Every day I think I’ve done the wrong thing. It’s an exhausting way to live. One time, I was walking down Cherry Street to get some Thai for dinner, and this white guy in a polo shirt came running toward me. He looked worried. I slipped to the side. Maybe he was trying to catch a bus, I thought. A minute later another white guy in a gray t-shirt came after him with a big smile and a steak knife. In the dark by the community center, a woman laughed.
I wondered: should I call the police? I was so shaken, I went right into Lotus Thai and ordered orange chicken. Then I felt bad for getting the Americanized dish, an insult really. The crunchy sweet meat glistened beside redemptive crowns of broccoli. I didn’t hear any screams outside so I figured no call to the police was needed.
But after I left I got to thinking about how passive I’d been about it, like—why didn’t I intervene somehow? Wrapped up in thought, I strolled north in the night. Smokers murmured outside the Twilight Exit. The alley was strangely prettier than the street. Wispy grasses. Rustic fences.
The moon lit the way until the alley spit me out on Olive Street, which was weird, because I should have noticing passing Union Street. I was surprised at how far I’d gone without thinking. Or while thinking, rather. Ha. I was so preoccupied with the memory of the smiling man running with a knife. He wore socks and the sort of sandals that remind me of college boys lounging in dorms.
By the curb, a couple sat on two discarded arm chairs. They spoke in hushed tones. I thought, how romantic, but are those chairs covered in cat pee? The woman glanced over her shoulder at me, all slinky. Her skin seemed kind of green, maybe it was the moonlight. But then I noticed festering sores on her brow and purple marks at the corners of her mouth. She whispered to the man. He eyed me. His face gray. Pock-marked. Flies buzzing all around.
“Hey bud,” the man said. “Want a beer?”
I thought about how stand-offish and passive I’d been on Cherry Street so here on Olive I decided to engage.
There was a rickety wicker chair by the zombie couple and a coffee table askew in the grass. A cooler full of Rainiers. He popped one open for me. It didn’t fizz. It tasted warm. The woman kept talking real quiet, I couldn’t understand a word she said, and the man giggled and starting gnawing at his lips.
“Nice night,” I said.
The woman ran her tongue along her black teeth.
“You have a plump head,” she said.
“Thank you?” I set down my beer can. “There’s really not much going on up here,” I said, and laughed. People like self-deprecation. It’s a good way to bond. She laughed too, a flat ha—ha. And the man’s giggle turned into a snort. He wiped slobber off his chin and started to stand. A crackling cartilage sound came out of his knee. I got up too, beer in my fist again, as if I might need a weapon. But then out of anxiety I guzzled it and said, “Well, I’ll be off. Thanks for the brewski! Better run off these calories. Ha—ha.”
So I set to running, but when I looked over my shoulder, the couple was still sitting on the arm chairs having an intimate moment. Well, it felt good to be running in the night, so I kept going, I did, and I lost track of time again.
There I was in the middle of Interlaken park past midnight. Maybe I’d see a body dumped, I thought. The air’s muffled in there, what with all the moss on the trees. I didn’t want to tumble into the dark ravine so I kept to the main winding boulevard and figured I’d follow it all the way to the University Bridge and then I’d be among people again.
Well, don’t you know, I passed the Hebrew Academy, then some big white mansions. I could have sworn I’d seen a topless man peering down at the woods from his villa, a light at his back. Watching some rastling a little ways down a ditch on the other side of the road. Two bandit-like fellas were revving up a chainsaw.
Feeling bold I asked, “Whatcha doin’, friends?”
“Trees’ blocking boss’s view.”
“Wouldn’t some daylight help?”
Well, I thought, that’s pretty weird, cutting trees in the cover of night. I squinted a little. Slender birches, kind of bone-colored. I’d thought the park was more coniferous than deciduous.
“Are those birches?”
I couldn’t see much beyond their silhouettes and gritted teeth. The chainsaw was loud, maybe they hadn’t heard me. So I kept going. You know me, don’t want to impose. Once I got to the bridge, I waited for the bus, scrolling through SPD’s twitter feed. No mention of a knife-wielding dude. I sighed, relieved.
The bus hissed as it knelt. I smiled at the bus driver, and sat up front, the safest spot when it’s late like this. We careened down Eastlake Avenue at a steady 30 MPH. The radio played marimba music. In the distance I saw someone in an untucked white shirt in the middle of the road. The yellow lines of the street so cheerful and bright beside him. I thought, now the driver will slow, now he will softly press the brakes. The man outside was waving his arms up and down now. I thought about telling the driver, hey, look, there’s a guy in the street, might want to kick the speed down a notch. Or maybe the guy would jump out of the way and I wouldn’t have to distract the driver. Surely now, I thought, surely now the driver would see him.
Anca L. Szilágyi‘s debut novel is Daughters of the Air, released by Lanternfish Press in December 2017 . Anca’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, and Lilith Magazine, among other publications. She is the recipient of the inaugural Artist Trust / Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award, a Made at Hugo House fellowship, and awards from the Vermont Studio Center, 4Culture, the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, and the Jack Straw Cultural Center. The Stranger hailed Anca as one of the “fresh new faces in Seattle fiction.” Originally from Brooklyn, she currently lives in Seattle with her husband.
Illustration: Cascadia, by Alexis Hillard. Handmade collage mounted on panel, 2015.
Alexis Hilliard is a native of Portland, OR. She received her BFA in painting, photography, & video from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Upon graduation she began working for numerous artists throughout the Pacific Northwest and abroad (including Gage Academy of Art, The Florence Academy in Italy & for the American artist Bo Bartlett). In 2014 she received her MFA from the New York Academy of Arts in Manhattan. She currently lives in Brooklyn and specializes in complex large scale handmade collages.
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