I needed a little jump-start to my prefrontal cortex, so I wandered over to Chuck Wendig’s Blog and found a theme: “We’re all human, even when we’re not.” I also tried something that makes me uncomfortable–writing in present tense.
by S. Kay Nash
Some nights are special. They glow around the edges, sparkle like fireflies blinking in the artificial islands of greenery planted along the riverwalk. Here, away from the center of the city, away from the drunk and stumbling tourists, life slows down to the lazy pace of the captive San Antonio River. Nights like this, it’s easy to peer into the cracks between the real and the possible.
Ira Ybarra sips his beer, making it last. A pack of kids kick a ball around the grass while their parents sit on park benches and happily ignore them. Families and friends gather, lovers linger at the edge of the trees, children squeal and climb in the playground. Tejano music flirts with the conversations, wavering with the breeze and the laughter around him.
He walks down towards the river, follows the new concrete walkways snaking down the levee walls. The river idles, knee-deep at best, pressing through newly planted trees and footbridges.
He knows she’s waiting here, somewhere along this stretch of park. She’s shy but they’ve met here before on evenings just like this. She likes it when it’s quiet, still, when the humid air cools the summer night and the roar of the streets seems far away. He walks slowly, peers over the path lights and hums to himself as he strolls.
“You’re not really good at this, Ira.” Her voice shimmers across the water. She stands up by a footbridge where the water trickles over cast concrete rocks. “Hide and seek is no fun with you.”
“Unda! I knew you’d find me.” He smiles, walks over the stepping stones towards her, offers her the bottle. “Want a sip?”
“No thanks. Everyone thinks I like beer and I can’t stand it.” She tucks a damp lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m glad you came looking for me. I was lonely.”
“What, you? With all these people around?” He looks around at the deserted riverwalk, humor in his brown eyes. “Of course I came. I promised you I’d visit.”
She looks down, shy. A drop of water falls from the hem of her dress.
He leans back against the bridge, keeping his feet out of the water. “You don’t have to be alone. I can introduce you to more people like me.”
She holds up her hands, as if waving him off. She shakes her head. “I– It’s hard, Ira, I can’t–” She drops her arms, looks down, tapping her feet in the puddle on the stone. “It’s hard for me.” A firefly lands on her shoulder, glowing and fading.
“I understand.” He watches the water curl between the stones. “Why don’t you leave this place, then? Get away from all this concrete and steel, go south and get out of the city? Don’t you have people out there somewhere?”
She sighs softly. “I don’t want to leave.” She rests a small brown hand on his arm. “This is my home. I can’t stop what they’ve done to it, but it’s mine just the same.”
He blows across the mouth of the beer bottle, the hollow moan rises and fades. His brows knit as he looks downriver. She moves her hand away, the damp mark on his skin cools in the slight breeze. Ira is silent for several minutes, lost in his thoughts and the soft sounds of the river.
She looks up to the top of the levee, breaking the silence. “I have been here so long, I don’t know if I can leave.”
“Will you share your home with others like you?” He turns his head to look at her. “If they don’t have a place to go, is there room for them here?”
She smiles, a flash of hope on her face. “Are they like me?”
“Mostly.” He nods a little. “They’re friends, like you, shy, but lost. They need a place to be safe. Would you be happier if you had friends?”
“You’re my friend!” She laughs, “But you don’t visit enough. Why do you only come at night?”
He raises his beer to her. “It’s hard for me, you know.”
She tilts her head, accepts his excuse.
Unda looks up, alert. “Someone’s coming. I have to go.” The firefly on her shoulder launches into the air, flits away.
He sips his beer, his eyes search for what she sees. “I’ll bring a friend to meet you soon, is that alright with you?”
She nods at him, steps delicately off the stone into shin-deep water. “I’ll see you again. It’s my promise this time, Ira.”
“Until then.” He offers his hand and she touches her fingertips to his for a brief moment.
The wind stirs the slender young trees by the river. She is gone, leaving nothing but a spreading ripple in the green water.
He brings his fingers to his mouth, tastes the rich flavor of life and hope on his lips.
“No one truly wants to be alone, hija del río. Not even me.”
Humming a little tune to himself, he puts the river behind him and makes his way back to the bright lights and laughter of the city.