Sunday, March 02, 2008

Outside the window it was raining the cold, steady rain of Portland in the winter. Every so often a strong gust would make the drops patter against the glass but most of the time it was just a rushing sounds on the streets and a steady dripping fro the downspouts. The dripping could also be heard from inside the apartment. It was impossible it know if the roof leaked since the apartment was a basement studio but since water dripped from the ceiling every time it rained for more than two days it was likely there was a leak somewhere.

The only other sounds came from the TV and the apartment’s occupant. The TV was in the middle of a commercial about a happy housewife shopping in her new minivan. The only person in the room was making the other noise, slowly, carefully, stroking a six-inch shard of metal with a whetstone. Jenny was an old hand at making shivs and knew that at some parts of the process you just couldn’t rush things.

It had been raining that night too, but a year ago the wind had been gusting so hard the planes had been using the crosswind runway. It had been colder too. Much colder.

The commercial ended, showing how happy the housewife was to do the shopping in her new minivan. Jenny snorted and got up to switch off the TV. A smooth, well-practiced flick of her wrist tucked the finished shiv into the sleeve of her shirt. She reflected that some women could be content with a pretty house and a shiny new minivan. But some would remain restless, discontented outsiders who wandered until the end of their days.

She had stood in the rain that night for far longer than necessary. Long past the point when it was obvious the bus wasn’t coming. She didn’t feel the wind or the rain. Hardship had dulled her awareness if discomfort a long time ago. Now it was simply a matter of making the decision to either start the long walk back to the city or just to stand there until morning and go back to work.

She was still considering her options when headlights lit the bus stop and a car stopped in front of her. She didn’t bother to run as the only place to go was down the slope behind her into a gully full of icy water. The window on the passenger side rolled down and a man leaned over the console. It was hard to make out his facial features in the dark. “The busses stopped running an hour ago.” She said nothing so he added, “Budget cuts.” When she still didn’t respond he said, “I could give you a ride if you want, at least to a bus that’s still running.” Her face might have changed a tiny bit. He sighed and pulled a badge out of his pocket. “I’m not going to hurt you and if I were going to proposition you I wouldn’t show you a badge first.”
Instead of relaxing she tensed very obviously and for a moment it looked like she would chose the icy water in the gully but then a strong gust of wind plastered her hair to the side of her face. She gave an almost imperceptible shrug and got in the car.

She trapped in and rolled up the window but didn’t say anything, didn’t even glance over at him. He studied her for a long minute and then ducked out of the driver’s seat. After pulling something out of the trunk he got back in and tossed a blanket onto her lap. “It’s cold put there.” He said putting the car in gear.

At first there was only the sound of the engine and the windshield wipers. Then she said, “I didn’t notice it.” She lifted a corner of the blanket to wipe the rainwater off her face but otherwise didn’t move. Even in the dim light he could see that she was soaked to the skin. In some that might be attractive but in her it only brought out the fact that she was on the unhealthy side of thin. Her hands and face were gaunt, her shoulder length hair ragged at the ends. “Juvie will do that to you.” She added.

Well that explained her reaction to his badge. “I’m Rad Johnson.” He said, halfway expecting her to snicker at his first name.

She didn’t snicker though. Only said quietly, “I’m Jenny.”

“Where can I drop you?” He asked.

“West Burnside.” She named a cross street.

“That’s a nasty part of town.”

“They’re all nasty these days.” She replied.

“True enough.” He admitted, “How come you were out in the rain on a night like this?”

“Overtime. It helps put food on the table.”

“Obviously not much.” He heard himself say before he realized he was talking.

She favored him with a long look and then said, “The problem lies in the system. Our elected representatives look out for themselves and their financers. That’s why the busses don’t run at night anymore and why the police don’t have enough officers.”

“Insightful.” He said.

“They haven’t closed the libraries yet.” She shrugged, “Those are free. In the summer they are cool and in the winter they are warm.”

“So you go there and read.”

“It beats standing on the sidewalk waiting for the world to change.”

“You should try doing something to make it change.”

“In my experience those on the bottom stay there no matter what else changes.”

They rode in silence the rest of the way. Only the rain, the windshield wipers and the engine making any noise at all. He finally pulled to a stop at the intersection she had specified. It was still raining but in the downtown area there was very little wind. Jenny had her seatbelt unbuckled and was halfway out of the car when his hand closed on her forearm. She turned to look at him and for a second he saw something dangerous iin her eyes. “You can keep that.” He said quietly, referring to the blanket she had dropped over the console in her haste to get out of the car. She looked from him to the blanket and back again. Then reached down and picked it up.

He almost didn’t hear her murmured “Thank you,” over the drumming of the rain on the roof. Then she swung the car door closed.

He thought for a long time after he drove away about the way she stood there under the streetlight. He’d gotten the impression that nothing about her fit in with the street around her. But that dangerous look in her eye, the ropes of hard muscle and scars he had felt under her sleeve all went very well together. In another environment she would probably mesh quite well but in this time and place she was a broken hole in her surroundings.