The Intersection

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There have been so many life-altering events at this corner that some people are becoming afraid to get too close to it. Ten in six years. There’s such a thing as bad energy, they say, juju that might follow them back to their homes. I think that’s crap. Only strays–cats, dogs, some humans–follow you and, still, only so far. I think energy has to be invited to be taken with you. But who would believe that? I’m just fourteen and so skinny and quick they hardly see me in broad daylight. Well, that has started to change, but I am still mainly just a watcher. And I do know a few things.

I remember when it all started. It was spring; I can still hear robins making a racket. Clive had to try crossing Parman Street without his mother’s hand holding his. He didn’t want to use the real corner but go kitty corner, full speed ahead to Song’s Ice Cream. I was eight coming up to nine, and he was five. I was sitting on our little third floor balcony so could see how it was going to play out. His mother yanked on him, he yanked the other way and despite her anger and best intentions he slipped away, right into the path of the rickety BMW motorcycle driven by Hank the Hooligan (that’s mom’s description). Anyone could hear that machine coming from two blocks away so I don’t know why Clive didn’t. His mother did, and screamed at him to get back on the curb but by then Hank and Clive crashed. I sat with my jaw dangling then I yelled for my mom, who called 911.

Clive lived. He had a broken leg, squashed ribs, a bad concussion. He seemed foggy for a while and had a cast on for months. Hank had a busted ankle but was not at fault, as he reminded everyone for a month. Everyone was grateful I’d had mom call for help. It wasn’t anything. But it was nice to be thanked for paying attention for once.

In the fall Danny O., the delivery guy for Park and Pay Market, was getting home late. Parman and Reiser have four standard stop signs and there’s a big street lamp on the southwest side but still. The rain pummelled everything in its way. I know because I’d opened my bedroom window and put my fingers through the tear in the screen to feel it. It stung but I liked it, it was a break from the heat at last. I saw Danny peddling nice and leisurely, not his usual speed. I watched him with interest. He was almost skeletal, sort of like me but much older, with powerful, popping leg muscles. He got good tips for being fast. I imagined I could do that some day if I got a better bike. He began to decrease speed more and more, as if he had switched to slow motion, wobbled along barely peddling. I got a bad feeling and hollered at him through the screen but Danny didn’t hear because of the roaring rain.

He made a loopy stop, lost balance, then toppled. He didn’t get up. Mom was playing cards with Bernie, my step dad, so I threw on my hoodie. Sneaked through the hallway, slid into the hall, leapt down the stairs. By then I was nine. The corner was lit up so I thought, no harm checking him. He usually rode so hard; this didn’t fit at all.

He was lying there, half-on and half-off his bike. His eyes were barely open. He didn’t answer me when I jostled him a little and spoke his name. The rain was pelting us, felt like little spikes. His eyelids rolled down. I wondered if he was drunk–he looked a little like Uncle Louis when he’d had too much beer. It didn’t make sense. I felt panic swirl inside as if the air was too thick. Danny’s mouth was gaping. I saw his phone peeking out of his pocket, so grabbed it and called 911. They knew the corner and when they came they searched and found a necklace that said he was diabetic.

“Very sick man,” a burly guy said, “so good thing you called us right away.”

My mom had come downstairs looking for me. She clamped her hand on her mouth; her hair was flattened with streaming water. I thought she looked scared. We went inside, water dripping with each step.

“Wade, that’s twice you’ve seen a lot of goings on. Do you watch the street every spare minute? Well, it paid off for poor Danny O.”

She spoke quietly as she ushered me into my room, then made me change my clothes. It annoyed me, how she stood in the doorway. I ducked into my closet to strip and pull on dry sweatpants and t-shirt.

“He fancies himself a guardian or something,” Bernie called from the kitchen. He always had to get in a word edgewise. “He’s seen all those shows, these kids believe they’re super heroes!”

I jumped into bed. I felt cold. She studied me, then came over to give me a quick hug. At the door she turned around, waiting. She had the ability to wait a long time.

“I just see things. Feel ’em,” I said, and pulled the blanket up to my neck, then turned on the lamp above the bed and pulled my book from under the pillow. Bernie would be surprised it was The Hardy Boys I’d found in dad’s box of stuff mom had hidden. She saw it but made no comment.

Bernie stood in the doorway behind her. “He sees things but we just don’t know what things, luckily!”

He haw-hawed like the foolish guy he was, half the time. The other half he could be okay. Mom shot him a look.

After they left I thought rather than read. I did notice things that were about to happen with a capital “H” in our neighborhood. Like when Gin almost got chased by the Keller twins–I saw them, then her, so whistled a warning. She came upstairs awhile. Or take the time Maya and Tim were headed for a break up: I saw how she backed away from him the last two weeks whenever he reached for her. Not a big deal. Then, two months later, I saw Tim whistling and thought, He has a ring for her, and he did, a really good one that she liked.

People told me stories without even knowing it. I just looked and listened.

But the corner was another thing. I started to wonder about it before anyone else. It seemed a place that surprised people or caused them trouble. That intersection showed me more things.

In the next six years there would be so many incidents–that’s what a cop called them–that it was hard to avoid adding it all up. The area wasn’t remarkable. There are lots of  maples that are old. We don’t have the worst block, and it certainly doesn’t blind us with its beauty. There are four big apartment (or condo, depending on what you can pay) buildings taking up most of two streets. So it’s true there are more people jammed together than some spots but this is a city. They’re brick, kept up fine. Our home is good, three bedrooms, space for a decent party. No one is afraid to go out, not even in the evening. Well, they used to feel okay about it but now…now it had a different vibe, they said.

After Danny, who recovered, there was Jeanne with her early delivery of a baby girl just after being tucked into the cab (that made me look away); half-blind Terrance whose glasses were dropped and lost three times (stepped on twice) at those corners before he sprang for contacts; Yasif’s beat up Toyota truck and its rapid connection with a visiting SUV–fourteen stitches to his chin and forehead, not a scratch on the other driver. Yasif got a new truck out of it, though.

And there was Megan last year. She’d been a good student, chummy with many kids and great to look at, I thought. Then she hurt her back and knee, cheerleading. We all knew she had pain pills prescribed because she told everybody she had them to cope with the injuries. But after a couple of months went by she was still limping around and helping herself to more Oxys. I thought she was in trouble, but everyone said no, I was being weird about it, a doc gave them to her.

One afternoon when the rain had stopped and sunshine started blaring I sat on the balcony with a piece of cherry pie, a glass of iced coffee and my math book. She was leaning against her current boyfriend as moved along. He chortled with his pasty, shaved head thrown back, as if the funniest thing in the world had been said. He lit a cigarette while Megan began to crumple, rain coat rippling as if a breeze had grabbed it, her feet fumbling and arms all wavey. I wanted to say something but my mouth was full of pie. The guy caught her just in time but went right down with her. On that corner, my side of the street. Two kids stopped, curious, then walked off. But that guy shook her, repeated her name frantically. Megan’s left foot was bare, a black flat having fallen off, and her toenail polish was blood red. I felt as if someone pressed an ice cube on my spine and slipped it up my neck. I ran through the living room where Bernie was snoring and down the stairs.

I didn’t use that junk, not even weed but I’d seen plenty who did. I knew how she used to look, bright eyes and smile but she hadn’t looked that good for a long time. Everyone knew about Oxys, they were  like nothing so they thought. But I’d felt her going down and when I got to her, she was worse than loaded. She didn’t hear us. I put my hands on her chest and pushed hard. I should know CPR, I thought but I didn’t. She stirred but the boyfriend told me to back off. I put my hands on her shoulders and squeezed them a little and then, I don’t know why, whispered up close: “Let us keep you alive.” The guy grabbed, pushed me away, and finally called for help.

I kneeled by her and watched her. It seemed the best thing to do. A small crowd was knotting about us. She was barely breathing, more like long pauses of nothing, then little sips of air.

I put my mouth to her ear. “Stay alive, Megan. I’ll help.”

My mom was coming home from her office job and stood stick-still when she saw the crowd. She said later she knew I was at the center of it. “You can’t stay away from things, you’re like a magnet that draws emergencies to you! Or the other way around. Maybe you’re supposed to be in the medical field.”

But that wasn’t it. All around Megan’s head was a soft heat that gave off a faint shimmer, fading fast. Her eyes moved a little beneath pale lids. She wanted to go and wanted to stay. I imagined her at eighteen ready for college or off to Italy for the summer.

“Why not stay?” I said.

She could do anything if she hung on. I then saw her get up and walk away, smiling. I wanted to catch up, wave. But she really was lying there, breathless. The ambulance arrived, EMTs performed CPR and put something in her veins. Megan’s body spasmed and her eyes flew open. I felt like crying. The walk up the stairway was crowded with people who kept asking me questions. I covered my ears, went in the apartment. Locked the door.

Megan went to rehab. Afterwards she came by to thank me but I couldn’t make myself come out and talk, no matter mom begging me. Yet that time was a kind of beginning for me, too. I stayed on my perch when nothing else was going on because mom was right: things happened that others often didn’t or couldn’t see. But I could, so I looked, same as usual.

I tried to tell mom after Megan. It was dark out and the air was sweet. Bernie was at work. She and I were sitting together on the balcony at the little green table. She enjoyed a glass of wine as I searched a deepening blackness for constellations.

“Mom.”

“Hmm?”

“You know about Megan?”

“Yes, thank God she was saved.”

I cleared my throat because it felt like it was going to close. She glanced over.

“I knew she was dying. I saw light around her head fade. Felt a little bit of heat and then saw her get up and walk away. I felt she should stay longer, not leave yet.”

Mom took the glass from her lips and they parted, her breath escaped and a word started to form, then stopped.

“I know it seems nuts but Bernie is right. I sort of see things. Feel them.”

“Just like your grandmother, Wade.”

“Really?”

Mom said smiled at me but she looked a little sad.”Yes, she had that going on all her life. She lived partway in the spiritual world and some here. Spoke of angels as if they were her buddies. I guess they were, too. She was good. You are, too.” She sighed. It was so quiet I could hear the stars get into their places. “Well, let me know if you need help. That corner is way too busy. But maybe that’s why.”

“Huh?”

She moved her chair close to mine and put her arm around my shoulders. “Because you’re here, paying attention. Watching over people.”

I didn’t say anything. We found the Dippers and saw city lights nip into the darkness. Then she got up and went inside.

Things kept on happening. You’d be surprised by some of it, all the troubles and solutions and rescues. I was around, sure, but I was also trying to grow up.

One night after I’d met up with a girl from English class I was on my way home. Three guys were blowing off steam, tossing a bottle of something back and forth as they approached the intersection. I knew them from school and instinctively stepped under the market’s awning.

“What about this place? They say it’s marked. Bad luck.”

The second guy leaned back against the apartment building. “Not what I heard. It’s got some sort of power, lives been saved even. See those ribbons on the lamp-post? A girl recently left an totaled car unhurt. No one has died here even though there’s been tons of bad stuff.”

“Not true!” A third guy stood with feet splayed and pointed at the corner. “Right. Here. Megan Barnes. Overdosed, and that kid brought her back to life. I mean, he talked her right out of dying. Now she’s in Italy, studying something.”

“What? You mean Wade-o Weirdo?”

“Seriously, that’s what they say.”

The first guy took off his cap and repositioned it just so. “Man, it’s a kind of resurrection road. That’s it–Resurrection Road. Just saying. Deep, man. That Wade’s gotta know something. Respect earned, you gotta say it.”

I hung back as they shuffled off, turned around and headed toward a coffee shop. In truth, I was looking forward to getting out of here one day, blending in somewhere. Sure, I’ll do my part, watch over whatever is needed. But I have other pieces to put together, just for myself. Still, I like the new name for the intersection. Much better than “Crash Corner”, “Four-way Bad Luck”, “Dark Reiser”, “Punked at Parman”. Yes, Resurrection Road could be the name it deserves, or needs.

Photo by Herzog
Photo by Herzog

Lucinda’s Thirst

 

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Lucinda positioned the flower and snapped several photos. She eyed other bright Gerber daisies in crackled vases, fighting an impulse to grab a half-dozen. She was thinking of lining them up on the coffee shop’s open air ledge and shooting them in different clusters, then taking them home. She liked flowers in the same way she liked cats–glad to see them, happy to house them, nice to admire them and even feed them, but then they’d leave her alone. Why didn’t that work with people? The daisies cheered her more than her older brother, Linc, did so far today.

“What are you doing with that?” he asked, nostrils flaring, a quirk of the family aquiline nose. His iced mocha beaded up in the heat; he wiped it dry with a napkin.

“Uh, taking pictures of it?”

“Must you always have that camera at the ready? It’s not as if you’re a photojournalist for a thriving daily paper or opening a show at a gallery. I mean, it’s a hobby, just a hobby.”

He said things without hesitation, as if his pronoucements had a heft that others’ did not. She’d stopped taking seriously every sentence he spouted long ago. She knew he seldom meant any harm. His thoughts liked the limelight is all.

Still, Lucinda withdrew her hand from the second vase she’d been ready to snatch from an empty table. She would get the shot sometime. Linc bent over The New York Times, slurped the coffee. She sat on a folded leg, propped her chin in hand. How to survive endless sun and her brother for the remainder of summer, maybe much longer. When their grandfather left them a charming house on a hill he’d been excited. Linc could do consulting from any place. She was between college commitments–she’d dropped out last March and wasn’t ready to return–and their mother wasn’t interested in further subsidizing her needs, good cameras and photography, mostly, and cycling, some hiking, reading. This town could be it for a while, so long as they lived together without serious regrets.

He leaned forward; his dry fingers grazed her hand. “Oh, Luce, I just wish you’d try acting less downcast. Look at that sky and be happy. We both need happy. We’ll be here awhile, or at least I will.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, then at the sky. You couldn’t miss the sunshine blaring good will all over blueness and baked buildings. Heat held dominion here, it skewered vegetation, chastened the fragile skin of her lips, ransacked shadows. It forced people into the mighty river or indoors. If there wasn’t water it would have morphed into desert and mountains entirely and the town would never have been built. Which sounded more pleasant to her. But there was not any place she longed to be. This was good enough for now.

Her brother was searching her face with enhanced hazel eyes (courtesy of contact lenses), looking for the chink in her natural reserve. She’d agreed to get off the couch and come to the coffee shop just to see people milling about. It hadn’t occurred to her that East Canyon, despite being a tourist town, would be so devoid of the lovely crush of humans during the weekdays. Where was everybody? People more her age? Didn’t it used to be different here once, before they grew up?

“Define ‘awhile’,” she said. “Like for the fall and winter or are we looking at a twelve month deal?”

“So far it suits me. I’m considering making this my home base. It can be yours, too, until you’re ready to move on…like we already told mom. Right?” He looked at her as if the situation was a contract signed and sealed. “Or you didn’t understand that part of it?”

She thought, didn’t he understand her part? The one about her life being ruined last spring, how much she wanted to live like a slug, hidden and undisturbed? The part about not wanting to be his maid service while he made oodles of money? She had been informed she had to get a job at a grocery store or somewhere. No free rides. When had she and her brother last tried to live together? Seven years ago, when she was just thirteen. Her part was complicated. He just had work, adult obligations, his little dramas.

Of course, Lucinda allowed that Jeffrey had recently left him, so there was that; Linc obviously had his own miseries. She accepted him without fail but didn’t profess to deeply understand. He spoke little of the “whos” or “whys” of his life. They lived such opposite directions on any scale. He was chatty; she was introverted. He loved flashy objects money bought him; she appreciated second-hand things. Linc was always all-in while she waited, watched, pondered. Still, they had too much history not to mention shared blood; there wouldn’t be serious battles.

“I’m not thrilled to live where things die if left unattended for more than ten minutes without liquid hydration.” She sucked on an ice cube from her water for demonstration.

“Do you always think of life as a series of dire conditions? Like it is something that needs immediate saving? Lighten up.” Then he pressed fingertips to his lips. “I’m sorry, Luce, I don’t think. I see that things still seem that way at times. I’m here for you–you know that.”

She looked away. She resisted reference to difficult topics, found it gauche in public. The newspaper rustled and he fell silent, too. Then as if on cue, she felt her heart race and a shiver run up her sweaty back. The heat suffocated her. She wanted to get up and leap over tables and run like hell.

Eyes were on her, she could feel them. It was what happened: she knew what was going on around her without thinking.

She peered into, then swung her camera to the courtyard. First she saw the Australian bush hat, is that what that was? A fancy hat. Then the shoulders. How much could you tell about a man by his shoulders? These were broad and still. As if he could sit there for hours and not move but go into action as a moment’s notice. He was deeply tanned, older than Linc, wore jeans and a white shirt, sleeves rolled up. He raised his head a  bit and she held the camera steady and snapped once. The second time he held up his hand, either a salute or a warning–she would study it later. She took one more to let him know she had recorded all details and she knew he had seen her.

She turned back to the interior, bit her lip. Linc folded the paper and picked up his wallet, stood and stuffed it in a back pocket.

“Ready?” Linc asked her. He looked fresh and calm, a smile easy on his face.

Lucinda got up and they left.

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The next day when they roamed the streets, it was cloudy, not so much cooler as variable. This was cause for celebration and Lucinda brought her better camera, started taking photos as soon as they walked. The differing light was much more interesting, gave more depth to things, allowed colors to vibrate which full-on sunshine did not. What looked flat and unappealing to her yesterday was fascinating today. She hummed as she shot.

“Nothing can be that interesting here. Wait until we get to the river. I’ve work to do on my PC so you’ll be on your own.”

Linc stayed close as they walked. He knew that something had again awakened her in the night, had heard her footsteps on the ancient wood floors, felt her anxiety permeate darkness and float down the hall to his room. He’d sat up, listening but she closed her bedroom door and that was that. It was a change for them both, yes, but a good one. They had spent many glorious summers here before the family had moved too far away. If only she would remember. He desperately wanted her to remember life when she felt secure and right with the world.

“Good,” she said, then snapped a picture of him before he settled his visor on his blond head. He looked abashed in photos if he was unprepared. When readied, he might be called dashing as well as a confident businessman. He put his arm around her shoulders. She didn’t shrug it off for a block.

They were passing the coffee shop. Lucinda saw the hat man again and kept on walking. The same daisies were vivid against a grayed interior. She wanted to put them in one big clear vase and shoot them against the shadows and a few lounging people, a soft blur behind them. Life in East Canyon, a long summer breeze, the caption would say.

The man stood. Lucinda sped up. Was he tracking her daily movements? Did he know where they lived?

“Wait up!” Linc hurried after her.

“To the river!” she commanded. She didn’t want to look over her shoulder but she did. She couldn’t tell if the man was watching her or not. Then he waved, and his gold watch flashed like a signal. Lucinda held her breath but another man ran across the street to join him. She felt her chest and throat loosen. Stinging air pressed into her lungs.

The legendary river was deep, steel-blue and broad. It always had scared her but in a way that moved her, filled her with wonder. This was one river that could carry people all the way to the ocean. She wasn’t the sort of swimmer that ever made a team, but she was still drawn to water. Linc settled on a picnic table under the shade of a large tree, water bottle in hand. He put his sunglasses back on after following her path a moment.

She’d worn a swim suit under her jean shorts and t-shirt but she didn’t plan to take the clothes off. Linc had encouraged her, even wore his old swim trunks with a polo shirt just in case. It made her laugh. He preferred sleek boats in water, his body dry. He was at his best languishing with a drink in his hand as he glided along.

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The waterfront was filling up with people. Windsurfers and kiteboarders zig-zagged the Columbia’s choppy waters. Kayakers and paddle boarders maneuvered away from land. Her camera was busy as she edged forward, focusing, framing, zooming in and out, finding scenes that spoke to her. In time her heart quieted, her hands steadied, the views cooperated with her eye and everything slowed. The clamorous sounds of life diminished as her brain engaged and instincts were given full rein. She was at ease. Peace stirred and filled her like a dream that carried her body and soul. If only she could feel this way every minute of every day. Her eyes focused on the distant mountain peaks, their gradations of browns and greens, the intricate textures.

And then she stepped off a ridge of land she had been following that meandered beside the river.

It was a fast descent but before she hit water she threw the camera back to land. She felt the magnet of gravity as she entered the massive volume of liquid, held her breath as feet and legs and trunk and head submerged. It wasn’t as dark there as she expected, but bright blue-green to silvered teal, then darker blue. Eyelids stunned, they fluttered, defenseless against thickening murk. Her lungs wanted to expand but she could not let that happen so she pushed out and down with her hands, kicked her feet as hard as she could against the current. The river’s will was so strong. She imagined this was like Eden where everything started, and she opened her mouth a little to it. Thought of mermaids and fishes and snakes and bugs, how they adored this place that held their life and death. This river was legendary, victorious in beauty and strength. But Lucinda had failed to overcome and her own beauty–had she not obscured it well? did the night enrage him? had he been taught to hate?–had been erased.

Why here and now? Why this river? After she had found things to love a little again. Photographs, of all things. And her grandfather had adored his grandchildren. Surely he wouldn’t lead her to such a finale, not after an already monstrous end to her happiness. That assault on all her hope, the taking of her power, the leaching of her small but only life: she had been perfect prey to a predator who got away as she was cycling to school one jewel-toned spring evening. One suspended span of time. Things shattered. Most pieces still seemed lost.

She thought these things but without words, without the meddling mind of the living but with the soul of the nearly dying. She knew what she knew and grasped for more. The river flowed and brought her with a starry sense of everything. She was drifting toward sleep. Things were different under the surface, in this netherworld of other kingdoms. Nothing…hurt.

Breathe, Lucinda heard from the depths, a flickering echo in her head. Breathe even when you think you have no breath left. You can live through anything. She breathed a tiny breath, enough that it tasted of mud, plant life, a strange pureness. She saw emerald, indigo and gold, a deep bowl of golden light held by hands of lightning in the waters of life. Lucinda breathed a whole breath, and it was well and good.

There was yanking and screaming as she was grabbed, pulled, pushed until her weight was gathered up and placed upon the earth. Her chest pummelled, air propelled into her. She tried to slip back.

“Luce! Luuuce! Open your eyes, breathe, breathe, breathe damnit!” he screamed.

Linc called; Lucinda returned.

She felt the river cruising in her veins. It slid up her throat as she hacked and coughed. She felt it clothing her, then falling away from her. Leaving her gently, her flesh so cold beyond the warmth, so soft yet like stone.

Lucinda opened her eyes and through the blur she could make out Linc’s scrunched face and behind him, the man with the broad-rimmed hat. He altered the view, was like a hole in the shining sky.

“Luce, this man, Al, he found you! We were talking about our work and things and we saw you go down so we ran and he spotted you in the water, Luce, he got you out. Can you hear me? Luce, I could have lost you!”

The sirens blotted out his voice, then more faces and hands but Lucinda felt the gurney sway like the river, holding her, lifting her higher. The sun was like a dancing flower, sweet, vivid. She reached out, found Linc.

“What?” he said. “What, Luce?”

“I know how to breathe underwater,” she whispered.

“No, Luce, no, you nearly drowned.”

“Linc.” She felt the blanket snugged around her, the blood pressure cuff pulled tight. “I breathed underwater. I’ll be okay now. Grandpa said so.”

They took her then. Linc climbed in bedside her, put her camera safely into one of her hands, held the other in his. He peered out the door windows for that man, for Al. Linc had to get his number, thank him, meet up with him, introduce him to Luce. They pulled away while Linc looked and looked. But he was not there, nor anywhere. His hat sailed over the river, gone.

 

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