ADAM AND DANIA
Adam and Dania Beach sits roughly nine miles off Interstate 5, halfway between Olympia and Seattle, on the other side of the train tracks, and just south of a beachfront neighborhood. The girl climbs out of the car on a literal Memory Lane, parked unceremoniously in front of a house that is not hers, and sneaks through someone’s backyard until her shoes hit the sand. No one is with her, except the full moon looking down on her.
Treading north toward more homes, there sits a stocky white building with a sky-blue roof. The girl can barely make it out in the distance this late in the evening, but she decides to climb it all the same. Her fingers nearly slip several times, but she manages to jump from a nearby boulder high enough to grasp the roof; she pulls her weight behind her, remembering the pull ups she used to do to impress her older brothers. The ledge itself looks pleasant to sit on, but after ascending she finds the corrugated ridges are cold and unforgiving, pressing their waves into her palms with an uncomfortable, bouncing edge as she climbs. Deciding it best to simply dangle her legs over the edge, she squirms in a futile attempt at comfort, her bare skin on the underside of her leg less than pleased with her for placing them on a sharp edge. A slight sea breeze blows her hair in her face, which she brushes aside in order to look out on the waterfront. The canted angle at which she sits is not wholly irritating, though.
Inside her purse, the only thing she managed to grab before twisting her ankles this way and that in the sand, sit only the daily essentials: cell phone, wallet, water bottle, lighter, and a box of over-expensive cigarettes. The night is dark, but she still wants to look at her phone, even if it will disturb the tranquility of the moment. She can’t stand not to know precisely what is happening at this second to everyone that she knows, in spite of wanting to feel as though she is alone as well. The water is a deep, dark blue, the kind of dark blue that makes her wonder if it’s actually quite shallow, or goes on forever. There’s no real way to know when it’s this dark without getting in herself, which she is woefully overdressed for. Her cardigan sweater would not survive that, nosiree.
Feeling as though the night sky were just about ready to swallow her existence whole, she pulls the cell phone from her bag. Its light blinds her with the shine of a small star. No big deal. It’s not like there’s anyone to disturb around here other than herself, anyways. She falls into the endless scroll, looking for someone, anyone, who could possibly feel like her:
The girl wishes she had any kind of interesting event to speak of. Unlike her friends, she hasn’t done much since high school, moving to Washington, and promptly getting a job in Olympia. Just retail, though. She doesn’t have much more than that basic nine-to-five, with no real room for advancement. For about five minutes, she had a boyfriend, but that is the least of her concerns now. Her no longer quite-new apartment is little more than a closet to hold a few clothes and books in; she lacks the space to even put a bed in the room. She had once tried to fit a mattress on the floor, but she found that it became too difficult to navigate to the front door when she did. At least the view of Puget Sound is nice.
She isn’t sure how long she wants to sit up here. The night is cool, but not cold, and the sky looks clear above, strange for the autumn. The girl can look up at the stars, and she wonders whether or not her boyfriend is busy looking up at the same night sky right now, too, somewhere else in the city. Correction, ex-boyfriend.
The girl goes to the phone app of her cell phone, thinking about how weird it is that there aren’t separate words for the two things. She begins to dial his number, since, hey, it’s fine, he’ll want to hear from her, right? I mean, it was a few weeks ago that they broke up, and he’s probably alright by now. He’s probably already found someone else, someone who can spend the kind of time with him that the girl never could really commit to. She was happy for him, she really was, because he deserves to find true love and all that. The girl doesn’t know if she’ll ever be that happy someday, but she wishes she will be. Even if she threw away her best chance at that particular brand of happiness.
She types the last of the numbers in, and just keeps staring at the sequence. The green button to place the call radiates little ripples out from it, just begging her to dial him up. The girl knows that she shouldn’t, that it really couldn’t lead to anything good at this point, that the way that they left things really couldn’t lead to them having any kind of productive conversation about it now. She still clicks it just the same, and the harsh red button smashes through the green, flat and static, demanding that she take it back. She scarcely hears the dial tone before she clicks, ending the call. Her phone starts ringing in her hand, immediately. Shit, he’s calling back.
Overhead, the moon is shining down, reflecting off of the waters of the Sound. The girl has a hard time telling whether the shine on the water is the reflection of the stars or the churn of the surf. She thinks back to her high school years, at home in Florida, spending many nights much warmer than this one on the waterfront with friends, holding bonfires on the shore, or sitting in the water until ungodly hours. She wishes that she could be back there, now.
Her thumb continues to hover over the green answer button as she takes a deep breath in, out, in, out. She moves to pick up the call, but the condensation starting to form on the glass screen allows it to slip from her fingers. She watches as it falls down into the water, tumbling end over end, unable to hear what her ex-boyfriend is saying. The phone lands flat on the water, causing a rectangular splash that sends out ripples farther than she would have expected. She wonders if she let it go longer, whether her ex-boyfriend would have even wanted to talk at all.
The girl, suddenly overcome with a desire to look at a photo of herself and her ex-boyfriend mid-relationship, pulls out her wallet. She had always thought the idea to be corny, since everyone had a camera on their cell phones (still hating the word) anyways, but her ex was always a bit of a hipster, and he had bought an old school film camera, with some kind of Kodachrome lenses or something. He had been obsessed with the thing, and even had bought an old-school self-timer so they could both be in the shot, together. The ex in question was now a chemistry graduate student, and he had set up a darkroom in his dorm room bathroom, much to the dismay of his roommates, in order to develop the portraits himself. He wasn’t much of an artist, mainly focusing on still-lifes, and always with a penchant for slightly off-focus pictures. His technical skill was purely lacking in that regard. However, there was one picture that was pure beauty, of the girl and her ex, just sitting at a little table at some coffee shop they hadn’t been back to since, kissing across the table. The girl had always found this photo to be just a little goofy, but charming all the same. After all, they were in love.
The image starts to blur, but she soon recognizes that her eyes are merely starting to well up at the corners. Her scalp starts to itch as well, and she scratches the part in her hair before wiping her eyes. Maybe it really is time to try and purge this relationship. She dives back into the purse and begins to dig around for her lighter. She finds it, flicking the wheel several times, causing it to indent in her thumb like the roof is on her thighs, causing little more than sparks. The flame doesn’t start, but one of the sparks does manage to catch a corner of the photograph. She holds the opposite corner, turning the image away from her so that the fire points skyward, and lets it run out toward her fingers. At a certain point, however, the heat overwhelms her, and she drops the photograph toward the water. Great, now she’s littering deliberately, she thinks to herself. Maybe she should have tried to let the flame run out on the rooftop with her.
In the distance, she starts to hear the war drum of the elements call for a charge in her direction. It isn’t long before the lightning sharply crackles in her eyes, as well. She hadn’t even noticed the night starting to get darker as the clouds had rolled in. By now, there is a blunt fog rolling in over the coast. She can’t see much farther than ten yards in any direction. It really seems prudent to the girl to get back to her car, now, and go home for the night. After all, she has work the next morning, just like everyone else. The world doesn’t stop for you to feel sorry about yourself, as her parents always told her.
The girl looks down at the ground, and momentarily panics about finding a way back down. She hadn’t really thought ahead on how to get back down safely on the way up, but now she really needed to find something. She decides to sling her bag back on her shoulder, and she waddles up to the edge closest to the ground. The girl looks down, thinking that it really isn’t too bad of a fall if she wanted to just jump off. She stops herself, realizing that it would be really a dumb way to get hurt, and comes up with a new plan. She’s going to try to put her legs over the edge, and use her arms to drop herself back down, grasping the edge with her fingertips. That’ll work, right? It worked on the way up, after all.
However, when she gets her body weight off of the roof, she really manages to get it off the roof. She falls hard and fast, landing with a sharp thud on the ground. Her fall only manages to be braced by the padding of her purse and the relative softness of the packing of the sand. She’s going to be sore tomorrow, but luckily she didn’t break any bones. At least, she doesn’t feel like she broke any bones.
Unfortunately, what she did break was her water bottle. The disposable plastic popped under her, spilling the water all over the inside of her bag, and down her back. She can feel it dripping down the back of her pants, the least comfortable place to possibly have a spill. Her cigarettes are ruined, which is perfect, because she would have loved to spark one up for the walk back to the car. She looks around and finds a trash can, dumping everything from her purse except the wallet into the bin. She takes her shoes off, wanting to avoid fighting the soft sand for some semblance of stability. The girl recognizes that she’s just going to have an easier time if she lets the sand take her ankles where it wants her to go.
Halfway back to the car, the girl realizes that she doesn’t have the car keys in her purse. She runs back to the trash bin, and starts to dig. She encounters old bags of food, bottles of sunscreen, used hygienic products, and deflated beach balls, but no keys. She tries to look up on top of the building she had been sitting on, but no luck there either. She must have left the keys inside the car itself. Great. Her (ex)boyfriend definitely would have had something to say about that.
By now, the rain is starting to come down gradually. She marches through the muddy shore, occasionally losing her balance and having to brace herself to keep from falling face first into the sand. She gets back to the train tracks, and barely crosses them without getting run over by an oncoming cargo load. She didn’t know cargo trains operated this late at night.
The girl gets back to the car, parked next to a Madrone tree, and she looks in the drivers’ side window. Sure enough, her keys are sitting right there on the passenger seat. They must have fallen out of her bag on the way out of the car. The weather is really starting to turn now, and the cardigan sweater is as wet as it would have been if the girl had tried to go for a swim. She thinks that she could try to punch through the glass, like in some kind of old cop movie, but then she remembers that only works with old, thin glass, not the reinforced kind that her ex-boyfriend would have used in the car. If they had, what would happen during a crash? The windows would shatter so much that the shards would be more liable to kill someone than anything else in the car. But she does know that there must be some kind of way to break the glass. After all, she had seen plenty of movies where a well-hit baseball a bunch of kids were playing with busted through a car window. And she sure is stronger than a kid, after all.
She tries the door handle once, just to make sure it really is locked—then again, the car probably would have been stolen if she had forgotten to lock the door—but can’t enter. The girl begins to scan the surrounding area, finding one large rock she can actually lift with some mild effort. She has to find a way to get it through the window without causing a complete mess. The driver’s seat seems too risky, since she doesn’t want to sit on the shattered glass. Similarly, the passenger seat might be a bad idea, since she would have to dig through the shards for the keys. The front windshield would cause the same issues for both the driver and passenger side seats. She settles on the rear window, since the two-seater has an inaccessible area behind the seats for the glass to fall safely into. Plus, she could reach around from there to unlock the door from either side.
The girl has a difficult time lifting the rock high enough to cause the window to break. She brings it over her head, and when she tries to let the stone fall through the window, it merely forms a decorative spider web rather than truly falling to pieces. She tells the reinforced glass to fuck itself once more and looks to the Madrone she parked next to. It extends far above her, directly over the windshield she is trying to break. She takes her cardigan off, wrapping the stone around the body of the sweater, and slinging the now-tied sleeves over her shoulder. She leaves the purse on the ground as she climbs the tree.
The girl looks down at the car and remembers when her ex-boyfriend bought it. He had been so excited to have a little foreign roadster, something he found to be an object of beauty. She had always appreciated his love of aesthetics, and the classic car was no exception, all curves and a stark black paint job he had kept immaculately clean, even if she hasn’t washed the thing in almost the whole year since the breakup. He had spent so many afternoons washing and waxing the vehicle by hand, slaving over it until it shone with the same kind of brilliance as his smile. She would sit in the garage with him, flipping through magazines looking for the latest celebrity gossip, while he would explain the jargon of car ownership to her. They would speak past each other like this, day after day, but now the girl was really starting to worry about the fall. When she left, she had worried that taking his car was crueler than leaving him in the first place.
The stone threatens to pull her off the branches as she ascends. She feels bad now that she was going to have to drop the rock again on the car, ruining the beauty he had built. All the same, she lets the stone fall, shattering the rear glass window. The car alarm starts to blare like an unwanted morning siren, waking up half the neighborhood in the process, probably.
Getting down from the tree, like getting down from the rooftop, proves to be more difficult than the girl imagines. The rain is really coming down now, and she struggles not to slip and fall off of each branch as she comes down, eventually landing on all fours on the concrete paving the street. Her palms and knees are now scraped and pink, threatening to start bleeding at a moment’s notice. She stands up, walking around to the back of the car, and pulls out the stone. Its oblong shape remains unchanged, and she tosses it back onto the yard which she plucked it from, hoping not to disrupt the garden lining the stranger’s home. She sees a light turn on in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the house she’s parked in front of, and quickly dives into her (ex-boyfriend’s) car, grabbing her (ex-boyfriend’s) keys. Wiggling out the back, she runs around to the driver’s seat, opens the door, starts the ignition, and begins to drive away from the neighborhood. She sets her navigation for home.
The car alarm has started to settle down, now. She considers turning on the radio but thinks it would only annoy her at this time of the night. She had only gone out to get away from any kind of sound in the first place. Now, the patter of rain into the back of her (ex-boyfriend’s) car taps endlessly, reminding the girl of her lack of solitude. She tries to turn on the space heater, but it doesn’t make much of a difference with the cold air and rain creeping up on her from behind. Her windshield wipers furiously rip across the glass, trying to keep some modicum of clarity in front of her. She makes her way to the highway before the sirens start to blare behind her. She doesn’t dare look back at the squad car, afraid to confirm that it’s her they’re chasing.
Her forearm starts to sting while changing lanes. She takes a moment to look down at her arm, and she notices there are streaks of blood running down from near her wrist to her elbow. It snakes down in mismatched patterns, occasionally crossing, but often choosing to merely zig and zag with no real sense of intended direction. Her gaze returns to the road just long enough to see another bolt of lightning illuminate the sky in front of her.
She looks back down to search for the nearest hospital on the navigation. The system informs her that she is not allowed to make destination changes while the car is in motion, but she can’t pull off to the side right now, else the police will think that she’s pulling over for them, which she sure as hell is not. However, she spots a traffic jam up ahead, which she speeds toward as though she had no idea what the term “speed limit” would even entail. She manages to squeeze in between two cars just in time to build some separation from the officers.
The cars on this section of the I-5 South are at a dead stop. Funny, this thing isn’t really supposed to happen outside of L.A., or so she’s heard. There were always traffic jams wherever the girl lived, but she always just kind of figured that they had to be worse in California for whatever reason. The girl sets the navigation for a hospital with an emergency room open. The gash on her arm is pretty deep. She’s probably going to need stitches.
The sirens are crashing down on her harder and harder. She seemingly can’t hear anything else in her periphery, which is unfortunate, since the rain limits the visibility of the cars around her as well. She can hear the police officers, who have turned the siren down now, shouting at her to pull over through the loudspeakers outfitted to their cars. She knows her (ex-boyfriend’s) car must be reported as stolen, even though she really didn’t steal it, since it’s both of their cars, and both of them put their name on the paperwork, even though she didn’t transfer full title ownership to herself, since it’s still her car, too, dammit. Maybe one of the neighbors had gotten worried when she shattered the glass. The horns start honking around her as she cuts through merge lanes out of turn.
Traffic starts to break up in front of her as she passes a wreck on the other side of the road. It doesn’t look like an ordinary wreck, though, even for a rainy night like tonight. The shell of a car remains, but that’s it, and several other cars are piled up behind it. However, what clearly happened, since the car seems to just be sitting in the middle of the lane, unimpeded and generally still in its intended shape, is that it was struck by one of the bolts of lightning that she had seen on her way down the road. Her theory is confirmed when she gets up close to the car, since it sports an unusual black burn mark radiating out from the center of the hood, almost as if someone had set off a firework and then left it for whoever’s car it really is. She imagines the pain that must have filled the driver’s final moments, being electrocuted alive. It would undoubtedly be painful, but she at least thinks that it would be nice to go so fast. Unlike she probably will, bleeding out in a car that’s stuck in traffic looking at this poor loser. Once she passes the wreck, however, the cars start to move at a more regular rate once again.
Her navigation alerts her that the nearest hospital is still several exits away. She continues to drive at the speed limit, not wanting to give the police any additional charges to tack on if they decide to say that she stole the car, which, for the record once again, she did not. The girl does, however, cut through traffic left and right, making sure not to even come close to hitting anyone, so she can try to maybe lose the police in the heavy traffic. Lucky for her, everyone seems to drive slower when a police officer is around, providing an impediment not only to her own speed but to that of her pursuer as well. When the off-ramp for Bridgeport Way, the street the hospital is on, approaches, she signals just like any regular driver not trying to make a getaway would do.
The girl’s ex-boyfriend in question would always say that the two of them should take more road trips. In a way, that’s what she was doing in Washington, taking a road trip away from her whole childhood. She was living in the state, sure, but really it was more like she was always just passing through. That apartment isn’t a home, her job isn’t a career, and her relationships she had made since coming here really aren’t more than acquaintanceships. She isn’t putting down roots, in any real way, instead living life day to day like a transient, without a real home. She doesn’t even know where she’s going half of the time without turning on the navigation software her ex-boyfriend put in the dashboard when restoring the car. How pathetic is that?
As she pulls to the highway off-ramp, the police car continues to tail her. As hard as she tried, she was unable to lose the cops in the heavy traffic that comes with a stormy night, as well as their very presence on the road. The girl sighs to herself, letting the tick, tick, tick, tick of the turn signal drive her mad from waiting for the light to change to green. When it does, she pulls her car further out onto the street, and she finishes the drive to the hospital. Her arm is really starting to bleed now, ruining the interior of the car along with the rear windshield. If only her ex-boyfriend could see the product of his precious work, now. He’d really be ashamed of her after this little incident, as he would call it.
The girl pulls into the parking lot of St. Clare Hospital just as the engine craps out. She probably should have been more conscientious about filling up the gas tank, but there was just too much on the girl’s mind the last time that she passed a gas station. She had initially planned on filling it up when she was on her way back from the beach, but that plan flew out the window.
She looks down at her arm, and sees two strands of fluid weaving in and out. The red, emanating from deep within her, and the blue, softer and coming from above. The lights flash all around her, illuminating the liquids with such a clarity the girl could never previously comprehend, and she treasures the moment. She may be sitting in her car, in front of the hospital, dying, with the police ready to take her away, but none of that matters. This moment, here, pure and isolated, the girl feels a sense of peace, a sense of the two sides of her coexisting as best as she can. Her heart still beats, and her blood still flows. She softly chuckles to herself, and wonders why it took all of this to just feel okay for a moment. But she’s ready for the next one. She wishes she would have driven to her ex-boyfriend’s house instead of the hospital, just to let him know how it all turned out, but she accepts that she’s done enough to him, tonight of all nights especially. And maybe the hospital is a better place to go when you’re bleeding out like this. The lightning crackles once more, her old friend by now, following her to the ends of the earth. The cops start knocking on her window with the baton, demanding her license and registration for the car. She hears one say it was reported stolen, and the other saying that she shouldn’t be told that. They can’t see inside though, because of the rain coming down on both sides of the glass. And that barrier helps the girl to feel safe, at least for the moment.
She thinks again about trying to call her ex-boyfriend, but by the time she will get around to getting a new cell phone, she will have forgotten his number. She can’t even remember it now.
Ben Shahon is a writer whose work has appeared in a number of journals, including Voidspace Magazine, TBQ, The Daily Drunk, and others. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Emerson College and BAs in Philosophy and Creative Writing from ASU. Ben is surprised people keep letting him, but is currently at work on both short and long fiction in the Boston area.