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From: Tampa Review
45/46, 2013
pp. 6-13

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Peter Lamata. Rain and Line. 2004. Digital photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

[End Page 6]

I hitched my way up 101 along the California coast heading, the way the crow flies, towards San Francisco. It was cold and rained from the minute I left.

A week or so later I wound up in the Tenderloin district and the rain was there waiting for me. I spent the night curled and praying between the shrubs in a little squatter village somewhere around Union Street. I draped a plastic grocery bag over my head and listened to the endless patter.

I'd been on my own since I was thirteen, drifting like some gutter-nomad from city to city, sleeping wherever I could, eating whatever there was. My father left our family when we were little. From that day on my mother wept and our house seemed to sink into shadow that only grew thicker and deeper with each day. My mother always blamed my father for what happened to all of us. One person, she'd say, one act, has the power to save an entire life, an entire family, generations and generations, or to crucify them all. I'd listen to her and see the dark ripples beneath her eyes and silently assure myself that I was the savior type.

Up the street I found an all-night diner where I drank burnt coffee, and it was towards dawn that I ran into the girl-that-knocked-things-over.

She came in alone and looking a little lost as her gaze picked forlornly over the unfamiliar faces. When our eyes bumped together you could see something loosen inside her—she brightened, as though she'd stumbled upon something magic. But it was only me. She headed straight for my table and sat down, her knee banging beneath loudly.

She was a runaway and hustler too and, being a guy, it stung and shamed me that I was never able to explain to her that I wasn't this way by nature or choice.

She was a pale, tough-looking thing with long bleach blonde hair, and where this creature drew its mangled energy from is one of the wonders of the world. It exploded off her like a starburst. During the course of two hours she'd dumped a total of three coffees, a water, and in one insane sweep of the wrist sent a salt shaker sailing across the restaurant to its doom beneath a table.

I'm a klutz, she said, smacking her head. I'm a train wreck. I'm always like this. You'll see. Jesus. She stuck out a hand. I'm the girl-who-knocks-things-over. Everybody calls me Knocks. I've broken every bone in my body— twice. Ha ha. But too bad that's not all I break. Cuz I break people too. There's something good about you? get away, cuz I'll just smash it.

It's alright, I said. I haven't had my smashing for the day.

She stared at me in a moment of undecided wonder. Then she smiled. A ripple of sunlight. It made you forget everything.

We can't help the way we are, she said and for the first time all morning, calmly and quietly. So maybe that means we can't be blamed either, right?

We walked together down the empty sidewalk. The first molten rays of sun pouring down the streets and alleyways, humming silently against the flanks of buildings, the still trees.

She noticed my taped-up wrist. Really I wanted her to see it. I'd been jabbing at it with a dirty thumbnail beneath the table all night as we talked. It'd turned yellow and looked on the brink of hatching something.

She stopped me by the arm, her mouth cocking. She stared not so much at the wound as into it. Her expression more wonder than horror. The wound seemed to glow in her presence like a crystal ball, lighting her face and eyes in some quiet revelation that seemed to tell her more about...

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