She eased the door shut behind her. Even so, pulling it closed slowly by inches, the hinges squeaked a little and on settling the latch bolt clicked loudly into place, like a soft gunshot. At least to her ears.
She stood there for a moment, very still, her ear to the cold, blue plywood door and listened for any sound from within the apartment. Nothing. It was perfectly silent. She turned then, hitched her tote bag higher up on her shoulder and set out down the landing, careful to step lightly. The sun had yet to rise, but the sky had begun to blush in the east; she could make out the contours of the eastern part of the city. The morning air was cool with traces of gasoline still lingering from yesterday’s smoggy triple digits heat, as if giving fair warning that today will not be much better.
She glanced at her watch. She had forty-five minutes to get to the corner of Santa Monica and Vermont where Kathy’s friend would be waiting in a blue Toyota pickup.
She descended the landing stairs one quiet step at a time, but once on solid ground she abandoned caution, hurried across the parking lot, turned right onto the sidewalk and now began walking in earnest.
The blue pickup was there. As she walked toward it she realized she didn’t know his name. Kathy had never mentioned it; or if she had, it hadn’t registered. But this was the right guy, it had to be. His was the only blue Toyota pickup around, his was the only blue anything around. And hers were the only red sweater and black tote bag—those had been Kathy’s instructions.
His engine was running. She could see the mist of exhaust, orange in the street light, like some strange, round-legged animal bleeding into the air.
No, there was no mistaking either one of them. He watched her approach and as she rounded the hood for the passenger side he leaned over and opened the door and she climbed in. The car was smaller on the inside than she had expected. The door wouldn’t shut. She tried again.
“You have to slam it,” he said.
“Oh,” she said.
She let it out a bit farther and pulled hard. It sprang shut with a squeal as if hurt and for just a shadow of a moment she feared she might have woken him up.
“That’s the way,” said Kathy’s friend, as he put the truck in gear.
She had no idea what Kathy might have told this guy, but she was grateful for whatever it was. He did not try to make her talk. He drove, eyes straight ahead, Santa Monica Boulevard east and then onto the Hollywood Freeway south. Some traffic already, but nothing to speak of. She leaned back against the head rest and tried to feel that immense relief she had planned to feel just about now, but it wouldn’t show.
She was finally sitting in a car going south toward downtown and away from him but she did not feel like an eagle just let free, not like a prisoner just escaped, not like that suddenly grownup woman she was supposed to feel like now. She closed her eyes and heard the engine hum and both heard and felt the little jolts of the wheels hitting the joints between the concrete freeway slabs—tedan, tedan, tedan, tedan (as if on a train)—but all she felt was the motion: tedan, tedan, tedan—and she remained her sleeping daddy’s little girl. Kathy’s friend remained silent. Eyes on the road. Driving.
Read alsoStrange Days
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