Winona persisted.

“I’m Winona,” she said, pointing dramatically to herself. “Who’re you?”

The girl looked like a frightened rabbit. Winona smiled and offered her some water from the crinkled water bottle.

“You thirsty?” she asked.

The girl peeked from behind the tarp, paused and then reached out a hand to take the water.

“Name? You got a name?” Winona asked again. “I’m Winnie.”

The girl didn’t react until Winona even more dramatically pointed to her chest and reiterated her name.

“Amaya,” she finally replied.

Winona smiled softly and repeated the girl’s name; “Amaya”.

“Where’re you from, Amaya?” Winona asked.

Red-faced, the girl sipped the water from the twisted plastic and dropped her eyes down the street toward the channel.

“Speak English?” Winona asked.

The girl stared at her expressionlessly.

“What about your parents?” she asked. “Do you know where your mommy and daddy are?”

Again, the girl didn’t react.

“Mommy?” Winona reiterated. “Daddy?”

Winona drew a stick figure in the sand with two taller stick figures on either side of the smaller one, pointing at the two tall figures and repeating “mommy” and “daddy”.

The girl slowly nodded her head side-to-side as if to answer that she could not understand Winona’s words and then dropped her eyes in sadness at the picture in the sand. Winona extended her left hand while motioning with her right.

“Are you hungry?” she asked, miming the act of eating. “Food?”

At that, the girl stood, looked sheepishly into Winona’s eyes and took her hand.

“You gonna be alright here?” she asked Cliff. “You ain’t gonna climb back up and try jumping again, are you?”

“I can’t even stand up,” he replied.

“Cause, I only got one broom stick,” she said. “Break another leg and I ain’t got nothing to set it with. Plus, I ain’t got no more socks, but the ones on my feet.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Cliff said. “And, thank you for your offer to get me some food, but I’ve been on my own for twelve years. I can take care of myself.”

“You sure?” Winona asked, rolling her jacket into a ball and stuffing it under his neck for better support and comfort. “You didn’t look too capable last night bouncing around that tree and landing on top a that car.”

“I’ll be fine,”

“Suit yourself,” she said. “Dumbass.”

Winona left with Amaya. Cliff found himself alone under the bridge with the two near skeletal young, comatose women who shared the rotted mattress further up the embankment. All he could make out were two ratty sun dresses topped by one clump of brown hair and another of blond. The mid-day sun rose above the edge of the overpass and shadows enveloped him.

He lay still, occasionally attempting to roll to his side or pick up his head. Scattered images of the previous evening flashed across his mind. As free as he felt leaving his feet and hurling himself into the air, he vaguely recalled the tumult of pinballing from branch to branch. But from the moment he hit the roof of the car until the moment he heard Winona’s voice, he had no recollection. It felt as if the television set that displayed his life lost power and went black.

The breeze whipped through the underpass. Cliff wished he had his shopping cart of necessities. He pulled himself sideways toward the area where Duff slept and clutched his ragged blanket, wrapping it around his chest and arms. With great labor, he pulled Duff’s dusty bedding back to where Winona’s jacket served as his pillow and curled in a ball with his back to the wind.

His stomach ached and he regretted telling Winona he could fend for himself. He looked around the area for scraps of food.

A thick layer of dirt and grime covered nearly every space and object under the bridge. Piles of broken bottles and rusty beer cans littered the embankment. A bent and twisted bicycle stuck up from a pile of rotted wood. Above his spot on the cobblestone, a dirty, saggy mattress lay crooked, covered in green and brown water stains. Black garbage bags flanked the openings to the area outside the bridge like the ballasts on a fortress.

Empty Styrofoam containers with dried ketchup caked on them sat in piles next to crushed coffee cups, plastic spoons, forks and wet, limp paper plates. Random scraps of metal and wood with rusty screws and nails covered the area just behind the troll’s massive cement head.

Cliff pulled out the picture of Rindy from his pocket and studied her features. She had his eyes and jawline. Her bright, clear skin, obscured by the wrinkles and folds in the paper, darkened. Her neat brown hair ruffled and her cheeks bloated. Creases lined her face and her skin turned grey, dry and flaky. Cliff tried to resist the vision, but he couldn’t help seeing the dead old woman from the train where he should have seen lovely Rindy. He closed his eyes and shook his head to cast away the image. But when he looked again, the hag remained in the palm of his hand, laughing at him, jeering him and calling him the scum of the earth for leaving his daughter.

Without his spare socks, his own worn blankets, his extra sweaters and trousers, his water bottles and favorite sweater - all left behind when he decided to jump off the Aurora - he had nothing else in his possession but the clothes on his back and the one cherished picture of Rindy.

Cliff closed his eyes in disgust. Thoughts of climbing the bridge and giving it a second try crossed his mind.

A gust of wind split the support columns and lifted Duff’s blanket off his shoulders. It also caught one of the folds of the picture and brushed it suddenly out of his hand.

He lunged for it, but the wind carried it through the air, down the incline toward the road. Panicked, Cliff attempted to stand, but the broom handle tied to his injured leg inhibited him. He rolled over causing shooting pain in his rib cage. The wind continued to kick Rindy’s smiling face down the embankment to the curb of the road. Cliff crawled several feet toward the back of the Fremont Troll. Primarily using his forearms, he dragged his damaged leg behind him.

The picture scurried across the road like a rat and disappeared into the grass across the street. Cliff fixated on the spot where he last saw it and quickened the pace of his army crawl.

He hit a patch of loose sand and slid down the incline. He hit an uneven clump of cement, which caused him to roll awkwardly over a crag in the stonework. Once he rolled over, his arms lost control of his body weight and he continued to flail until resting on the sidewalk by the curb.

His nose gushed blood. He coughed and gagged from the searing in his chest and ribs. His legs still couldn’t move and his arms throbbed from the friction burns of sliding across the coarse sand.

He lay there, straining to catch a glimpse of Rindy’s dimpled smile. But he knew he’d never see the picture again. With the loss of the photo, his heart ached in the middle of his rib cage.

He lay, motionless, staring at the base of the Aurora bridge. Blood spilled into his mouth. He closed his eyes, wiped his nose and spit blood on his t-shirt.

He looked at the Fremont Troll, a 20-foot tall representation of an ugly creature climbing out of a hole. It loomed over him like the hag from the train, with an equally mangled nose and a single angry, piercing eye.

“What?” he asked the cement figure which seemed to look right through him. “What can I do now?”

With one eye obscured by a tuft of scraggly cement hair, the troll’s big free eye glared at him.

“What do you want from me?” Cliff yelled to the impassive, haggard face. “I have nothing left. Nothing to live for. I can’t even look at my daughter’s beautiful face anymore. As soon as I can walk, I’m going back up there and finishing the job.”

Cliff imagined the troll flexing its giant nose and opening its mouth to speak to him. He could see an image of the hag through the round orb above its flared nose.

“You set out to end your life,” he imagined it saying to him, the voice of the troll matching the deep, hoarse voice of the legless woman on the train. “Why don’t you just finish the job.”

“You’re right. I should,” he said to the hag. “I stole from you and you died. I’m the scum of the earth.”

“What do you have to live for anyway?” she replied.

“Nothing,” Cliff replied. “That picture was my last connection. Now, it’s gone.”

Cliff lay, sprawled. He looked at the unflinching stone sculpture. He wiped more blood from his nose smearing it across his face. A gust of wind whipped past the troll’s bulbous nose.

“I blew that picture right out of your hand,” The troll cackled at him.

Cliff seared inside. He struggled to rise to his knees and faced the sculpture.

“I don’t need a picture,” he said to himself, facing the cement troll. “I can go see her in person.”

He wriggled his torso. But with the pain across his body, he lost his balance and fell forward.

“I have to clean myself up,” he said to the lifeless mass of sculpted cement above him. “I need a plan. Earn some money, enough for some new clothes; shoes. I’ll need to get healthy, eat better, cut my hair and shave my beard.”

He looked at the troll; maybe for approval or acknowledgement; maybe in defiance. But the cement stayed firm, even as a strong wind gusted.

“I have to escape this life,” he said. “I have to figure out how to get out of being homeless.”

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