It’s A Living
By Barbara Audet
She had always made her living sliding across the front seat of stupidly open cars, grabbing whatever she could and pawning the crazy assemblage of radios, GPS units, and cds. Her cache had grown in recent months to higher priced items such as jewelry and classy sunglasses—that was because she had walked to Ocean City, Maryland, and taken a vacation, her first. Now, she had a backpack full of unpawned wonders, shiny stuff, though the wallets and purses she had dumped, and of course, she made it a point, never to take drugs or alcohol. A person had to have some kind of ethics. Ok, she kept the money. No credit cards. These she cut up with a scissors she kept for that purpose and cheap protection. At 17, she was finger-tired, and for some reason, unexplainable because she had never felt it before, afraid that she was losing her nerve.
Losing your nerve was the worst. It meant she would do something just as dumb as the poor slob who had left their door unlocked just for her. She would get caught.
Vargana McIntosh left her overnight accommodation, a backyard chaise lounge near a large garage. There were no cars in the driveway and that usually meant an undisturbed night of sleep. She had awoken with cold feet as the weather had changed. Summer had burst away and fall had unhinged its humidity and unwelcome attention. Vargana was used to dealing with this temperament of time. Had been dealing with it since she was 13. Still, it was a suck situation. She was on the move. On the road, she looked up at the nearest green street sign and said out loud, to no one but herself, “Gone far, girl.” She didn’t like hitching but a teenage girl and a dog had helped her get out of Maryland and she was now in a high classy suburb of Northern New Jersey. Where lots of houses still had empty driveways even in early October. And she was hungry.
Hoisting her backpack onto one shoulder, she started walked down what she now knew was Maple Avenue and it took her into what looked like an old-fashioned mix of stores, restaurants and shops. A place that looked like bad times had passed it by. It had survived the death of downtowns.
She stopped for a moment and stared and an ache long ago tucked away deep in a part of her started to hurt. Vargana felt suddenly as if a speeding bus had knocked the breath out of her and the bus had rolled backwards just to make sure it had done the job smashing her to bits.
Fuck, what was this all about, she thought. And dropped to her butt on the corner of the road. Her shadow stretched out in front of her and then there was a second shadow. Instantly her instincts for survival sent a second surge of adrenalin to bombard her heart and she jumped to her feet.
“Are you all right,” called a voice to her, calm. Concerned. Threatening because caring people, like losing your nerve, were the worst.
“Naw, just, uh, getting my bearings,” Vargana said, turning in the direction of the voice. Direct eye contact was a devastatingly good strategy for spooking caring people.
“I’m not sure about that,” said the Guy. (She didn’t know his name. Guy is what always worked.)
“No, really, thanks guy. I’m good,” she said, eyeing him and then moving her gaze away, lifting her backpack to be busy and reaching in, taking out what she hoped were the most expensive looking sunglasses she “owned.”
What the Guy saw, was a young woman, with beautiful but shaggy long dark hair, green eyes that were circled by the brownish-blue rings of borderline malnutrition and clothes though competent to get you into McDonalds actually screamed homeless.
“Well, I walking into town and I hope you don’t mind if maybe I pick your brain a bit. Can we just walk for a while? See, I work a lot with teenagers in this town, kind of a social worker, and you remind me of one of the young people I am helping. Trying to help anyway. She is in a bad way at the moment. She lost her Dad. 911. She’s an only child. Money's not the issue or her Mom. Love’s all around if you know what I mean. Yet, Ashley, that’s her name, is lost. I shouldn’t tell you this but she attempted suicide last week. I am walking over to the hospital to see her. That building over there. She’s just about your age, maybe. 16?” he said, starting to walk with her side by side as they crossed the street.
“I’m 17, but yea, that sounds sad, real sad,” she said, pausing. “I had a friend once, best friend, you know, and she was like real close to her Mom and lost her, too. It really sucks for her, your friend I mean. How did she try to do it? … God, I’m sorry, you don’t have to tell me that shit,” Vargana said, violating one of her own basic rules. Keep quiet after the first exchange of words.
“No, I think I need to talk about it. I guess I failed her. Been trying to help her a long time.” the Guy replied, and then he was quiet.
She found herself just walking by his side. Neither said anything more to the other. Then he stopped. His motion ending caught her up fast. They were standing in front of doors – large glass doors and on the front of one was a stenciled “Outpatient Entrance.”
“Well, I’m here. Walking with you was nice,” the Guy said. Then he took a hand and ran it through his hair and sighed hard. “I know you don’t know me and this may seem strange. Would you come in with me and meet this young woman?”
Vargana grabbed the door handle.