Chrissy on Earth
As she climbed the long slow hill past the university campus, Chrissy imagined herself moving closer and closer in time to Paul. She had not seen him all week, but last night she'd had a dream that they met at Isaac's and spent the night together. This was like a premonition, she thought, because Isaac had told her Paul was coming over that day. The memory of the dream had lingered while she dressed, pulling on the layers of black that floated around her like soft shadows and rubbing the dust off her patent leather hiking boots with her sleeve. It was so real she wondered if it were real--if she had left her bed in the night and come back. Stranger things had happened, she told herself, as she arranged a black scarf around her neck.
On Telegraph, people were just setting up business for the day: loading tables with brass and bead jewelry, colorful woven wristbands, tie-dyed t-shirts. In the dappled light, crystals scattered rainbows across the grimy sidewalks. The craftspeople worked slowly, sipping coffee, smoking, and chatting. Like Chrissy, they were in no hurry. If they wanted to hurry, they would be doing something else.
Ev was drinking coffee at a street-side table. She wore an oversized Grateful Dead t-shirt and black leggings that made her look small and thin. Her hair stood straight up in green and purple spikes.
"Hey, how's it going, Ev?" asked Chrissy, sitting down across from her.
Ev sniffed and glanced at Chrissy over the edge of her coffee cup. "How's it going with you?" she said, not answering. Chrissy and Ev had grown up in the same part of South Berkeley. Now Ev lived in a hotel when she could and slept in a park when she couldn't. She hadn't been to school in over a year.
"OK, great," said Chrissy, twisting the ends of her scarf around her fingers.
Ev snickered into her cup. "Right, Chrissy," she said. "You look like the rainbow from hell."
"Yeah? Well, hey, have you seen Paul lately?"
A suspicious look came into Ev's dark eyes. "Lately. I have definitely seen him lately. What do you want with Paul?"
Chrissy fingered the napkins in the metal holder, pulling them out one by one. She was surprised that Ev didn't know about her and Paul; Ev usually knew everything about everybody.
"I need to see him about something important," Chrissy said.
"Yeah? Well, that's Paul all right. With him, everything's important. A big deal."
"I didn't ask you if you liked him, Ev. I asked if you'd seen him."
Ev pulled out a cigarette. It was kind of mashed, like she'd slept on the pack. "What I'm saying is, don't wait on guys who don't wait on you."
"Thanks for the tip," said Chrissy, but her stomach pinched at Ev's words, remembering the hours she'd spent hanging out where Paul was likely to be. "So like what's the matter with you?"
Ev shrugged and sniffed again. When she lifted her cigarette to her mouth, Chrissy could see how her hand shook. She had small thin hands, the kind that feel like the bones are too soft. "Jesus," was all she would say.
Chrissy ordered some coffee from a chunky tan college girl in a tight blue halter. "You get saved?" she asked.
Ev narrowed her eyes and smiled. "Right," she said.
"What was it like?" Chrissy leaned back and felt the sun touch her face. It was warm now and made a red glow inside her eyelids. Chrissy liked to imagine that she would open her eyes and they'd be all red, like what she saw from inside. Wouldn't Ev be surprised.
Ev didn't answer. Instead she said, "You know Paul is like the express train to nowhere, Chrissy. And I'm not just saying that because I miss him or something."
"Get off it, Ev. You and Paul were never together."
"Yeah? He tell you that? And you believed him?"
"Yeah, he did." For a moment their eyes met, then Chrissy drained her coffee cup and picked up her pack. "Well, it's been really great to see you, Ev." Ev smiled, a crooked smile that looked like someone was twisting her arm behind her back.
Chrissy had to pound on the door to get Isaac to open up. "Jesus Christ, Chrissy. What time is it?" he said.
Chrissy shrugged and stepped past him into the cluttered room. It smelled of dope, spilled wine, and sweat. Isaac's bed was a mattress on the floor, covered with one tangled greying sheet and a thin blanket. Chrissy sat down on it.
"It's ten. I think it's ten." Actually she knew it wasn't, but after seeing Ev she just wanted to get off the street for a little while. Isaac rubbed the end of his long nose with the palm of his hand, making it bend up and down, and yawned. He was barefoot and bare-chested, wearing unzipped jeans that looked like he'd pulled them on to answer the door. Chrissy offered him a cigarette and he took it. A year ago when things had gotten bad between Chrissy and her mom, Isaac had let her move in with him.
"There's a concert today at noon," she said.
Isaac was really into music. Even though there was no furniture and almost never any food in his apartment, he had stacks of CDs piled against the wall. "ZuZu Bop," he said.
He shrugged. "I've got business."
Right, thought Chrissy. Paul. She wanted to ask when Paul would be there but she didn't want to make it sound too important. Isaac didn't like Paul. He said they only had a business relationship, as if somehow Isaac, who peddled dope to college kids, was better than Paul.
It was true that Isaac had been to college in New York and Paul was just a street kid from the Mission, but Chrissy suspected the real reason had something to do with her. She had first met Paul when she was staying with Isaac.
She had decided on Paul the moment she met him because of the way everyone automatically turned to him when he walked into the room. The way they listened to what he said. He was funny too and nice to her, and he had brown eyes that sparkled in the sun like those rocks with gold flecks in them. But Paul had made it clear that he wasn't interested in inexperienced young girls, so Chrissy had gone out to find experience. Isaac had been both handy and safe.
Chrissy was sure that the thing between her and Isaac was just like between friends. Paul was the one she loved, and he said he loved her too. "I've got some wine," she told Isaac, suddenly anxious to take the edge off the day.
Isaac stretched and ran his hands through his long curly hair. "Great," he said. "Let's have some."
Chrissy and Isaac drank the whole bottle of wine, but Paul never showed up. Two other guys came to make the deal, and before he would let them in, Isaac made Chrissy go into the bathroom and lock the door. He said these guys didn't like strangers.
Chrissy sat on the toilet seat in Isaac's tiny smelly bathroom and fidgeted. She couldn't stop wondering why Paul hadn't come. Really, she felt jinxed. She'd been in at least ten places that week where he was absolutely sure to be and yet he hadn't been there. She bent over, her head between her knees, and tried not to think that he was avoiding her.
If only she knew what had happened that last night they were together, she was sure she could make everything right again; but no matter how hard she thought, she could not pull it out of her memory. They had been drinking in the car. Drinking and horsing around. Paul wanted them to take their clothes off and run around the park, but she had laughed and said no. The next thing she knew she was on her bed at home.
Being shut up in the cramped bathroom made Chrissy really thirsty, but she couldn't turn on the water because Isaac said no noise. She stuck her finger up against the faucet and sucked on the few drops that came out. The bathroom grew hot. It made her sleepy. From the next room she could hear murmuring voices, that was all.
Finally Isaac came and let her out. She had fallen asleep, slumped on the toilet with her head against the sink. She had not had any good dreams this time, and being suddenly wakened gave her a headache.
"You oughta keep some magazines in the john for your guests, Isaac," she said irritably, straightening her clothes.
"Yeah?" said Isaac, scratching nervously at his chest. Chrissy could see he was really high now. "Well, I ought not to have girls hanging around when I'm doing business. That's what I really oughta do."
Chrissy shrugged. "I brought the wine," she said.
She had planned to drink that wine with Paul and Paul hadn't showed.
Outside it was now so bright that even with sunglasses on Chrissy felt like knives were stabbing through her eyeballs. On Sproul Plaza, students milled around chatting or waited in one of the many lines that snaked across the sidewalk to stands selling curry, noodle plates, sushi, burritos, smoothies, and pop.
There was a big turnout for the concert--people were jammed together around the makeshift stage on Lower Sproul and crowded onto the balconies and windows of every building overlooking it. Chrissy hovered on the edge, trying to get a good look at ZuZu Bop.
ZuZu was dressed in black too, but not in shadowy waves: the lines of her body were like her music--bold, confident, and clear. She had the audience on their feet screaming from the first thunderous note and, as they moved, Chrissy slipped through them until she reached the small circle in front of the stage where kids were dancing.
Chrissy was a good dancer and knew how to move so that her rainbow-colored hair flew and the layers of her clothes swirled and floated around her. The excitement of feeling the music go through her body drove away her headache and her fears and made her feel like herself, Chrissy, rainbow goddess, powerful and whole. When guys danced up to her, she shook her hair and danced away from them.
After the concert, sweaty and sober, Chrissy moved into the shade and sat on the cool cement steps. Lots of people nodded and smiled at her. She leaned on her elbows and smiled back. As happy as she felt, she still thought the perfect thing would be for Paul to show up now to claim her, his prize, the rainbow at the end of the rainbow. But he didn't, and the plaza returned to its businesslike aspect, with students hurrying to class and dogs intent on their own special interests crisscrossing the pavement in packs.
Chrissy was still debating what to do next when she heard someone call her name. She slumped down automatically, but of course Gray had seen her. She knew from experience that there was no escaping him. He was a gangly boy with floppy brown hair who wore the same trench coat year round, rain or shine, and always sat next to her at school if he could.
"Hey, Chrissy!" he called again, coming toward her. "I saw you dancing," he said as if this were news and sat down beside her.
"Yeah?" said Chrissy, reaching into her pack for a cigarette.
"Yeah. You were great. That was a great concert."
"How come you're not at school?"
Gray blushed and leaned back on his elbows, imitating Chrissy's position. "I snuck out," he said.
Gray was an honors student and wrote for the school paper. He could do anything he wanted, which was a waste, Chrissy thought, because usually what he wanted was to go to school.
"So where've you been lately? I haven't seen you for like ages," he asked.
"I've been working," said Chrissy. "I'm saving up to go to medical school."
Gray smiled uncertainly. "I've missed you. There's no one funny in English when you're not there."
"Well," said Chrissy, standing up and slipping her pack onto her shoulders. "I'm sure I'll be back some time."
Gray got up too, so quickly that he almost stumbled on the shallow steps.
"I've got something--" he said to Chrissy's back, in a tone that made her stop and turn around. "I got it at the concert."
He reached into his coat pocket and held out a joint. Chrissy cocked her head and gave him a look.
"So like what exactly did you have in mind, Gray?"
He blushed again and looked down at the joint.
"I thought we could share it maybe. I've never smoked one before."
"Yeah? You gotta match?"
Gray turned even redder.
"Lucky for you, I've got one," said Chrissy. "Come on."
She headed away from the plaza down toward the quiet grove of redwood and eucalyptus trees. Gray followed, his trench coat flapping around his long legs. Chrissy led him to the edge of the creek that wound through the campus. There the steep banks and bushes shielded them from view. She lit the joint, taking a long slow toke, and passed it to Gray, who sucked at it gingerly and choked. Chrissy looked up at the flat blue sky above the trees and held her breath. When she finally exhaled she felt her brain popping and fizzing like one of those fireworks you set off in the street. They passed the joint back and forth silently, then sat soaking up the sun. Chrissy loved that feeling of everything slowing down to the smallest detail. Nothing seemed as important as the light and shadow inside a cathedral of pine needles by her left foot.
Gray was lying on his back gazing at the sky.
"Don't stare at the sun," Chrissy warned. "You'll burn your eyeballs."
Gray turned slowly onto one elbow and looked at her.
"I brought you here for a reason," said Chrissy.
"Yeah?" Gray enunciated the word carefully. The expression on his face was dumb and dreamy. "What was it?"
"This is where they found the body."
"Whose body?" he asked. With his fingertips he reached out and carefully touched Chrissy's hand. She pulled it away.
"The body. The guy who was murdered. The homeless guy. Remember? Last week? They found him right here."
"No I'm not. It was right here. I thought we might see some blood or something."
Faster than she could have imagined possible, Gray had leapt to his feet and was checking his coat for bloodstains. "That is so gross!" he said and lunged at Chrissy, who scrambled away up the bank, laughing. Gray thrashed up the slope behind her, reaching for her fluttering skirt, but Chrissy got away, zigzagging between the trees, until suddenly, looking back, she stumbled on a root and fell, and Gray, in close pursuit, tripped and fell on top of her.
They were both startled by the sudden connection of their bodies and rolled in opposite directions. Chrissy got to her feet first, panting, and looked down at Gray, whose face had gone white.
"Chrissy--" he said. "What happened to you?" His lips barely moved, but Chrissy's hands instinctively covered her throat. The scarf she had been wearing was lying in the leaves at her feet. The sunlight, streaming through the trees, filled the air with the heavy spicy smell of eucalyptus. Chrissy closed her eyes, took a deep slow breath, and then, with one swift movement, grabbed up the scarf and ran.
Behind the locked bathroom door at Elly's Restaurant, Chrissy stood before the mirror. A cigarette burned on the edge of the sink, smoke curling up in front of her. She had finally stopped crying and washed her face.
She had to look now. To see what Gray had seen. Slowly she unwrapped the scarf and let it fall to the floor. Then she took off the black lace vest, unbuttoned her shirt, and removed the shirt and black camisole, so that she stood, naked to the waist, before the mirror.
Under the jittery blue fluorescent light, the bruises on her neck and shoulders, across her chest, stood out luridly dark--purple and red and blue--against her pale skin.
She closed her eyes and then opened them. The bruises did not go away. Not now and not the other hundred times in the past week she had tried to will them away. Only then they had been a secret and now they were not.
She wondered what Gray would do. If he would tell anyone.
Chrissy puffed on her cigarette and thought he would not.
But he knew.
She sat down on the toilet and lit another cigarette and another. She thought about getting a gun and shooting Gray to keep him quiet. She thought about running away forever.
She thought about Paul and all the good, crazy, fun times they had had and how he whimpered when he was inside her in a way that made her sure that, no matter how smart he was, he needed her absolutely, just like she needed him.
He could never have hit her. He couldn't.
But if she couldn't remember and he wouldn't see her, how would she ever know?
Out in the restaurant, freshly combed and made up, Chrissy slid into one of the big orange semicircular booths by the window. She studied the menu carefully, reading everything, even though she had been coming to Elly's all her life. Finally she ordered a chocolate malted and a Coke.
The waitress took her order with a scowl at Chrissy's rainbow hair and slapped her green pad back into her apron pocket. Chrissy didn't care what she thought. She stretched out on the cool seat and sipped her water slowly. Mainly what she needed was to get a grip on herself.
"Get a grip" was one of her father's favorite expressions. That and "Beam me up, Scotty." Whenever she missed him she could just say one of those two things to herself and it was practically the same as having a conversation with him.
"Get a grip, hon," she said now and blew her straw paper across the room. She drank her malted slowly and felt herself come down. Sugar always did that, Paul said. He never ate sweets when he was high. He liked to keep the edge, he said.
She sucked the foam off the sides of her glass and tried to fend off the sadness that coming down brought by thinking about the dream she'd had the night before. It had been so romantic. Her and Paul together. It amazed her that she could remember a dream so clearly and have no memory at all of something that had really happened.
It could have been that she fell. She was always falling down when she was drunk. It might not have anything to do with Paul at all. She could have fallen out of bed or down the stairs on her way to the bathroom. She just absolutely didn't know. This wasn't the first time that something had happened she couldn't remember. Sometimes it was just a few minutes of conversation that she lost, but other times she had found herself in strange places with people she didn't know and had no idea how she had come to be there.
Once she'd found herself walking on Highway 24 in the middle of the night and had convinced herself that she had been picked up by aliens. She'd read stories like that--where people were picked up and taken off for experiments and then dropped back on Earth with no memory of what had happened. For a few minutes she'd been proud that they'd picked her, but then she wished, if it were true, that they had left a sign. She didn't mind, but she'd like to know for sure, so she could stop worrying. It had been a long walk home, and her mother had been pissed that she was out so late on a school night.
She had never told anyone--not even Paul--about these experiences, although she nearly talked to her father the last time she visited him. He'd taken her for a ride out into the desert at night and there, looking across the darkness at his town, which shimmered like a space station between earth and sky, she had almost told him.
She thought he might be pleased that his daughter had been in contact, but first she wanted to ask him if he believed, really believed, in life on other planets, and he had been so busy and happy pointing out the shooting stars and constellations as he had when she was little, that she had kept quiet.
Evening approached and the atmosphere shifted. The voices of the panhandlers became edgier as their doorways filled with shadows and women walked quickly, warily. On campus even the men moved purposefully across the empty stretches of pavement and grass, no longer pausing to chat. Yellow lights showed in the windows. The bell tower was etched against the purple sky.
Chrissy sat on the steps of the library and listened to the evening bells. They were beautiful, but they made her sad. Her father used to take her for walks here and tell her that some day she could go to college. But Chrissy couldn't imagine college. It was like putting herself in one of those funny backdrops and having her photo taken. Chrissy in a Western town. Chrissy on the moon. Chrissy at college.
"Hey kid," said a voice. Chrissy knew right away that it was Paul, but she didn't look. She kept her hands in her pockets, tight to her body.
"Chrissy," he said. He was driving slowly down the wrong side of the street, matching his speed to her walk. She could see the car, his face, his elbow hanging over the side in her peripheral vision. She couldn't believe he'd finally turned up as soon as she'd decided to walk home.
She wasn't going to stop, but he kept moving the car closer, right up onto the sidewalk, until she had to jump out of the way to avoid him.
"What are you doing?" she shouted. "Are you like crazy? Get off this sidewalk and leave me alone."
"C'mon, Chris," he said, grinning. "Don't be mad." He was high. His golden eyes were glassy and bright. She could see a bottle of wine on the front seat beside him. "C'mon." The word was like the sound of a kiss. A door clicking shut.
Chrissy hoisted her pack higher on her shoulders. She had been looking for him all week and he had never been where he was supposed to be. He had never showed. Never called. Never once.
But he was here now. Smiling at her, pleading with her.
"C'mon, Chrissy," he urged. His hand caught at hers, warm and persuasive. "We'll go up to the park."
She pulled away, still not quite believing that this was real. That this scene was not in her head, but live. In person.
She turned and looked at him. Paul. The one she loved.
She smiled and went round to the passenger side door. She was fooling herself to imagine that she ever wanted to do anything else.
Paul reached for her and pulled her close to him. "Hey Rainbow," he said nuzzling her hair. "How've you been?"
She leaned into him and his voice made her want to forget all her fears.
"I've missed you, babe," he whispered. "I've missed you so much." He reached for the zipper on her jacket with urgent, shaky hands.
Chrissy wondered why he talked as if she had been away, like they'd been living in parallel universes, each looking for the other.
"You missed me?" she asked, looking into his eyes. They were dark in the dim light and impossible to read. "You haven't been avoiding me?"
"Chris-sy," he said, turning off the ignition. "Let me show you how much I want to avoid you. OK?"
Chrissy batted him on the arm and laughed. He sounded so unconcerned that she felt giddy and stupid and exhausted all at the same time.
On the way up to the park, she opened the wine. It was warm and sweet and ran hot all the way down her throat to her stomach. It felt so good she wanted to drink it all, stop worrying, stop talking, never go home, never leave this car, this night, never let this man out of her sight again.
She leaned against him as he drove and dangled her feet out the window. A cool breeze blew across her ankles and fluttered her skirt like a hanky waved by a passing queen. Paul put one arm around her, turned the radio up loud, and everything was all right.
In the park they bounced off the road and pulled into the shadowy darkness of a grove of trees. They passed the wine back and forth, and she told him how she had been afraid she would never see him again.
"You're nuts," he said, kissing her.
"But I looked for you everywhere this week and you never called me or anything."
"Yeah?" he said. "Well, I guess I have been busier than usual."
With one hand he was tugging at her panties and with the other he cupped her breast, squeezing it until Chrissy gasped from the pain. She wriggled away and took another drink.
"Paul," she said, "Can we just like talk a minute first? I need to ask you something."
"Sure, babe, anything, if you want to," he said, but the wine and his warm probing hands made it impossible to talk, and she didn't really want to talk anyway. She wanted Paul. That's all, only Paul.
When he pushed himself inside her, her life shrank down to the moment and she gave herself up to it.
Late that night, after Paul dropped her at home, Chrissy paused on the porch and peeked in through the window. Her mother was in her old terrycloth bathrobe watching television. She had a bowl of popcorn on the coffee table in front of her, and she was eating it slowly, kernel by kernel, the way she liked to. She did not act like she was waiting up. She'd told Chrissy she was done breaking her heart over what she did or didn't do. It looked like she was succeeding.
Chrissy sat down on the steps and lit a cigarette. She was tired and woozy. Her body ached from being jammed up against the car door while Paul banged away at her. That was the only way to describe it.
She guessed he must have been on speed because he could never come when he was speeding and he hardly knew what was going on around him. He was in another time zone. It had taken her a long time to persuade him to give it up and drive her home.
She put her head down between her knees to see if that would help her think more clearly. She couldn't believe that, after all that waiting, she was actually glad Paul was gone. Really, she was a mystery to herself.
He had never even noticed the bruises. For some reason this made her feel both relieved and ashamed. If he had known about them--if he had been responsible--wouldn't he have shown it somehow?
But if he really didn't know--if he hadn't been the one--what had happened to her that night? Where could she have gone between the park and home? She shuddered as her memory approached the gap and halted.
No answer came.
At last her mother turned off the TV. One by one the lights in the house went out. There was a brief pause and then the porch light went out too.
Chrissy could have slipped in then, unseen, but she didn't. She lingered on in the darkness searching the night sky. Waiting for transport.
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