Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Search Of . . . pt. VII

For anyone playing catch up, links for parts one through six are below:

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

Otherwise, continue, and enjoy.

It was later than Karen would have preferred. Three weeks in the city and she had yet to acclimate fully; she couldn’t remember landmarks, seemed unable to focus. Anxiety followed her like a stray dog. Karen would catch herself looking over her shoulder, hoping not to get caught staring. It was more than she had expected and Karen wondered if coming here was a bad decision.

Retracing her day, Karen tried to find the time that had gone missing. As she’d wandered a derelict building near Highbridge Park a heavy veil had fallen across the city. Even with the constellation of lights burning from shops and bodegas and above the odd street corner, there was something in the night that clutched at Karen’s stomach. For years she had refused to give in to her father’s bullying, but this feeling in the pit of her stomach wouldn’t go away.

Karen’s feet beat out a rapid staccato on the pavement as she weaved through small crowds of people, head down, holding tight what items she’d found, her mind continuing to roll back over the day.

She had been scavenging, and there was so much to go through up at Highbridge. Unlike her struggle with New York’s maze of concrete and broken tar, Karen had adapted quickly to the barter system on the street, though it was still difficult at times for her to differentiate items of value from ones of little import. Indecision had kept her occupied, meandering through the refuse of others’ lives, the taint of this peculiar voyeurism clinging to her long after she left.

Fatigue weighed heavy on her eyelids as Karen turned east on to MLK Boulevard. Rubbing at the sleep setting in, Karen glanced around at the fires now dotting the alleys. Gathering places for scores of pilgrims in search of the American dream, they – like Karen – had encountered little more than a nightmare. She could not stand it for long and had to look away, raising her head to the dim moon above, its ghost image piercing the gray clouds skimming by.

What was she doing here?

Money stolen during passage to the city had long since evaporated. Karen had expected to find work easily; anything would have been acceptable. She only needed enough to keep afloat while she searched for Cedric, but there seemed even less opportunity here for Karen than if she had stayed in Maine. She tried turning tricks but was lacking an exotic look with no body modifications, which most of those she’d encountered were looking for. So she got by, rummaging through garbage piles and rusted dumpsters for something to trade – or worse, something to eat. It had sustained her so far, but each day was tougher than the last.

Things weren’t going as planned.

One Hundred-Twelfth Street loomed ahead (where had the other streets gone?) and her steps became lighter. Closing the last two blocks, she turned onto Central Park North. She wanted to run but her legs resisted; the Thai noodles from earlier had long since burned out.

A tall man was approaching from the opposite end of the park. He wore a ball cap, his face lost in shadow. Karen’s pace slowed as he passed her, his smile making the hair on her neck stand up. She turned to follow his progress, the glow of the street light falling on a tattoo at the nape of his neck, coruscating in a swirl of Asian symbols. Karen had no idea what it said, but was happy to see him continue on without giving her a second glance.

She gave the man a few more steps before turning back toward her goal, stepping from the hard black onto soft green and walked west to a close clump of trees. In the middle, a massive oak rose above them all, its trunk unlike anything she’d seen in Maine. Karen was home.

Ignoring the tension still resting on her shoulders, Karen mounted the lower branches and climbed a third of the way up. Two large branches crossed at this point, forming a cradle for Karen’s tired body. Pulling what she’d found from inside her jacket, she slid the items into the small opening just above her head.

Pulling down her backpack, she slid her laptop out as leaves below her rustled. Karen’s breath caught in her throat as a lower limb creaked and someone grabbed her ankle, dragging Karen from her perch.

To be continued . . .

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