I’m walking around the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’m married, and my wife and I are with another married couple, buying all sorts of stuff.
I have a cup of coffee in hand from the coffee bar here. I’m strutting around the market, looking at what all the other vendors are selling. There are so many people in this place, it’s shoulder to shoulder. I’m shoving my way through the crowd, staring down at all the different types of shoes in proximity to my own. My friends and I are perusing. That’s what we always do. That’s what a lot of people do when they go to the market. They peruse.
Maybe they don’t. I’m assuming.
If I were a lot of people, I’d do what I normally do when shopping. I’d only be interested in purchasing one or two things, and then I’d peruse. I’d give all the others vendors a false sense of hope; I’d make them think it’s about to be their lucky day. They’d think I’m going to buy their product. I’d stand around their booth and ask them a bunch of questions; I’d really get to know the vendor, and by the end of our conversation, when their eyes are glistening because they think their social investment is about to pay off, I’d tell them, “Let me think about it. Let me do a lap or two. I’ll definitely be back to make a decision on purchasing this or that.”
Whenever I do this to a vendor, there’s always this subtle shift that happens right above the vendor’s cheek bones. It’s a physiological phenomena I like to call crushed expectations. The vendor knows I’m not coming back, unless, that is, they’re incredibly gullible. If they have any smarts, they’ll know I played them.
So I’m prancing around the market. I’m prancing like a merry buck. You’ve never seen this kind of prancing. I’m pretty damn happy, and it’s difficult to get me in this kind of good mood. The couple my wife and I are staying with are some of our closest friends. We’ve enjoyed a great breakfast, great lunch, great coffee, great shopping, and now, after these few laps around the market, we’re tired. We’re ready to travel back to the couple’s home for a party.
There are two things bothering me right now: my shoulders and my stomach. The backpack I’m wearing is stuffed with books I bought at a store a block down from the market, and all the food we’ve enjoyed up to this point is begging to exit my body. I stop dead in my tracks right as we’re exiting the market and tell my wife and friends that I need to run to the bathroom. This is typical of me. I always wait until I’m about to leave somewhere to use the restroom.
“Go on without me,” I say as I toss my coffee into a nearby trash receptacle, “I’ll meet you at the car.”
So off they go, and I run upstairs to locate the latrine. I find it quickly, speed-walk into a stall, close the door behind me, toss my backpack into the corner, rip my pants down, sit on the toilet seat, and let my body do the work. I do the deed and promptly clean myself; I ensure my pants are pulled up, buttoned and zippered, and I open the stall door; I wash my hands, dry them off, and give myself a confident look in the mirror.
I exit the bathroom, rush down the flight of stairs, and leave the market. My wife and friends are waiting down the street— a block away— by the car. It’s a sunny, summer day outside. 79 degrees of warm and comfortable weather. I feel great. Today is great. The only thing bothering me now are my shoulders.
And then I remember the backpack. I left it in the stall.
“I left my backpack in the bathroom,” I yell to them, “I need to go back and get it.”
They tell me they’re going to move the car because the meter-reader is coming their way. We parked in a tow-away zone; we’re quite the risk-takers.
I wave them off and tell them I’ll find them. I tell them I’ll call them once I’m outside. So I run back into the market, hike it up the staircase again, make my way to the bathroom, enter the stall, and retrieve my forgotten goods. In what feels like the blink of an eye, I’m back outside the market. I reach for my phone and right as I’m about to dial my wife, the phone dies. Of course it dies. It always dies when I need it.
I’m looking left and right under the midday sun. I can see the meter-reader they were worried about, writing tickets and doing whatever else a meter-reader does when they’re not writing tickets. Maybe my wife and friends drove around the building?
I’ll walk towards where our car was parked, I think to myself.
So I head that direction and wait five minutes. I hear honking in the distance. Maybe it’s them? Maybe it’s not. In any case, the honking continues. It gets louder and louder and louder because it’s getting closer and closer and closer. Soon, a jeep comes into view, swerving drastically, and crashes into a utility pole. Whoever the driver was had to have been going 40 miles an hour. This all occurred mere feet from me, right across the street.
My heart is racing, and here’s the damnedest part: no one was around to see this happen. Not even the damn meter-reader. I’m the only person on this side of the building. Unbelievable.
So I proceed to run to the car. I go around to the fuming front end of the vehicle, which is scrunched in like an accordion. I grab the driver’s side door and open it to find a young woman with brunette hair. There’s blood all over her forehead. She must have slammed her head against the steering wheel upon impact. The inside of the jeep reeks of alcohol, and sure enough, there’s an empty bottle of whiskey by her feet.
I ask her if she’s okay, and she slurs a bit with the side of her head fixed firmly against the wheel. I can’t make out what she’s trying to tell me, and she keeps staring at me. Those green eyes are studying me, and I’m looking at her, trying to figure out why she seems so familiar.
Still no sign of my wife or friends. Still no sign of life on this whole damn street. What the hell is going on? I tell the girl to stay put, and she laughs. I’d call the police if my phone wasn’t dead. I’m about to run back into the market to tell somebody to call an ambulance when, all of the sudden, a cadillac pulls up behind the jeep. An older man who looks to be in his fifties climbs out of the driver’s seat. There’s a sleeping woman in his passenger seat. She appears slightly younger than him. The man is tall. I’m 5”9’. He has to be 6”5’ or something. He keeps his car running.
“You’d do best to step away from her.” he threatens.
So I step away from the drunk girl. He tells me he’s her uncle. He says she can’t get caught. If she’s arrested again, she’ll be locked up for years. The man is clean-shaven and has his long gray hair pulled back into a ponytail. He’s sporting aviators with green lenses, orange shorts, white socks, flip-flops, and isn’t wearing anything under his unbuttoned, short-sleeved, Hawaiian shirt. I step away from the drunk girl as he approaches the jeep. He picks her up like a small child, her head bobbing back and forth as he walks her back to the cadillac.
Laaaaa, she slurs loudly, laaaaa.
The man goes to the back door of his vehicle, opens it up, and slides the drunk girl inside. He then opens the passenger door and grabs the unconscious woman. He slings her over his shoulder, walks toward me, and ends up tossing her into the crushed-up jeep’s driver seat.
“This here woman is a heroin-addict”, he says, “and you’d do best to say nothing about what you seen.”
I look around. STILL. No one is seeing this. I’m the only witness.
The supposed uncle rushes back to his cadillac and climbs in. His windows are rolled down, and as he’s turning the car around, I hear the drunk girl.
“Lannn!” she yells while laughing incessantly. Before I know it, they’re gone. The whole exchange took three minutes.
I’m standing feet from the jeep, shocked at what’s just happened. The unconscious woman is slumped over the center console, one of her legs hanging out of the vehicle. I look up, and, through the smoke that’s now billowing out of the crushed front end, behold: I can see a small crowd of bystanders assembling across the street, gawking at this mess.
“Call an ambulance,” I yell.
A small hispanic man grabs his phone and dials what I presume to be 911 as he sprints over to me. I draw in closer to look at the supposed heroin addict. Her blonde hair is a matted-mess, she’s wearing black yoga pants and a dirty white tank top. She’s dangerously thin. More people are starting to run over to the scene of the accident.
The hispanic asks me what happened, but I’m still in shock. I tell him I don’t really know. I tell him we need to get this woman out of the car, but he thinks we shouldn’t touch her.
“What if she’s injured internally?” he asks, “Moving her could do more harm.”
The fumes are getting thicker and more voluminous, and my gut is telling me we need to get this woman out of the jeep. I tell the hispanic and others that I’m worried the car might blow up or something. That’s what happens in all the movies.
A young black man near us hesitantly agrees to help me get the woman across the street. As I lean into the car to grab her, something hanging from the rear-view mirror catches my eye. It’s a headband with cat-ears on them. Then it hits me: I know the drunk girl. As I’m grabbing this junkie by the shoulders and pulling her towards me, my brain is playing memories from my childhood like a projector on the inside of my skull. I see Sam the Cat. That’s what everyone called her. She was never my friend. She was some girl my buddy Landon had a crush on. She earned the title ‘Sam the Cat’ because everyday she wore a headband that had cat ears on it. We were in middle school when we met, at a Halloween event held in some sort of gymnasium packed with hundreds of other middle and high school students.
The sound of police sirens are growing louder and louder with every second. The black man and I get her across the street slowly. We lay her gently on the concrete. The entire market might as well have been outside watching by this point. Then I hear a familiar voice calling my name out among the crowd. My wife and friends elbow their way through the mass of people, and I make my way to where they are. Police are everywhere, sirens blaring. Two ambulances. Three fire trucks.
“What happened?” they asked.
And right as I’m about to tell them, BOOM! The jeep explodes.
©Alchemy & Elegy 2020