Her breath beats hard in the style of a beautifully alert okapi scanning across a canyon of doom. The hot alcohol still hasn't made its way into her belly; the air makes the world a movie around her but she is still aware of every prop and engineered sound. We aren't in the Wilderness though, or a movie as it might sound -- at least not in nature. She's finished some, ha, business in a nightclub over on the other block. Everything that she has ever done for money was illegal, immoral, and involved her precious body. So, why stop now?
Her saving grace is Freddy, or Frederick, but Freddy’s not here today. Like all the other bucked-up ungulates in the bush, she has attracted a pack of wild thugs. Maybe they want some money, or perhaps her exposed legs; it’s hard to tell from their chatter. They whip out guns, lightweight and without bullets, just to scare her. Then they knock her onto the ground. She doesn’t get much a chance to scream for help but manages to strike one of her attackers in the groin with those formidable heels. One of the bangers pulls out a bat, and, after contact, she loses her reality for several minutes.
She awakes abruptly due to a primordial reaction in her spine; the woman finds herself face-to-rail with a fire escape column and several stories of airy space. If she were to wake up and remain calm, her story might have changed. However, her reaction being what it is, her body has spasms of shock starting from her legs then up into all of her joints. She kicks and her body carries her down -- down to the hard ground below. Some crunches and crackle noises spark the night air. The distant song of sirens follows soon after.
“Ey-y … Ey-y, Emmanuelle. You there? Bring it home, Emmy. Bring it … Ah-hah! There them eyes is! And they sure are torn up. Look: it's your old buddy, that’s right. What happened, kid, you look like you got hit by a train! I can't even tell your pretty face with all them band-aids over it. I don’t believe the doctors, no way. They said you fell headfirst off an eight-story building. I mean, how you gonna shatter your pelvis falling head first, huh? Explain to me that part. On top ah that, the nurses told me you broke your femur and whatnot. It’s crazy but it reminds me of when we was kids. You ‘member we use to break all kinds of bones, so many we thought the doctors was pulling bone names outta their armpit sockets. I guess ain’t much changed then.
"I remember when my dad took me outta Papacho for the first time, and you cried so hard when we separated. I told everyone you was my girlfriend back then, even though we was in different boroughs. Funny how things change, like, now I wouldn’t be caught dead with a girlfriend, r’you kidding? When we started making our way back across the city I knew my dad’d eventually bring us back to Papacho. The sucker can’t avoid his old life. Even if he did get beat up by the street gangs up there, that's where he made his home, for Christ's sake. And you cried cus you was so happy to see me, but I was already, let’s just say, ‘a changed man.’"
He calls out in laughter.
"I can see you messing with your eyes! I know you can hear me, girl."
A shy lady nurse comes to check on Emmanuelle but sees she's "occupied," and so she leaves, unnoticed.
“Anyhow, I jus’ came to check up on you. Know I haven’t been around like I should. Ain't seen you since I migrated with my dad to 'High Rise City,' or whachucallit, and I met your skinny behind playing all those silly instruments. That’s probably what made me like you so much, huh? That you loved something I couldn’t never stand. That's on my dad, anyway, for forcing music on me. We coulda played at nightclubs, I guess, been a band or somethin' else stupid, but you know, I always needed some adrenaline in my life. Anyway … here’s one for the head.”
Freddy bends down and kisses Emmanuelle gently on her sleep-induced eyelids while whispering You look like hell. Her mouth rebelliously slips open against the efforts of anesthesia.
“I have tah get back to Papacho. I owe some guys big-time, you understand. Just had to make sure you was alive, baby girl.” He stops and lets his heart experiment with remorse for five seconds. Freddy then blurts out, “I’m sorry I wasn’t always there for you,” and swings his way out of her squeaky-white, sanitized world.
While Freddy rides on the Bullet Train south toward Papacho he gets flooded throughout his body with the memories, scents, and touches of his life-long friend.
“Venez ici, chérie!” he’d told her when she was only a streetwalker playing psychedelic piano numbers at the city’s biggest plazas for coins, preferably the bigger ones. “I want you to stroll with me, come on, now. We could be, like, together.”
“But why would I do that? You come back from Iti Bay talking like you ignorant, I don’t care if you do speak French. Yah look like you got no money, you haven’t called me in forever. What have you to offer me?”
She’d tossed the deepest human questions at him, and his response was simply to sort of look down at the snowy street.
“Now,” he’d told her, achingly, “let’s just say I put my arms around you. I know you, Emmanuelle. I know that you know proper French and your English is perfect. Yet, it appears you lacking what we like to call a manteau. I can offer you some warmth, and in return, you can provide me with, hmm, ta langue. That tongue, girl, how’s that sound?”
From there, they walked down the streets of town embracing tightly, both having lots more to share between one another. But that was before the drought.
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