Letting Life Lead
By the time she’d emerged from the woods a sliver of moon cut the sky and the rain was steady. It washed the dirt from her cheek, hands, and feet, but now it chilled in the night air. She stuffed her wet socks in her pockets and put her sneakers back on several blocks from the park when the sidewalk began to get treacherous from debris: glass, trash, butts, nails, and discarded cans. It smelled sick. Concrete, brick, and rot. Her ankles chafed and her feet slipped inside the soggy sneakers.
Deep in a neighborhood with high buildings and long alleys, she chose a route past trash bins where rats slunk and foraged. Some areas were lit well by the apartment windows, and others were left in pockets of endless dark. She came out the other side and crossed the quiet street. It was nicer here, smelling of butcher, bread and deli. At a corner bar, patrons had spilled out — some crawling in a taxi and others swaying their way home. This, too, she passed choosing instead to angle across a broad intersection towards the the bridge where some had made makeshift homes of wood, tin, and cardboard or who were taking shelter under the arches.
Away from the people, climbing up and situating herself in a dark shadow pressed against metal and stone, she pressed her fingers into her armpits and she waited.
People, like rabbits, had familiar routes too.
She hadn’t meant to doze. Nothing to see but black, and in her mouth the gritty taste of moist dirt and rotting leaves. She smelled the bones of a long dead fox. Stiff joints ached with stabbing pain, and her eyes felt pasted shut and feverish. It had been raining hard for days, but she’d been sheltered until the saturated ground felt like it was floating. She choked and could not make a sound.
Inez awoke breathing hard, heart racing, and fingers digging into her palms. The memory came upon her so rapidly she nearly lost her lunch. She had not dozed longer than a couple of minutes, yet she felt as if she’d been dreaming for ages. The taste of phantom dirt lingered. This particular memory was not unfamiliar, but this time the voice told her, “It’s only torpor. Don’t be afraid.” She rubbed away the stiffness in her neck.
An hour passed and the familiar footfalls in the distance made her whole body coil and tingle with adrenaline. Barefoot again to gain purchase in her patch of black, she slowed her breaths and peered out scanning the night. She knew where every scrap of trash lay in the dark; the grays upon the black as stark as ink on white paper. Things that moved now seemed slower and sluggish. Downwind the stink of wet tobacco and oil carried from her target and drenched her senses; it made her tighten her lip to bare even rows of white teeth. Drool dripped down her chin following the veins of rain water that trickled down her face. This one had a run much like the rabbits in the wood; a path so often used it stank of him. He was brash, but stupid. Large enough to best fights with many, but so weak he preyed upon the defenseless. Inez knew he was stalking a particular young girl new to the shelters under the bridge. She’d scented all the places he’d been, studied the people he’d touched and defiled, and became incensed with the reeking sourness of him that clung and lingered. He’d been peeping and touching things in the shelter when the girl had been gone. She nurtured her loathing until it grew fat and fueled her bloody purpose. She’d watched him — waiting for him to use his route again. The familiarity boosted his confidence and fed his audacity.
He drew closer and she could see the gray movement of his clothes even through the rain that had picked up again. Her eyes reflected in the dark and she drew her lids down. A heavy coat, buttoned closed against the elements, hung down to his boots, but he wore no hat. She crouched lower calculating her best chances. Patient. She moved slightly to a better position to place herself in front of him as he stopped below, finished his cigarette, and flicked it to join the dozens soaking upon the ground.
She dropped down in front of him and sprung at his face in a blur of froth and snarl.
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