Call me

Wally spots her first. He’s got a hunter’s mindset, always up for a chase.

“There’s the one—right there!”

“I see her, yep—she’s crouching.”

“This one’s a nasty.” He rolls up his eyebrows, glancing at me, and fakes a little shiver, the juvenile thrill. He knew we’d find one here, hiding in a vacant suburban neighborhood, just off the river bypass. Two nights earlier, a row of garbage bins miraculously appeared on their sides. We travel the route often enough to catch those flags. Wally spotted the vandalism and didn’t say a word. Sure sign.

Now a woman’s lurking in overgrown hedges. She’s acting feral, picking, plucking.

“She might be done.”

I’m less interested in the ones ready to drop. It’s a messy business. This one’s drab. Her hair is tied back, but there’s no care. Loose, dirty tufts hang over her face. She looks like she hasn’t washed in months. She’s scared, tired, and probably dangerous.

Wally’s too intent, like we’re watching some wounded herbivore. His nose is inches from the windshield. His brain will be doing math on size, weight, distance—he’s going to decide if we make a move.

“How old you think she is?”

“Late thirties? Maybe forty?”

Wally nods his head and squints, “I dunno—she looks pretty with it.”

The woman still has reasonable clothes, except for months of obvious wear. She must be eating something, because she is alert—and she’s caught wind and making a run for the house at the end of the block.

“Pretty far gone, if you ask me. You swing the van around—I’ll go after her—” I didn’t want to wait and plan this.

Wally can’t hide a gloat. I think he’s more thrilled watching me volunteer for the team. He squints and delivers a grin, clucking giddy-up out the side of his mouth, “Go get’er, buddy.”

“She looks completely happy to me,” I mutter the complaint, but I’m already out the van door and building speed for a sprint down the sidewalk. She sees me, coming at her fast, and ditches behind a lapboard garage next to the end house. I hit the hedge running, break through, and swing around the corner into a low alcove.

“Damn!”

There’s a walkway next to the garage. She’s gone.

I’m pumping, but slowing down. My shortfall in cigarettes has one benefit; six months ago, I would have been gagging.

This is annoying—I have no idea where she went. It’s like trying to trap a wounded squirrel—you really want to help them, but they zip around like idiots pissing you off. I wouldn’t mind letting her escape, but Wally’s taking each one of these ‘interventions’ personally.  He’ll end up moody the whole ride back, maybe for days.

That’s him, scratching through the walkie-talkie, “Anything?”

“No. I’m still looking for her, Major Pain.”

“Where did she go? You lost her—”

There’s a side entry on the garage and I lean in for a listen; it’s too quiet.

“She split, man.”

Now the radio’s quiet. I know he’s swearing.

Suddenly, he pipes on again, “We gotta find her—”

Wally’s refusing to let go. Each day we move further on this crazy quest, his determination builds. I’m afraid he’s deluding himself into some destiny role.

I make the decision to command the operation and convey my plan, “You cruise ’round the alley. I’m gonna hide in the garage.”

“Yeah, sure.” Wally clicks off. His head will be veering back and forth, scanning over the street with his robotic, absorption brain. He truly is a hunter. Maybe that’s why we do this, for his therapy.

I hear him tap the brakes a few houses over; the worn pads squeal. She knows we’re looking for her now.

Just in shadow, beyond the garage entry, vision adjusts. Old bottles and jugs line a window sill directly opposite. Brambles have taken over the far wall—on the inside—and spar for late afternoon light. What a mess. Wally was right, nature is going to chew cities right into mulch. There’s nobody here to care.

~~~

“Grab her! Grab her!” Wally’s yelling and I’m trying, but I’m not sure which dream he’s yelling from. I’m still seeing twinkly lights weaving in front of my face.

The fog peels and I see him standing over a thrashing form next to me. Something’s cleaving my brain. I just want to go home, “You grab her.”

I’ve about had it. Let the wild things roam. I stand up and stagger back, fishing for a spare butt in my jacket pocket. Darwin had it right about some gene pools.

“Don’t let her go—” Wally’s trying to subdue her through determination, gritting his teeth. I don’t suppose he’s talking at me. She’s pushing her hands down her crotch and not letting him get a grip anywhere near.

“She’s gotta be eating,” Wally’s lanky frame starts doing a lunge and recoil dance while his quarry kicks and gnashes, “Fights like a cracker in the sun.”

My interest in this banshee faded when I thought she had slipped us. Now she owes me conscious time.

The woman is spitting and terrified, desperate angry, trying to ward off Wally’s long mitts. One hand’s still jammed between her legs, and the other scrapes at the garage floor.

“She’s trying to burrow!”

There’s a concrete foundation underneath half a foot of cardboard, dead vines and used car parts. I feel sorry for her.

“C’mere—” Wally’s chewing that bottom lip.

She lashes out, kicking her leg, nearly catching me in the off switches. I suck my gut back and she loses balance. Wally’s too quick, he fakes and seizes one of her wrists. Damn, he’s Kung Fu.

“That’s it!”

Now we have her—and she screeches a mother tongue yodel that makes my vertigo peak.

“Oh shit, she’s mad!”

“No kidding, watch it—”

“Don’t hurt her, she doesn’t know what’s going on!”

“I’m not trying to hurt her, but she’s trying to hurt me—”

She’s makes a ditch move for the five hole and pulls Wally over the top; he collapses, splaying onto her. He’s surprised, but scrambling—this is still the preliminary event.

“Whoa, whoa,” he urges, trying to bring down the tone, shifting to get his weight over her chest, and keep her locked hand from gouging his face. She won’t open the other fist—she won’t let go of what she’s hiding, pushing her whole arm into a dark cavity under a rotting workbench.

“Just pull her out of there. I’ll dig it out.”

She’s grunting. She’ll be getting tired and, hopefully, just give it up. Wally wrestles, trying to pin her, but warrior queen wants to mash his face with her go-to-town, post-apocalyptic, hair-do. She’s grinding her teeth, and squirming, heaving, trying to unseat two hundred pounds of street monkey. There’s no way. She knows it and slumps, spirit prostrate and her will broken. Her jaw goes slack and a cry curdles.

“That was one, sorrowful wail.”

“Jeez, man, talk about a ‘jones’. She knows it’s comin’, too.”

“I hate this part.”

“Just get it.”

Wally reaches up the length of her free arm and pulls the other wrist into view. Dirty, scratched fingers, busted nails—she’s been digging, looking for juice or a charge.  Squeezing has nearly drained the blood from her finger tips. The darting eyes slow; her face turns expressionless. In seconds, she’ll be catatonic.

Wally peels back her rigorous fingers, “You could help.”

“You’re fine.”

“I wanna shower after this one.” He scrunches his nose, like he’s opened a septic tank. What a preener.

Then he finds the prize, glides it past her palm into his. She has him puffing, and I know he’s ticked. Before today, we’ve been checking the incoming calls, but this time, Wally doesn’t hesitate. In moments, he flips open her cellphone and tears off the screen. The balance, he throws at the far wall—impact sends shards over the back half of the garage.

“No more!” he commands, and pushes off. The woman seems to have fainted with exhaustion.

“I don’ think you’re gettin’ through.”

Then, something shifts, and Ms. Bright Eyes turns, looking right at Wally. She may have been a good person, when she was coherent—even someone’s mom, or their tax attorney. Occasionally, I get overwhelmed, the way this is all coming apart—the way everything turned to shit. This one’s been especially upsetting. It’s almost like she knows what’s going on—that she’s sick, addicted, phased by the stupid cellphone waves that are rotting her mind, sucking her neurons dry. She might have been pretty, funny—passionate. Now she looks like a tranquilized antelope submitting to a tagging. I’m not sure, but I believe she’s batting her eye lashes.

“I think she likes you, Wal.”

“Right—or bust?”

“Wobbly.” I shrug and show him a teeter of the hand, signaling ‘iffy’.

He returns attention to the sprawled woman, peering into coal eyes, looking for anything lucid. Her lips are trembling; she’s trying to mouth words.

“I wouldn’t get near her, man.”

“Hold on, she’s saying something,” Wally’s waving me off with his arm, leaning closer, inches from her sour, sweating face, and straining to capture what might be her final words before the cellular resonance dissipates her life’s spark into a ‘no service’ signal. Her ears are already splotched in blood. I’m thinking of the thousands—curled, twisted, dried out and rotting—in corners and doorways, just flogged memories shot down by an addiction to gab. Damn you, Nokia.

“I hear you. I hear you,” Wally’s pleading to keep her afloat, but it’s too late. She’s going offline. He cups her head in his big hands, searching her fading eyes. Clear beads are running off his nose; his muscle T is soaked from the struggle and humidity, and he pulls her closer, willing passion to live, embracing with his strength—virile, vital—a dynamo with his lips hovering above hers. Their breath entwines and a sad, sunburned knight on a path from hell, my friend, begins to weep for this woman. For him, she must live.

Her mouth opens, beckoning. Slowly, one hand raises to the side of her face, pinky and thumb extended.

“Call me,” she whispers.

###

Read another scene here… http://now.readthisplease.com/2011/02/call-me-another-scene/

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