On a dark street, on the gloomy side of town, in an unlit corner of a park, I watch as she slumps down on to a damp bench. She sits and waits, swigging occasionally from a bottle. “Mr Daniels is my husband” she murmurs, “and my name is Violet Daniels.”
She isn’t sure how she came to wake up alone in a cardboard box. Last time she was seen she had friends, family and acquaintances to call on for help. Yet here she is, with rainwater seeping through the torn material of her shoes, and dripping down the back of her neck. She shudders, and reaches for her husbands embrace, brings him to her lips and drinks deeply from his mouth. Opening her eyes, and blinking in the fresh light of dawn, she remembers her Daddy, the way he used to ruffle her hair and mutter ‘God bless’ before she ascended the stairs to bed. She remembers her Mom and her bottomless wine glass.
She doesn’t seem sure where she is or, I guess, how she got there at all. My eyes wander over to a cardboard box tipped on it’s side about 10 yards away from the bench she’s sat on, and the seemingly neverending twinkle of broken glass coating the concrete. I start as she shudders suddenly and swigs from her bottle as a drop of rain water from an overhead leaf drips down her neck. She looks around wistfully at the playground some way away, and I follow her gaze to a tired-looking mother with a pram scurrying past the chain link fence. Weighed down by the rucksacks packed full to burst, the mother does not look over to where she is sat. Eventually, the baby’s cries for a nappy change fade in to the night as the mother pushes the pram hastily out of the park and out of sight.
She experiments turning her head, and stretches her legs out in to the carpet of shattered glass in front of her. The agenda for today is the same as every other day. Get drunk, Get high, Forget and Move on. That’s how she’s learnt to function: with minimum human interaction. She feels through her pockets for a possible cigarette she might not have smoked, and her hopes soar when she feels the unmistakable rectangular box signifying forthcoming nicotine. But they are dashed when the top is opened and it’s empty apart from a few flakes of tobacco.
I try to blend in to the bush I am hiding behind, and although I can’t see her, I hear the groans of someone who has been sleeping rough for a few nights too many. The glass on the floor scrapes along the ground – presumably as she stretches her leg out. The image of her tattered and torn shoes flashes back in to my mind, and I hope that she hasn’t cut her feet too badly or got an infection. I hear a frustrated “Damnit!” and assume she’s cut herself on it. ‘Silly girl,’ I think, ‘if you insist on dragging your feet through broken glass, that will happen.’ But as I poke my head back out from my hiding place, I see her toss an empty cigarette packet away from her and she folds her arms in a sulk as it hits the floor with a dull thud.
She remembers her best friend, who stuck by her through everything, all her stupid mistakes and passionate self destruction. He loved her like no other could, and she damaged him too. She can’t feel guilt though, as far as she’s concerned, she is a god, and nobody is as important to her as she is.
I stand silently and watch her, trying to read her mind and wondering if I should go over and offer her one of my smokes. The profile of her face in the brightening light looks dramatic; all the details of her elfin features are picked out and amplified. For a moment it looked as if she were going to cry, but I watch as she lurches to her feet and totters off down the path, glass crunching beneath her feet.
I watch her retreating back, and wonder if that could have been the girl I used to know. Her mother Karen had called me about half a week ago in hysterics, begging me to try and find her. They had an argument and she took off with only the clothes she had on. It had been years since I last saw them together as a family, but I guess Karen still had my card from when we met up for a drink a few months back. She begged me to use my contacts in the detective business to find her, and I couldn’t bear to hear her so desperate. I agreed, and set off searching for her.
In a brothel downtown I met a man who claimed to have seen her earlier that night. Apparently she was kicked out when she started a fight. He said he saw her walking towards the park and that she couldn’t have got far. Desperate to get away from me, he handed me a photograph of her dancing around a pole in a dirty looking club, and walked away from me back to the bar. I could see the similarities between the girl I knew and the one in the picture, and although I didn’t want to believe that it could be her I decided to follow the lead and headed down to the park.
The girl I saw there was a ghost of the one I knew.I knew it was her, but I couldn’t bear to speak to her when she was in such a state. I couldn’t bring her home to her mother like that.
I’ll let Karen know I’ve run out of leads, and l’ll leave her to make her own decisions.