Part III - El Otro Lado

Chapter 12

First Slice

“You look like an angel, walk like an angel, talk like an angel. But I got wise, you're the devil in disguise.” - Elvis Presley

 

Masuyo the Perpetrator stands behind the winged statue in the park by the riverside. The wings seem to move, but she ignores the visual disturbance, finding it hard to focus. The sound of the river makes her dizzy, hearing every nuance of the current. Masuyo eyes the hater brothers who stop for a smoke, reminding her of Masato’s cigar. Didn’t mean for Masato to fall off the curb, she thinks. He was always drunk. He stumbled like he always stumbles. Things change like he said. She is happy to be free. Free to take the haters of the world, and there are two in her line of sight. They are talking about lifting a booth at the farmers market.

 

“Easy money,” one whispers, but Masuyo hears everything. Her ear precisely tuned and tweaked by Masato’s blow.

 

Masuyo makes her way to the wooded end of the park by a tree and sets her weekender on the ground under a bush. Her eyes involuntarily fixate on the leaves, darting back and forth. For the first time, Masuyo stands back, witnessing her brain, ready to count, organize, find the pattern. I got change, she thinks, ignoring the compulsion.  Instead, she unhooks the bungee cords and feels around for Masato’s Swiss golf knife but comes up with his divot tool; all while keeping an eye on the boys. Her focus comes and goes, but today things are looking bit sharper. She pockets the tool, ties one bungee back around the suitcase, and the other, she wraps around her wrist. Bungees are all-purpose, perfect for strapping down stuff and to take down the life of a hater.  The brothers head for the easy money and Masuyo executes a flawless kick-jump to her feet.

 

***

 

The suspended Captain Yarborough thinks it might be fun to visit the farmers market on his free day. Years of the wife busting his chops about cleaning out the garage. She’s not there anymore, but her voice still echoes. So instead when he backs the car out, he pulls into the street and heads toward the river. After all Lieutenant Lesbian will be there filling in, and it would make a great story to tell the guys. Besides, Saturday is me time now, because being a deacon means his entire Sunday is spoken for. He likes the church, and he’s fond of the lighthouse built into the façade, symbolizing the light of Jesus. “Still other seeds fell on fertile soil,” Jesus said, “and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Bless the farmers of the earth, he thinks, but other seeds, like the lieutenant, were planted among the thorns and in shallow ground. He is good with Jesus though because the captain stays extra at church on Sunday praying about his lust.

 

“I am now a single man oh Lord,” he prays. “My wife did not serve me as you commanded. Now I am lost in the flesh, desiring the women sinners. They have desecrated their temple. I pray to thee I will not do the same.” His lips move so the congregation can see.

 

The Captain’s ex-wife now sits far in the back. She loves the Lord too but believes with all her soul that he is captain only at the precinct, not in our once blessed home. Yarborough’s prayers go unanswered because when he sleeps, he still ruminates about the pretty Roxana girl he saw Holmquist questioning at the precinct. He heard from an experienced fellow at the department those salts and peppers know their way around. With at least one seed planted in fertile soil, she’s not half bad. Anyone with eyes could understand that he thinks.

 

***

 

Jay reaches the end of Stockton Street and heads down the riverside avenue in the direction of the farmers market under the bridge. Pedestrians step off the sidewalk onto the grass to make way for her large figure and shopping cart. The sun seems warmer than it has in days and she is feeling more joyful too. That is until a pickup truck with a Jesus sticker in the rear window rushes by dangerously fast. A lot of negative space in the bed of that truck, she thinks, pausing on the uneven sidewalk, the rattle of her shopping cart wheels falling silent. She thinks hard and to make the connection with her healing brain. On the opposite side of the street is a sign, “Life Coaching, Redesign Your Life,” with a watermelon-like logo. Many signs, she thinks, remembering a card she slipped into a book. The card looked like a miniature version of the sign. This means something, she thinks, but it wasn’t surfacing. Soon it will come she knows. Nearing the farmers market, she can hear the crowd.  The closer she gets the warmer she becomes. The sun looks far and high in the sky, casting a shorter shadow. For the first time since the accident Jay sweats, and with it comes the memory of the sweet plane lady.

 

“Stay close to yourself, to your center. It will serve you,” Roxanna said.

 

Manifest my center, she thinks. The connections will come, the signs. It’s close she thinks, then I can Redesign My Life. Two pedestrians attempt to step around her.

 

“I don’t believe semis belong on the sidewalk,” she overhears. Stopping her cart, blocking their way she looks them in the eye.

 

“Elvis says don’t be cruel,” she points out to the naysayer and steps aside.

 

***

 

Ricardo “The Rock” De Los Rios reaches the clearing on the north bank, where the creek empties into the river.

 

“El otro lado,” he says into the river breeze.

 

There are no signs of Miss Jay’s watermelon luggage along the banks. Perhaps at the farmers market, he thinks. He heads up river following the smells of the food vendors but has no money. He nods purposefully at passersby on the riverwalk, wanting to appear and feel normal. Proud of his new clarity, today he will not be one of those. La Virgen, she hears me in my thoughts, he thinks. Ricardo does not need to speak to her aloud. He is feeling warmer as he closes in on the market. He looks down at his shirt, tucks it in, buttons his sleeves, and unbuttons the collar. His cap with no logo shades his eyes on this cloudless day. His shoes are caked with dry mud from the creek, so he squats by the grass and scrapes it off in chunks with his thick fingernails. A long shadow casts over his body. A shadow that moves with the wind. Before he looks, he anticipates that this is a visit from La Virgen, and wants to prepare his soul. Instead, he sees the twisted ends of long dreads almost touching the sidewalk near his shoe. He looks up at the long figure. The dreads move like they are touched by a spirit. He is not sure if he should rise or pray. The figure stares down at him, and Ricardo “The Rock” De Los Rios looks up, prepared for his rapture. The man extends his hand, his long fingers inviting him to rise.

 

“Farmers market. Is serious, hungry serious,” he says, smiling, holding up a twenty-dollar bill with the other hand.

 

***

 

The boys are walking their way up the avenue. The streets are filled with people and families coming to the market, feeling good about buying local. The brothers have little to feel good about except to maybe stir up some trouble now and again. Mom said she needed space to find herself, so they get to find themselves too. Besides, Dad is depressed, and his occasional kick back with a blunt became a twenty-four-hour obsession, the house always smelling like weed. They would scrape a bit off the top of Dad’s stash. He never notices, hardly notices them. Mom had a stock of her favorite finger size zip-lock bags in the cupboard which were perfect for a dime. Selling them on the corner by the sushi café, that money buys refills for their nicotine inhalers.

 

As they pass the art museum and gardens, the younger brother suggests a run through to see what’s up. There’s a guy playing guitar out there. His fur-lined case says, “Joseph” embroidered on the inside lid. People throw cash in there. Easy money, they think. Dad has a guitar he strums when he’s wasted. Sometimes the shit he makes up sounds good, but he doesn’t think so and refuses to play in public. Maybe someday he’ll give a crap. So, for Dad the brothers spare Joseph. They climb the brick wall and walk chest proud through the gardens, scanning as they go. There are people leaning on the railing watching the river, their pockets right out there, positioned for the taking.

 

***

 

Masuyo is scanning too, and moves in darts in the boy’s direction, leaping in one elegant move over the brick wall, landing silently in the grass. Before her is a tall statue cast in bronze of Diana of the Hunt. Masuyo admires her long slender figure, an archer poised, bow to the sky. Standing just to the side, she gracefully imitates the pose.

 

“You have a phone? I can take your picture?” a courteous staff member offers. Her name tag says “Hope.”

 

“Thou shall not be a bystander,” Masuyo says ignoring her.

 

Masuyo stretches her slender frame, her right arm cocks back, pointing her imaginary bow skyward.

 

“Diana the Huntress is pointing her arrow to the moon,” Hope explains.

 

Masuyo swings down and around and aims at the brothers by the wall.

 

 “This,” she says, “is hope.”

 

“Dianna is the Roman goddess of…” begins Hope.

 

Before Hope can finish her sentence, Masuyo is midway across the gardens, creating a cloud of pollen in her dash as she rushes past the flower beds.

 

Landing on the path by the river she finds herself in the sunlight. Feeling warm, she notices. It’s good to feel the summer again. We got change, she thinks. Masuyo unbuttons her red coat all the way down revealing a slender and athletic frame under the same yoga tights she wore the night of her last beating and Masato’s demise. She hears a rush of air in the distance. A gust comes over the water out of the east, and her coat flies behind her waving in the wind like a cape.

 

“Thou shalt not be a victim,” she says at the top of her voice.

 

The patrons agree, and some even clap. “You go, girl,” she hears. The boys spot her and run to the north end of the garden, hop the brick wall and disappear in the crowd.

 

***

 

Jay, she is sorting through thoughts and memories. She imagines the wires connecting because that’s what the law of attraction says. Manifest the connection, she thinks. The lines on the sidewalk thump under each wheel. Cracks emanate from the gentle grass that somehow breaks through the concrete. Find the sun, she thinks. Distracted by her manifesting exercise, she bumps a man on crutches just ahead on the sidewalk. He pivots on his crutch, swinging around, saving his fall.

 

“Oh my, I am so, so sorry mister,” she says, startled and eyes beaming at his swimmers build and broad shoulders.

 

The man leans, resting his weight on her shopping cart, embarrassed and avoiding eye contact. It’s obvious to Jay he’s holding back the waterworks. Putting her hand on his shoulder Jay realizes that there is a flood of negative energy, and her bump has tapped the well.

 

“It’s all good,” the man says, clearing his throat. “I’m fine,” his voice, slow and slurred. His shirt is wet revealing a toned back.

 

 “Fine? I don’t think so mister.”

 

“Michael, name is Michael,” barely lifting his head, rubbing the back of his hand across his cheek.

 

 “I’m a fat bitch,” she blurts, not knowing why that slipped out.

 

“Oh my Jesus,” she says, looking down at his scarred legs. “What in heaven’s name?”

 

Stabilizing on his well-worn crutches, head buried in his arms to hide the remaining tears, “Yeah, it got caught between the tail pipe of my motorcycle and a car bumper. Crash, crush and burn. Long time ago.”

 

“A man once said ‘stars are the scars of the universe’” she quotes, not knowing where that came from either.

 

“Yes ma’am?”, he slurs, his pitch rising along with his head at the familiar words.

 

“Been on those a while dear?”

 

‘Thirty years’ ma’am,” he says his pitch even higher.

 

“My name is Jay. I’m Jay.”

 

“Yes ma’am, on them a long time. Jay?” his hands shaking, unbelieving.

 

“I mean the drugs dear, not the crutches. The painkillers. On them a long time?”

 

A bit of spark and smolder went crackling under the crescent shaped scar just behind Jay’s hairline. Jet engines, tumbling cars, and a creek. Jay holds tightly onto her cart.

 

“Have we met dear?” she asks, shaking her head to assimilate the confluence of memories and signs.

 

Only one person knows about his problem, Michael thinks. Looking up, face to face, her white skin and bountiful cheeks decorated with freckles, there is no doubt.

 

“Coach Jay? Coach Jay?” he begs. Michaels opiate eyes are suddenly alert, his pupils shrinking to a pinpoint.

 

Jay’s eyes fix on the sidewalk, the cracks and splinters. Michael notices the wet beads emanating from her pores and the scar deep above her forehead.

 

“What happened to you? Are you okay?” looking at the shopping cart, old blankets, coffee cups to go, clothes and old shoes.

 

“Do you remember me, Coach? Coach Jay?” he asks.

 

She tightens her grip on the cart and goes silent.

 

“Jay! It’s me, Michael!”

 

He tucks one crutch tight under his armpit pulling his wallet. He extracts a business card, damp with the sweat. She sees the card, “Redesign Your Life, Life Coaching by Jay. Manifest your Destiny.” The card is marked with a watermelon logo. 

 

“Down the street, your office. Jay? You went missing. Showed up for our appointment and nobody knows where you went. Went back every week for a while. I still keep a journal, just like you told me.”

 

Jay’s hand sweats around the bar of her shopping cart. Manifesting a breath, her chest expands and releases a loud purposeful sigh. She shakes her head, staying the flood of intrusive thoughts and short circuits.

 

“Let’s get you some water. The farmers market has cold ones.” Michael says.

 

“I bet they have watermelon,” he tempts.

 

Jay’s swollen feet start slowly, the cart carrying her weight, her body sweating like summer rain. Michael walks beside her on his crutches. Pedestrians are impatient with the unlikely pair blocking the sidewalk as they make their way slowly to the farmers market. Michael is sweating too. He’s working hard to make it through withdrawal. With each step, Jay can hear his hydrocodone bottle shaking like maracas in his pocket.

 

“Watermelon,” she says.

 

As they pass the art museum and gardens, two boys come hopping over the brick wall and run in the direction of the market moving swiftly by. They are followed by a fast-moving woman, her red coat trailing in her own wind.

 

While Jay looks, distracted Michael reaches into his pocket, holding the crutch in his armpit. Just one more day, he thinks. One more day, cold turkey. Four white pills go down his dry throat. He welcomes the bitterness on his tongue anticipating relief and all those good feelings that come with it. As they near the entrance to the market Jay notices the maracas are sounding a bit lighter.

 

“Redesign your life,” says Jay without looking at Michael, feeling reset and refocused.

 

***

 

The walking tour guide from New Orleans and the widower of Cartagena step side by side up the riverwalk. They both sense that this meeting has implications, and Ricardo thinks the thin black duke may be a blessing from La Virgen. The passersby have a sense of this too, as Willis’ dreads braid themselves into a magnificent bundle atop his head. “The Rock,” his wide shoulders spread, his chest rising in the heat, feeling worthy and forgiven. Their walk is a harmony, and their gate matches perfectly. A gust blows east across the bank.

 

“Es sólo en viento,” declares Ricardo, comforting his new friend.

 

“Is just the wind,” Willis says looking straight ahead.

 

They approach the farmers market shaded under the bridge. The smell of fresh produce is overtaken by the hot grills and steaming pots of food vendors. The sounds of music, laughter, babies and a few drunks among the various artists hawking their work from colorful booths sprinkled throughout. In front of the bulkhead, a magician is pulling an endless stream of silk handkerchiefs from his throat in the river breeze. No match for the dancing dreads.

 

“I am hungry, but I am looking for something,” says Ricardo.

 

Willis reaches for Ricardo’s hand and holds it gently and tests the touch.

 

“Is this way,” Willis says, “Watermelon is.”

 

***

 

Sharon’s thinking that possibly she is being guided, being open and all. The message about the farmers market on her radio, and the fact she is going to be on duty there today. Sharon slips into her wrinkled uniform and becomes Lieutenant Holmquist. The lieutenant straightens her name plate, holsters the gun, and clips on her radio turning it to the on position. Not that it mattered, being that it talks to her in either position. Checking herself in the mirror, the letters of her name aren’t reversed. Open to anything. Skye takes the cue from the jingle of keys and determined not to let her leave without a treat jumps on the kitchen counter. Lieutenant Holmquist retrieves a small bag from the cabinet and shakes a few treats out. It reminds her that she stood here weeping last night, palms down on her crying counter, the counter becoming her wailing wall of late. Today we rise above like the Blue Jays, she thinks, looking at Skye. Today the tears stay in the well. Walking out to her police car, the screen door slamming behind her, the lieutenant is not surprised to see the four Blue Jays perched atop the light bar. Unlocking the door, she looks up at them.

 

“What!” she says, “I get it! I’m going!” surrendering with a laugh.

 

When she starts the engine, the Blue Jays take to the sky and head east. The wheels crunching over her gravel driveway, Lieutenant Holmquist follows. To the farmers market, rising above and feeling open.

 

***

Avoiding the crowds Michael and Jay hobble their way over the stone side street on by the farmers market, Jay’s cart is bouncing on the uneven surface. Michael is feeling a bit euphoric now. His breathing slower, his heart rate kicking back to a relaxing pace. Anxiety, slipping away into the calm. He’s feeling one with everything. The river is slack and lazy, in between the ebb and flood tides. Michael leans his crutches down on the bulkhead and imagines himself swimming in the eddies and confluences. Jay understands confluences.

 

“In life, you need either inspiration or desperation,” she says. “Tony Robbins. Love that man. Looks like you have a bit of both dear. You rest here hon, rest with the water, I’ll go fetch us some watermelon. It will make you feel better. Tony says the rind is the best part.”

 

Jay manifests reconnections in her confluence of old memories and Michael. Something about redesigning his life. It feels like summer, grass breaking through the concrete, the sky clearing. The universe unfolding, she thinks.

 

“Make an appointment,” Jay says, but the meaning goes as quickly as it comes.

 

Michael nods in his stupor. On top of the world with his eyes half shut. The sound of four shopping cart wheels clattering, soothing and comforting as it fades under the brush-like percussion of water striking rock. Michael drifts in and out when his leg gives out from under him.

 

Two strong hands come up under his arms and hold him from behind before he falls. Ricardo has been carrying a lot these recent days. It suits him in this age of the awakening, he thinks. A tall figure squats in front Michael and looks into his pinpoint eyes. His gentle hand touches Michaels cheek and things to come. Impressions, static and more impressions.

 

“You, Michael, you are part of the water system,” Willis says.

 

Willis turns to Ricardo and nods his head.  “Is okay. Let him sleep,” he says.

 

Ricardo “The Rock” De Los Rios, lowers him down gently in the grass by the bulkhead, resting his head gently on his arms.  Willis and Ricardo leave him in his bliss and head into the farmers market. Their stride, rhythmic and perfect.

 

Michael dreams of the warm sand on the beach and, in his waves of euphoria, surfer girls, and mermaids.

 

***

 

Jay approaches a produce vendor. “Farm Fresh, Buy Local!” it says on a chalkboard in front of the booth. Alanis Morissette is singing “Hand in My Pocket” on their speakers.

 

I'm broke but I'm happy

I'm high but I'm grounded

I'm sane but I'm overwhelmed

I'm lost but I'm hopeful baby

What it all comes down to

Is that everything's gonna be fine fine fine

'cause I've got one hand in my pocket

 

Jay thinks of Michael. Hand in his pocket, lost and hopeful. On the back table is a mountain of watermelon. A pile of heaven. Food of the Angels.

 

“Everything's just fine fine fine,” Jay sings along. “I've got one hand in my pocket,” reaching in her pocket for that twenty-dollar bill, wet with summer sweat.

 

“Great tune,” says the young girl from behind the booth standing in a tree pose. “Local grown,” she says glancing at the watermelon. “Grew them with our students in the community garden. I’m Val, the director there. Your local purchase benefits their education.”

 

Jay holds out her twenty toward an open basket of bills.

 

“They look beautiful Val! Can you halve it dear? I have a friend down there. We’re going to have a little chat and share,” says Jay, always excited to share food and feelings. Both nourish the soul.

 

Val drops the twenty into the basket, pulls out a crumpled ten and a five, and hands it to Jay. The brothers standing by the funnel cake stand watch the flow of cash. They nudge each other’s elbows simultaneously and laugh because they’re thinking the same thing.

 

Val retrieves a red serrated watermelon knife with a green handle from under the counter and gracefully slides off the cover like a move from her gentle yoga class. She brings the blade down on the fruit and in one graceful motion, slices it down the middle. The watermelon halves separate, wobble and settle. The cross section facing Jay causes her to gasp for an extra breath, her chest expanding and holding.

 

“What’s wrong ma’am? Is it rotten?” she asks.

 

“Jay, my name is Jay,” she mutters in disbelief, her chest deflating.

 

In the cross section of the watermelon are four perfectly arranged seeds. Three of them white, the other black.

 

***

 

Ricardo stops short of the Farm Fresh booth ahead, freezes mid-step, and holds his arm out in front of Willis.

 

“It is her,” Ricardo whispers under a gasp of breath, recognizing her large frame, the one he carried up the embankment to the highway with strength from the other side. 

 

Willis places his hand on Ricardo’s firm shoulders, nods, and reflects, “Is her,” his lips unmoving.

***

 

Masuyo hides behind Jennie’s Family Jams and Jellies spotting the hater boys sharing a funnel cake. Even from this distance, she hears them discussing the booth, calling it “easy pickings.”

 

“That one, with the bucket of cash, the hot yoga chick, the watermelon,” he points out.

 

“Looks fresh to me,” one laughs. “We just need to get around the fat one,” he suggests as they scope their surroundings preparing to move in.

 

“Suika. Suikawari!” whispers Masuyo, smiling, thinking, she has two heads to split.

 

Masuyo tightens the bungee cord around her left wrist, then slips her right hand into her red coat retrieving Masato's divot tool. The two sharp forks shine, just like he left them. She remembers how he would pierce, then carefully slide the blades into the turf.

 

“Not a bystander,” she whispers, eyes fixed on the perpetrators.

 

© 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 by LEAP Collaborative & Jim Alabiso