The window was covered with a pillowcase, but that didn’t keep anything out. Everything poured in, from sunlight to dust to the noise from the street.
What a dump. An expensive dump, that’s for sure. Not in cash, but what I was risking. Expensive to be this poor. I looked up at the ceiling fan. It revolved around maniacally, desperately trying to escape its hinges. Me too. The fan didn’t make a difference. The heat drifted in, a slow burning heat. I was cooking. Being cooked. A San Francisco special.
I prop myself up so I can see over the window pane. I’m so high up. Peering down to the street, people shuffle around at an alarming speed. Running to get to jobs, class, whatever it is that real people do. Nobody down there knows me. Nobody down there even knows themselves. They just keep moving, like little ants building a colony where nobody actually lives.
I sat up. My feet hit the floor for the first time in hours, felt like days. It could be Tuesday, it could last Thursday, it could be any day. It didn’t really make a difference. My knees creaked as I stood up, unsteady on my feet. I’ve been unsteady on my feet lately.
Now, came the decision. Stay in my room all day or go venture outside? Remain isolated or try to meet new people? Put on pants or fly free?
Sheila’s voice in my head: (There’s a whole big world out there! So many fascinating people and places and nouns!)
She had such a stupid love for life. Stupid because she was so idealistic. But thorny at the same time. She really knew how to take me down with a word and a glare.
I miss her.
Maybe it’s Sheila’s voice trilling in my head, or maybe I just need to get out of this room. But I put on some pants, run some water through my hair, and head downstairs. I have to go out the back because they don’t take kindly to stowaways, and that’s what I am. I have a deal with one of the maids. I pay her twenty bucks a week and provide the cheapest weed on the block for the staff, and they let me stay. I don’t know much about the management, but the fifth floor’s got some permanent residents from south of the border, so you tell me. It’s a fucked up way to scrabble through, but I got no choice. Sheila got everything, all my stuff, the apartment, and took the rest.
I moved out here with her. From Toledo. I didn’t want to. But she did. Just walked in one day:
(Would you move to California with me?)
(You heard me.)
What the hell?
I don’t know. I have a job here.
(Food Town isn’t a job.)
Maybe I should stop going then.
She sat down and drank a huge glass of milk.
(I guess I’m supposed to have a lot of calcium.)
(For the baby.)
Long ass pause.
Long ass mother fucking pause.
What the hell does California have to do with anything?
(My family is out there.)
Your parents are dead.
(My extended family.)
So what are you gonna do?
(I guess I’m gonna go to California.)
We pause again. I don’t know. This all happens too fucking fast. Where are the instructions? How about some advice? What do I do? Or say?
Is it mine?
And she threw the milk in my face. Which is disgusting. And fucking curdled. So we packed up my apartment –
-our apartment and headed west. I bought a car…
(Five hundred dollars. Like new! You won’t regret it.)
…that I regretted buying in the middle of Nebraska when it died a very painful and public death.
On planes, trains, and automobiles, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in California.
(No, we didn’t, we came in from the south, we’ve never crossed the Bridge, you never want to go to the Bridge, it’s too high up…)
We at least crossed the country. And got to California. It took three months. Sheila didn’t get any bigger and we didn’t fight any less.
(Moving was supposed to fix it. To fix us.)
You probably shouldn’t have told me you were pregnant. I thought that thought out loud. Really loud.
She left. And then she came back and kicked me out.
I’m walking. I hate Union Square. More tourists than you have time to kill, more foreigners than you have time to knock down. Sometimes when I’m walking down Powell, especially downhill going south, I just let myself check other people, just go in, unfettered, shoulder to shoulder. It makes me feel a little more alive.
I wander too much. I almost get hit by a streetcar. Full of tourists. Holding on and hanging off like idiots. They look like…I don’t know. Some metaphor where something is hanging off something and they all look like idiots.
I jump on a bus heading northwest. I don’t know where I’m going, but I just want to go. Anywhere. Nowhere.
Get on the bus. A man sits down next me. He looks pretty worse for the wear. After a few seconds, the smell starts. A smell that creeps so carefully into my nostrils and I can’t breathe. I mean, I can’t breathe, I can’t inhale or exhale. It’s physically impossible. I look at this guy, and his head is crusted and bleachy, like he hasn’t washed his scalp in months. They shouldn’t let those people on the bus. They should stop him at the door, before he crosses the white line and say “excuse, mister, but you smell like a piece of shit took a dump inside the carcass of a dead animal who had just vomited before dying. So you can’t get on this bus, sir.”
But no. He’s allowed to come on and ruin everyone else’s day. And then somebody gets so sick of the smell, they vomit all over the floor, and then the whole bus smells like vomit and rancid old man head.
Nobody puked for real. But it could happen. I almost did.
Eventually, he got off the bus. Off to do what, I can’t imagine. Off to go where, I can’t imagine. Off to see who, I’d guess no one. I wonder if anyone feels as lonely as I do. If anyone is without people as much as I am without any people. No family to speak of or speak to, that ended a long time ago with the whole debacle over money, what else? Who even remembers? Money is so inconsequential. It truly is just sand, it slips through the fingers and then becomes quicksand around your feet. Greed and lust.
No family. No friends. Friends are for third-graders. And I’m not friends with any third-graders anymore. Because that would be sick. Friends are people who don’t like you, but who you spend all your time around. They tell you what’s wrong with your life under the guise of support and camaraderie, but you know what everybody wants? At the end of the day, everybody just wants to go home and breathe a sigh of relief because they’re not the most fucked person in the universe. That’s why people have friends and go to parties. So and so’s husband is cheating on her with what’s-his-name’s wife and you-know-who has a drinking problem and so and so is changing careers again and you go home, crawl into bed and think “I’m not so incredibly fucked.” That’s why people have friends. I don’t need friends to know I’m not fucked. I just ride the bus.
I should have gotten off about three stops ago. I don’t know this part of town as well. I don’t like going too close to the ocean. Going too close to those islands. They just sit in the middle of the Bay, like they’re special or something. Like the water didn’t rise to cover them so la-de-da. Now they’re full of criminals and soldiers, criminals and soldiers. I don’t like the ocean. It’s just too vast. There’s too much there. It’s like…then there’s Japan? Nothing to stand on until you get to Japan. I don’t want to be that close to it.
I get off near the ruins of the old bathhouses. Sheila loved that.
(It’s like we’re in the Forum.)
(The Forum in Rome.)
I know where the Forum is.
(It’s in Italy.)
I never knew what she was talking about. She read all these books, but she was still dumb as a bag of rocks. She still never went anywhere. What’s the good of reading and talking about the Forum if you’re never gonna go there? Why do you need to know about a place you’ll never see? The knowledge of it is useless, cluttering up your head and taking the place of something useful. Like how to change a tire. Or how to fix a sink or something. I don’t know. Useful things. You shouldn’t cloud up your head with pictures and facts about things that have nothing to do with you.
I brush her shadow away and I start walking. What if she had been pregnant? Would we all be taking a walk by the beach? Me, Sheila, and our son. Daughter. Probably a daughter. She’d be a good mom to a girl. I’d be an awful father to a boy. I’d be an awful father period.
No family to speak of, no friends. The only person who holds my history, I guess, is Sheila. The only person who really ever cared about my old soul and really the only person who ever knew me. She’s the only person who ever really knew me and she didn’t want me. She got to know what’s inside, what I’ve really got in me. And she didn’t want me. So now nobody wants me.
I looked up. To the left was the water, and I guess after that was Japan. To my right was the city, sprawling up and down hills. And across that was another city. And another and another until Chicago. Until Toledo. Until New York. Until Plymouth. I looked straight ahead. It glittered in the sunlight, the Bridge. I’d never been this close to it before. Sheila always wanted to go to it, to walk across it or something.
(It’s so high up)
It’s too high up.
(It’s so majestic. It’s one of the wonders of the world. It’s so high up.)
If we walk across it, we just have to walk back again.
The crowd gets thicker as I get closer to the Bridge. Everybody wants to cross the Bridge, just so they can walk back over it again. The Bridge, the Bridge, the goddamn Bridge. The crowd isn’t as thick as it is downtown, but I speed up to pass people and thump my shoulder into their backs. They barely notice, their necks craning to see the top of the Bridge, or scooping down to gaze at the ocean below. It’s so high up. It looks like a painting down there, the water.
All these people, walking across the Bridge just so they can walk back over it again.
You don’t have to come back over it again, I suppose. Not today. Today’s as good a day as any. I hadn’t meant to come to the Bridge today. In a way, this day has been where I’ve been going for a long time. Like I’ve been making this journey to this Bridge my whole damn life. To walk across it. One way. It’s so high up.
© Eileen Tull
Eileen Tull recently moved back to Chicago after living and working in San Francisco and her hometown of Cincinnati. She performs solo theatre, performance art, stand-up comedy, and poetry throughout Chicago. Eileen’s work has been seen on stages throughout the country, and her writing has been published in several international anthologies. She started writing this story as one person, and finished it when she was a very different one. http://www.eileentull.com