The Loathsome Burden of Present Peril
By: Antwan Crump
“Well you go find him then!” I screamed as I slammed the door for what I now know would be the last time. Everyday had gone this way since she’d found out. I never understood what the issue was exactly. To be honest I still don’t. She had been so frustrated with me and my creative endeavors, however supportive. With a simple nod of acknowledgement for my work, the fears that had slumbered deep within her psyche revealed themselves, as a jealous rage and a deafening blow to our once happy home. She did find him, couple of kids, bad mortgage, infidelity, you know; love.
I left the house that night worried about what the following hours might bring. At least I had Rosie. Ah Rosie. My 1991 Nissan, built to last and ever reliable. I put the key in the ignition, turned it , and from the first misfire I thought “Rosie’s dead”. She was. After a quarter century of four-wheeled bliss, my trusty steed had left me. The flickering lights on the dashboard, haunt me to this day. “Check Engine. Check Engine.” I wasn’t going to, what would be the point?
I lit a cigarette and waited for a sign. Anything to keep me from diving out of the driver’s seat and into oncoming traffic. The two ladies of my life gone without warning, an increasingly stressful agenda, and no point to it all. “I can’t be this person” I thought. I’d worked so hard not to be my father, or his; stuck in a hell of their own making, blaming the world just before shunning it.
The elongated ash from my cigarette fell into my lap. I felt the burn and did nothing. In a trance between worlds, I’d begun to fade. Delving into the abyss of my ever-growing psychosis, there was a piece of me in panic, another in serenity. Through the rearview mirror I saw that the light had turned green. Wading gently back and barely alert, I remember my hand raising to the door handle. it was quiet. The honk of the cars wouldn’t stop my descent. The door opened, and I leaned left.
Everything was still for a moment, until I felt a force push me back into the car, so hard in fact that my limp body had spilled into the passenger seat. I was back again. I thrusted up and aggressively began to shake my coat and wipe my pants, searching for my loose and lit cigarette. Once I confirmed that I had not been on fire, I looked out the window, as I questioned what would’ve stopped me. A homeless man waved. His toothless smile would usually disturb me, but given the circumstances, I welcomed his scatter-shot incisors.
I rolled the window down, to thank my cart-pushing savior. Before I could get a word out, he knelt down, picked up my fallen cigarette, wiped it off, and began to smoke its remains. Disgusted initially, I chose to look past this quirky behavior. Besides, I’m the one who just volunteered to be a speed bump. “Hey, thanks.” I said. “I must have fallen asleep at the wheel.” He looked bewildered for a moment, took a drag from the cigarette, and responded “That’s one way to deal with car trouble.” I answered “Excuse me?” He took a final puff of the cigarette and tossed it before continuing “ I heard your car misfire. Pretty damn sure the whole country did.” He cupped his hands around his lips, looked up , and exclaimed “The misfire heard round the world! World! World! World!” I laughed nervously with him, as he was blocking my only route of escape.
“Thanks again, man.” I said. “Now if you don’t mind could, you move so I could get out?” He responded, but not to me. It’s as if he had been sent to tell me something absolutely unrelated to him moving out of my damn way. “Car troubles huh?” He muttered as he tilted back and poorly inspected the vehicle. “Yea” I responded, obviously frustrated. He was unfazed as he continued “ Yeeeeeeppp! Tends to happen with these models.” He glared as if to scold me and proceeded “ You see, if you don’t show them the proper care, and attention, they’ll just die on you. I seen too many a good vehicle go like that. Shame, really.”
“Yea thanks” I answered while pushing the door open. He backed up to allow me to pass, his scent of urine and stale beer wafted over me, vomit hit the top of my throat as I politely gagged. I did the best I could to keep my composure, I think he noticed anyway, at the time I didn’t care. “You know young blood, I don’t mean to pry or anything but if you want, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with your car, and you can get on getting on.” he said with a smile and a glimmer in his eye. “Alright man, let’s hear it.” I didn’t mind entertaining this circus act for another moment or two.
He answered “ Ya see, the problem with your car, is that sometimes you gotta walk.” “Come again?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders and concluded “Sometimes, it’s not the car, it’s the driver. So anyway you got a dollar?” I reached into the car and gave him a handful of change from the ashtray. He pointed behind me, I looked, and when I turned back around he had already crossed the street and been pushing his cart uphill. Wildly disconcerted, I closed the car door and began to walk in the direction he’d pointed. I don’t why. In retrospect, knowing me, guess I’d convinced myself that’s where I was going anyway.
Still uncertain of my place in this existence forced upon me, I wandered straight, head down, hands in pocket. It was dark that night. Darker than it should have been, usually this would of caught my attention, but tonight, I just wanted to embrace the array of nothingness. My breathing slowed with every step, I suppose letting go allowed for a higher sense of the moment. It was quiet.
Until it wasn’t “Hey honey.” an enthusiastic chime rang through my ears, shattering my meditation. I thought to myself “Just ignore it. Keep walking.” This worked for just a second, then once more with purpose “Hey honey!”. Damn it. She was talking to me. “I don’t want any” I yelled, and attempted to return to the confines of my own mind. “Well I don’t have any!” she screamed back at me, we shared a moment of eye contact and mutual hatred, with each other, and with ourselves. Sad to say it was the closest I’d felt to a woman in some time.
I continued my trek until I heard a loud SMACK! “Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look” I thought to myself as I disobeyed these simple instructions. It was exactly as I had feared. A streetwalker being beaten by her owner. I could usually rely on the action of another passersby to intervene, but on this night it was just the three of us. My crime to witness, or to stop.
Transcendence isn’t the word. I couldn’t even place blame on fight or flight. All I knew is that in three blinks worth of time, I was face to face with her attacker. “Can I help you with something cabron?” he shouted as I wiped his spittle from my face. We stared at one another, and the street lights went out.
My eyes opened slowly. I was further along on the path I had been walking, arm in arm with a strange woman who refers to me only as honey. I was confused. Sadly enough if you put a gun to my head, I still couldn’t begin to tell you where that increment of time had vanished to. The only thing I knew for certain is that short of her black eye, and the shooting pain in my side we were fine, we were safe, and from the look of admiration in her eyes, we were friends.
“I can’t thank you enough honey. That was so brave of you” she gushed and smiled, suddenly too shy to hold eye contact. Gripping my arm tighter she asked “Are you sure you’re okay, do you need me to call someone?” Remaining quite lost as to what she was referring, I responded “Yea, I’m okay.” We didn’t speak for some time after that. I had begun to drift back into my meditative state, the clicking of her high heel shoes had a surprising symmetry with my heartbeat, it was nice.
“This is me right here” she softly whispered gesturing toward three steps and a door. I nodded and attempted to pull my arm away, but she locked on ever more tightly. Placing her hand on my other arm, she stared deep into my eyes, and begged “Come upstairs with me, you shouldn’t be out here alone”. I gently removed her hand, and than her arm, “I would but Ross… My car is dead.” I answered. Her head dropped as if she had completely understood. she gently kissed my cheek, and proceeded inside.
I stared at the door, as it closed, waiting for the click of the lock and the knob. Just before that anticipated sound, the door swung open, she crept from behind and whispered “I’m glad you walked” She smiled, I smiled back. The door closed, and as I considered turning back , all but one streetlight ahead had shut off, so with that I continued downhill, toward the light, head down, hands in pocket.
As I trekked downhill, my mind went blank. Admittedly the scent of her perfume lingering on my sweater threw my imagination into full gear. The “if only’s” and “but only” did little to quell my burgeoning desire, despite that, it did do wonders for my fading spirit. I sped up my stroll, as the incline downward grew deeper. The lights behind me faded, as those ahead of me seemed to flicker on and off, uncertain of their effectiveness I suppose.
Enticed by my disappearing and reappearing shadow, I slowed once more. The smell of her perfume waned, and the descent into my psyche began anew. In that instant, her memory was all at once lost from me. Her smell, her touch, the click of her heels on the concrete, the jingle of her bracelets. I’ve recreated them since, but I know my memory serves as an untrustworthy narrator.
The street lights continued to flicker, an unsettling silence plagued the blocks ahead. I heard a faint siren behind me, I knew at that moment that I could not run back. The lights reset and once again it was dark. “No matter” I thought to myself as I waded in the pool of the unknown, more comfortably than I’d care to acknowledge. Just then a sound came piercing through my eardrums, at a pitch so devastatingly high, it could cause one to weep. I didn’t weep, but whatever it was I wanted it dead.
The lights shone back on and the empty streets re-emerged the same, albeit despite one excruciatingly loud and annoying difference. I wish that I could tell you I initially commanded myself not to look as I had instructed myself in previous awkward circumstances. But this time, this one special time, I had to know exactly what had caused me so much momentary anguish, so that I could hate it more effectively.
I looked up and across the street, and my soul sank. It was a small child, no more than four or five, just standing there, arms dropped to the side, eyes almost swollen shut, and honestly the first case I had ever seen of someone who could quite realistically drown in his tears. I had no choice this time. I watched myself rush across the street. I dropped to one knee, hugged the child, and he hugged me back. “Where do you live” I asked. He wiped the remaining tears from his eyes and pointed downhill, I smiled and answered, “Well we’d better get you there”. I stood up and extended my hand, he held it, and we proceeded forward.
It’s worth noting that though this was clearly the right thing to do, I still hated the kid, not just for the scream, but for the endless myriad of questions he felt compelled to ask, once he deemed himself safe. “Why is it so dark tonight?” he asked. I humored him “ Well, the clouds are blocking the moon, that combined with the street lights acting up, gives you a dark night.” “Will it be this dark forever?” he asked. “I don’t know” I answered, but seeing a chance to help humanity I also added “One thing for certain, if you ever scream like that again, the sun will never come back.” we smiled.
It continued this way for a few blocks, than it was quiet. I had almost forgotten the kid had been travelling with me. I was so disillusioned by the events of the night. Knowing I had been slipping through the thin lines of sanity that I had remaining, I began to question whether or not I was the best person to be caring for this child in the absence of his parents.
“What kind of monster am I? Am I bleeding? When did that happen? Am I wearing perfume? Where’s Rosie?” These thoughts swirled in my head for seconds that seemed like an eternity. I began to panic, I began to sweat, I stopped walking. I dropped the child’s hand and sat on a nearby curb. Squeezing my temples I attempted to physically push these thoughts deep into my subconscious, before they revealed themselves as my breaking point.
“What is to become of me?” I thought as my chest expanded and bones cracked with every inhale, all the while exhaling felt as if the weight of the world had suddenly rested on the place my heart expands, “I can’t do it, I feel it ending, this is it, it’s happening.” I thought, as the tears ran down my face and onto curb. I watched as few became many, accumulating into a stream following the road downhill to an endless destination, than stop.
“Thank you” I heard softly. Suddenly I was standing, hand in hand with the kid smiling back at me, while a woman who looks very similar, held in her overjoyed clamour for air as she wept. The kid let go of my hand, and walked into the house. “Thank you so much, you’ve saved my son. I don’t know how I could ever thank you. Please. Won’t you come in and have some coffee?” She plead.
I had initially considered her offer, hell I could’ve even used the coffee. The only words, that I could muster however were “I would, but Ross… My car is dead.” The woman smiled, placed her hand on my shoulder and all at once hugged me, whispering to me just before she let go, “I’m glad you walked.” She stepped back and smiled, I think I reciprocated. The door closed, and as it did, I felt teleported , the next thing I saw was the distant pale blue of the sunrise, and the smell of grass awaking.
There was a slight breeze that seemed to be pushing me forward, speeding my pace. As the wind picked up I pulled my hood onto my head. Silencing the wind, I heard distinctly from behind me, “There she is!” followed by a flurry of footsteps pounding onto the ground. I didn’t think. I took off running as quickly as I could. No matter how quickly I increased my speed it was as if I couldn’t outrun the pace of my soon to be assailants.
I didn’t panic. I began to consider my options. “It’s still too early to hope to happen upon law-enforcement. The streets will be empty for at least a few more hours. Traffic isn’t heavy enough to pray for a Samaritan to offer me some sort of temporary sanctuary.” I wasn’t sure what to do, I just knew that couldn’t turn back and even more so now than ever I knew I damn sure didn’t wanna look back either, so I ran, as fast as could, as long as I could.
A single glass bottle flew by my head and shattered just beside my feet. One of the shards made its way into my sneaker. With every agonizing step I felt it dig deeper into my heel, daring me to stop and face my imminent end. I kept running. More bottles were thrown, along with rocks, and whatever other debris happened to be lying on the filthy streets, that have now become the vagabonds armory.
I was hit several times in the legs and back, once in the head. I heard them getting closer, the streets had begun to look like a blurred collage, I tried to think of beautiful things, as to not have my last thoughts and sights be of stages before my severe injury, and failing or following that, my death.
I thought of the kid, and the life he will now live, seeing the world as a place where a friend can fall from nowhere just when you need them. The glass in my heel dug deeper. I thought of the girl, who in a moment alone and defenseless, had an unforeseen protector and guide, I slowed down to a jog. I thought of the hobo, who despite any reason or logic, saw fit to be a prophet, and of myself, who in the darkest times, was given light. “Sometimes you gotta walk” I thought.
My jog had slowed to the speed of a crawl, I inhaled deeply. I closed my eyes and thought of Rosie. The incoming stampede of testosterone and profanity no longer frightened me, in retrospect I don’t think it ever did, I was more insulted that this would be what killed me. I counted down as I heard them so close I could smell. “Three…..two…” I could feel the ground trembling “ One.” The street light shone brightly, even against the rising sun, blinding us.
As the light slowly dimmed I removed my hand from view. I was alone. Staring off the pier. The mellow sounds of the ocean reinvigorated my senses, it was clearly later on in the day, as the sun had peaked in the sky. The birds chirped pleasantly, and in that moment I wept. There was only one way left to go, I couldn’t turn back, back there no longer existed. I thought of nothing but my smile, and in that moment, I leapt.