When the last lingering light of day had finally disappeared, she waited another twenty minutes. Then she walked through the automatic doors of the ER, completely unnoticed, into the night.
She headed east, toward the homeless shelters. She had driven through that neighborhood many times during the day, where ragged men with shopping carts gather under the interstate bridge, where young kids, barely in their teens, mingle with older addicts on the steps of the treatment center, where the women who would later stroll the streets sat on the curb smoking cigarettes outside their run-down apartment buildings. In the light of day, they were there, but the street belonged to those whose lives were comfortably insulated from the stench of unwashed clothes and grimy hands with broken fingernails and shattered liquor bottles and needles in the gutter and the ever-present hint of mind-altering chemicals breezing through the air. It belonged to those who shopped at the open-air market and dined at the sidewalk cafes and visited the plush offices of medical specialists that appeared like satellites around the hospital, not far from the free clinic or the street doctors who offered their own cures for those who had no other choice. In the daytime, they were all there together, some living, others waiting.
She walked the first block away from the hospital as she always walked, quickly and with purpose. She crossed the street and onto the sidewalk that fronted a medical office building. She began to slow, not completely sure of her destination. At the other end of the block, behind the office building, the parking lot was almost completely vacant. In the next block, where houses once stood, was another parking lot, this one unpaved and ungated, sometimes attended by a man in small hut, but now the hut was empty. Across the way near the opposite corner two men stood smoking cigarettes.
She kept walking, her hands stuffed in her jacket pockets.
A man pulling a hand cart, slight of build with long, stringy hair passed by her without even looking up.
In the next block, a woman stood near the corner, another in the middle of the block on the other side of the street. Heather crossed the street at the corner, avoiding the first woman. The second woman at the middle of the block stepped back, giving her room to pass. They made brief eye contact, each sizing the other up. After she had passed, Heather slowed and finally stopped. She turned back to the woman. She stared back at Heather.
Heather took a step toward her. The woman didn’t move. Heather took another step and saw that the woman was too young to be on the street. A runaway, no doubt. She looked like she hadn’t eaten in a week. Her eyes were wide, accentuated with heavy eyeliner and too much blue eye shadow. She shifted from one foot to another and kept her arms crossed, a habit Heather surmised was developed to hide the needle tracks.
“What do you want?”
“Get it out lady. What are you looking for?”
“You a cop?”
“No. I’ve got a serious health condition. It affects my nerves. I’m just looking for some relief.”
“Right. Can’t help you lady.”
Heather could see that she didn’t trust her. Not that getting busted by an undercover cop would ruin her life. More like an inconvenience.
Heather glanced around and then pulled a bill from her jacket pocket. She made sure the woman saw that it was a hundred, then folded it and tucked into the woman’s hand which was still gripping her arm. The woman didn’t hesitate. She took the bill and stuck it in the back pocket of her jeans.
“You too stupid to be a cop. Hang on.”
She pulled a phone from her front pocket and made a call.
“Hey, Bobcat. I got a woman here looking for tabs. Can you set her up? She’s legit. She’s too scared to be a cop.”
She turned to Heather.
“How much you need?”
That’s something Heather hadn’t considered. She had no idea.
The woman spoke to Bobcat, then back to Heather.
“Two hundred bills. You got that?”
The woman stuck the phone back in her pocket.
“Two blocks down, take a right. Bobcat’ll be on the front porch.”
“Don’t thank me. Curse me.”
copyright 2018, joseph e bird
from the novel, Heather Girl