XV. A Puddle of Blood and Fresh Water
Wiley pulled into a dark ally and a million inhumane scenarios bombarded my mind. 'Here comes the rape and murder', I thought. Wheeler and Cait seemed less apprehensive. Cait smiled and hummed and could not have looked more care-free.
"What's here?" said Wheeler.
"Pickin' up my friend. Sit tight." He smiled and the jazzy rhythm of his voice resonated in the van when he closed the door and ascended the narrow wooden stairwell beside us. Cait picked up a pretzel from the ground and ate it, as though it was just a snack from a freshly opened bag.
In less than a minute Wiley jumped back into the driver seat. He scooted his chair even closer to the steering wheel. The sliding door to the back opened and a small woman jumped in. She looked like a number of races, and she hunched down and crawled like a dog to a relatively empty spot on the van floor.
"This Beatrice," said Wiley, looking back toward her in the rear view mirror.
"How do you do," said Cait.
She smiled up at us strangely.
"Hello," she said.
She was wearing a dull calf length green skirt and a white shirt. Her hair looked like soot in the light and she had an indiscernible amount of cracks in her face, from age or what have you. The distracting panel of cracks around her lips and eyes made her real features seem vague. She wore sandals and her toe nails were long and unkempt. I looked down on her and she looked up at me like a beaten animal, completely nerved.
She reeked of weed and I heard Wheeler inhale deeply in the front seat, like he smelt it and he wanted some. Wiley must have shared the craving. He bumbled into his jacket pocket and pulled out a joint and lit it. He must have been driving below the speed limit now, but the pretzels and the weed and the mut-like woman on the ground were plenty distracting from the world around us. Whatever street we were on or whatever neighborhood we were in was completely nebulous to me. Plus Cait's weight had put my legs to sleep and the buzzing blood pressure tingled and hurt slightly. The three of us smoked and we passed it to Beatrice, who retrieved it like a treat, then she sort of slumped down into the van mess.
The van was full of smoke now and Wiley turned up the music dial. A rhythmic jazzy-rap song played, and he turned down the volume for a moment and said, "You hear this? It's me. This my mixed tape." He turned it back up. Wheeler moved in his seat as though he liked it. It wasn't good though, not at all. The song was more or less about getting drunk under a bridge, at least that was the message I'd gathered. His voice was just a slightly more rhythmic version than his speaking voice. Everyone seems to be under the impression that they have sharable talent.
Wiley sang along to his own voice.
"Little worlds," Cait whispered to me.
The van jolted and we all became momentarily startled. Wiley slowed down and turned down the music.
"What the fuck was that?!" said Wheeler.
"I hit a cat," he said.
"Nooooo!" Beatrice yelled like it hurt.
"That's a shame," said Wheeler.
I looked behind me and the black cat was now just a dead thing, dwindling behind us as the van moved forward.
After a few minutes of silent mourning, Beatrice lifted her sad head from her folded arms and made awkward eye contact with me. I darted away from her stare but glancing back to her moments later, she had not changed her fixation.
"So. How do you two know each other?" I asked, like it really mattered, like I really cared at all how these two crazies began joy riding around the city together. I'm sure they'd met in some nihilistic hiatus of smoking and drinking. Probably under a bridge.
She said nothing, but continued to stare up at me like I was an apparition she could not believe existed. 'Okay then,' I thought, rolling my eyes back towards the direction of the windshield.
Wiley kept turning up the dial of his own song, which was now playing on repetition. We must
have been zigzagging through neighborhoods to not have reached the lake yet, and I began to get a bit paranoid that we'd been scooped up into this world for the remainder of the night. Cait and Wheeler had assimilated. They both sang and hummed. "Under the bridge is the bottle and the kid and I passed out in something brown," they sang. Beatrice continued to stare.
Wiley inhaled the last bit of the weed and the van hiccuped over a speed bump. "Fuck. Where'd it go," said Wiley, as he reached down onto the floor with his upper body. The van veered right as Wiley's hands were now both on the ground searching for the joint. Beatrice screamed as we neared the lamp lit curb. The loud shrill left us all suspended in the few remaining seconds before hitting a fire hydrant. I saw the incident happening, as I think we all did. Wiley and Wheeler flew into the deploying air bags. Cait repelled from my lap, hitting the back of Wiley's seat, then collided into me as we both propelled to the floor. Beatrice slid with the pretzels and the garbage like cargo. She continued to scream. The hydrant broke open and water exploded into the sky, then pelted down angrily on the van windows. Wheeler jumped into the back and helped Cait up. His forehead was bleeding and the blood trailed down his face while he lifted her off of me.
"We have to go, now," he said.
He opened the sliding door and the three of us trickled out sorrily. Wiley looked immobile on the steering wheel, and we hopped over Beatrice who cowered on the floor in shock. My bones felt like they'd disassembled themselves inside my skin. My right leg especially. We were right outside of a tall pink apartment building. The sidewalk was well lit and bystanders, traffic, time itself seemed to be halted around the scene. Smokers outside of a dive bar across the street speculated the accident noisily. We ignored them and pushed east.
Wheeler moved quickly ahead of us, and we limped behind him like shadows towards the lake. My right shoe was damp inside with blood, and our hydrated clothes made rhythmic squeaky noises.
We emerged onto sand bordered grass from the North Avenue underpass where loud waves and ceaseless traffic collide. We said nothing to each other. We did not revel over the spectacularness of the thing. We did not exchange any questions about our shock, about Wiley or Beatrice. There were no wows or whats... It was all already too palpable to be reiterated by words.
Wheeler left his sweater vest and slacks on the sand and dove into Lake Michigan naked. Cait followed in the same manner. Her skin glowed stark underneath the bright night sky. I waited behind them then slipped off my galoshes and flats, feeling the cool sand under my feet. I kept my dress on and walked into the water. I dove into a wave and the fabric of my dress felt weightless around me. The water pressure resisted me while I swam east.
I could remember swimming clothed with Lindy when we were little. It seemed more freeing, more rebellious to us than swimming naked. Maybe because wearing the wet clothes afterward permeated the event. Putting on dry clothes after skinny dipping kills the experience. I remember Lindy and I walking through our little downtown drenched from a clothed swim. All of the strangers watched us, wondering. We laughed; feeling rebellious, spontaneous... I thought of it vividly now. Those feelings resurfaced as though I'd traveled back in time 10 years. Beatrice and Wiley dissipated. I was 13, swimming in my dress with my sister.
I floated back towards the shore and laid on the sand, cold and refreshed. I felt like I'd drank the whole lake and it was working medicinally inside me to heal my sore body. Cait and Wheeler were now bobbing heads on the distant sandbar. I could see now that they were kissing. It surprised me, but I didn't care. I grabbed my shoes and Cait's purse and snuck towards the road to hail a cab, heavy with water and sand. My leg and head both throbbed in unified pain.
Whim Day was over. Not just this one in particular, but I felt done with the whole idea of the thing. On other days Cait and I had seen how despicable the world around us could be. On this Whim Day I could only feel despicable about my own contribution to the world. Waiting on the side of the busy road, I was anxious. I had an anxious need inside me. It was for goodness, for whole grains, for dry clothes, for order. I got in the cab and headed north, leaving a puddle of blood and fresh water on the sidewalk behind me.