Author's Note: Thank goodness I've been posting regularly on here!
Rosa Parks Square stood at the center of the city’s main bus station. As buses maneuvered into their lettered terminals, a bronze statue of the titular woman rested on a smooth stone bench. Her hands were crossed demurely in her lap, shoulders slightly stooped. Her head leaned forward, gazing off to the side as if viewing the world through a moving window. The seat next to her remained empty.
The city’s library was Rosa’s neighbor. The library, with a sleek glass exterior blended with red brick, spread an ostentatious shadow over the downtown. Inside there was a vast, spacious lobby with marble checkout counters and a wide center staircase that spiraled towards a glass rotunda. Outside, battered tents and worn sleeping bags were positioned near the walls and under the awning of the entrance. Their residents milled about, intermittently dozing and making small talk among themselves, as they bid their time until the library opened.
The morning still retained a veneer of subdued gray, the early sun failing to penetrate the Pacific Northwest gloom. A man walked towards the library from the nearby parking garage with hurried steps, eyes downcast. He wore unfaded blue jeans and a clean burgundy flannel. Occasionally, the man shifted his shoulders, rubbed at his sleeves, or shook a leg as if the fabric irritated him.
Not waiting for the walk sign, the man crossed the street to the library. A few eyes shifted to him suspiciously. Their faces registered a mixture of hostility and pragmatic appraisal. The man scanned them over, momentarily meeting each of their gazes. Searching, searching. Long black hair. The man’s focus fixated on a woman slouched against a red brick pillar. A flicker of naïve hope was quickly doused as he took in her facial features, but he approached anyways.
“Excuse me, do you know a Victoria? Victoria Brenton?” He added the last question in haste as if her last name would guarantee recognition.
The woman slowly tilted her head up to meet his gaze, but her green eyes remained distant, her mouth a firm, impassive line. Whether she was preoccupied processing the words or refusing to answer remained a mystery as the seconds ticked by. The man shifted from one foot to the other, rubbed at his sleeve.
“I know her,” a voice called. He looked up from the speechless woman. The voice belonged to a man of indiscernible age that slowly stood from a nearby sleeping bag. Receding hair, thin veiny forearms, and tired eyes in an unwrinkled face. “I know Victoria.”
“She was camping near Amazon Creek along Fern Ridge Trail last time I saw her. It’s a spot near—”
“I know the place,” he cut in. “How long has it been since you saw her?”
The old young man looked up towards the sky, searching for the answer among the gray, brooding clouds. “Well, it has been a while. Couple weeks maybe.”
“Thank you.” He turned to leave.
“Wait,” the old young man called urgently, one of his hands reaching up. He turned back. “Would you be able to spare a dollar?”
It took him a second to realize it hadn’t been his own voice.
“Of course,” he mumbled, reaching for his wallet. He handed the man a crisp twenty-dollar bill.
“God bless you.” The words bounced off his back like a ricocheting bullet.
Fern Ridge Trail, a gray paved path bisecting Amazon Creek and a line of lampposts amid yellow grass. Cyclists, contorted over their handles, whirred past in determined silence. Next to one lamppost stood a tall weeping willow; some of its thin green arms brushed the ground with their fingers. To the left of the tree, a home lay in a chaotic heap.
A thick quilt, but no bed. Bundles of clothes stuffed in bags, but no dresser. Mismatching bicycle tires, but no bike. Unconceivably, a gleaming yellow disc golf basket lay on its side, but there were no discs and no one to play. It was all too . . .
The past hovered closer than he thought. It stood there on the trail with him looking down at the mess, a behemoth of mistakes and dark memories with one heavy arm draped over his shoulder in reminiscent camaraderie. The weight of it made him feel sick.
“Victoria!” His voice came out reedy and choked.
No one was home.
How long should he stay? The weight grew heavier. He hurried back to his car and returned with a pen and notebook. The pen felt unwieldy in his clenched fist like a knife with an unconventional hilt. Where to even start? At the beginning or the end? He settled for both, stabbing the paper in a large, child-like scrawl.
The words took up half the page, so the rest were written with increasingly smaller, cramped letters.
Please Call Me Victoria
The pen jabbed hesitantly as he struggled to remember his new phone number.
Please call this number if you see Victoria
At the bottom right corner.
He ripped the page out, intending on placing it somewhere visible amid the clutter, but a rustling sound and flicker of movement from the weeping willow stole his attention. He stared at the swaying branches, trying to discern something amiss within the green leaves, and he felt like they stared back, imploring him to come closer with their graceful sway. It had probably been a rodent, maybe a bird, or possibly a play of the light. Only a fool would get their hopes up.
He foolishly stepped towards the tree, brushing a few branches aside as he stepped within the canopy. The leaves tickled his skin like strands of Victoria’s hair. He stood there, basking in the sensation until the leaves were just leaves again.
There was nothing. There was nobody. If she had been here, in this city, the breeze would have taken her in his hesitation. He crumbled the piece of paper in his hand.