Scott walked down the street in short, quick steps. His head was down, eyes on the pavement, hands stuffed down deep in jacket pockets. The sidewalks could have been packed with hundreds of pedestrians, or stark deserted like a ghost town. Scott would not have noticed either way. Scott had developed a strange focus on moving forward along the route he’d decided. He was going down to the river.
Scott had moved past the comfortable slowness of the first day. On the second day, he progressed beyond the feeling of being stretched thin, mind, body and soul. By the third day, Scott was starting to get angry. The constant disorientation, the clumsiness, the stuttering, and the mental weakness was getting to him. Scott had now gone four days without sleep, and he was bald, frustrated emotion. People he didn’t even see gave Scott a wide berth as he charged down the sidewalk. Agony and latent danger radiated off this hunched shoulders like heat from a feverish child.
Red rimmed eyes stung, wanting nothing to be closed and remain so. At the same time, it seemed as though they didn’t need to blink anymore. While watching the sun rise that morning, Scott’s eyes had been drawn to the reflection of the sun on the river, golden and shimmering. He had decided then that he needed to walk along the riverfront. His mind closed and locked upon this idea. It carried him through as he dressed haphazardly, guzzled a cup of coffee, and stomped out the front door.
Gradually, the fierce zeal to reach the riverfront died down to a quiet determination. He was no longer going because he wanted to, but because that was simply what he was doing. The restless activity of his mind fell away and left only a single, driving directive to be carried out. Even this command was unstable though. Had someone stopped Scott to ask him the time, the thought would likely have flown his mind, would have left him unsure. Chances are good that he would have wandered off to do something entirely different.
No one stopped Scott to ask him what time it was. He passed by the apartment buildings, the delis, the corner shops, down in between skyscrapers that housed bank offices and insurance companies, and then on into the seedier part of town, just beyond the white collars and reflective glass. Scott walked straight on until the street ran dead end into the river. He stood at the fence that stopped him and stared down into the water until he realized where he was. To his left and to his right, dilapidated commercial buildings ran out along the riverfront.
Scott turned and walked along the concrete that separated the fenced riverbank and the old buildings. He traveled in the same direction that the river flowed, as though carried along with it. It was obvious that the riverfront was once a nice place to spend a day. Now, tattoo parlors, bars, and empty storefronts reigned supreme at the river. Nothing was kept up anymore. Plywood sat in window frames behind broken glass. Sleeping bags and shopping carts full of personal belongings filled the doorways of abandoned shops.
Not much was happening so early in the morning. Here and there, vagrants sat up in their bedding and finished the drinks they started the night before. Having accomplished his mission, Scott’s haggard determination softened, crumbled, and left him. He was left feeling hallow and bone deep tired. Scott couldn’t remember ever feeling so worn out. Muscles, eyes, lungs, legs, brain, everything felt like it was shutting down. Scott stopped and leaned against the fence without facing it, looking out at the water flowing away from him. The river was dark and slow moving. It looked so very cold.
“The Queen’s greeting to you Sire! Always glad to see another knight of the crown out on patrol!” The shout came from behind Scott. He turned slowly. A ramshackle man approached him with his arms stretched out wide. Before Scott could react, he was enveloped in a tight, foul scented embrace. He gagged, tried to free himself, and the bum released him with a sincere smile.
“Keeping a weather eye out for rebel agents, I trust? I’ve been watching these sleepers down around here, and I can say for certain that all’s safe at my post!” The man gestured proudly at the street and it’s occupants. Scott stared, confused at what was happening and still disgusted at what he was smelling. “So! On mission? Where are you headed?”
Scott blinked, opened his mouth, and finally just pointed down the sidewalk in the direction he had been walking.
“Ah! The Courtyard! Mayhap I’ll join you? Give you a spot of company on the road?” Scott wondered at the man’s strange way of talking. It was as though he wanted to be British, but couldn’t be bothered to fake an accent. Normally adept at dealing with street people, Scott was completely unable to cope with the situation he found himself in. Considering it easier to let the man follow him, Scott just nodded his head and started walking again. The bum fell in beside him.
They walked in gracious silence. Scott tried to force his mind back into something that at least resembled cognizance. It felt like his brain had fallen into pit and he needed to drag it out, dry it off, and set it back on it’s feet. He glanced at the homeless man that accompanied him. He seemed friendly enough. Harmless. Still, he had seen perfectly sane people change from friendly to violent. Logically, a delusional person could be counted on to perform the same change with greater ease. Scott tried to form some kind of plan to separate himself from the homeless man, but found such thinking impossible.
At length, they approached one of the larger bridges that crossed the river. There was indeed a clearing in front of the bridge that could be imagined to be a courtyard. This was another of the locations where the upper class came close to mingling with the downtrodden. The little stores and shops of this locale had been wrested back from degradation. Fresh paint, light colored cobblestones, potted plants, a small fountain. Coffee shops and clothing boutiques felt perfectly natural next to the bridge and the gentle river. One could imagine how the whole of the riverfront must have been.
Businessmen and society women took notice as the two shabby men emerged into their world. Life was just getting started in the square. Shopkeepers were setting out their mannequins and early risers were enjoying a cappuccino in the outdoor seating before a busy day at the office. Scott did not realize how much he looked like the bum who thought him a fellow knight of the crown. His clothing was infinitely cleaner than those of his companion, but no less rumpled. He hadn’t shaved for days. His hair stood on end. The looks they were getting made him uncomfortable.
“Here we are then, Sire! Best keep sharp! The gents down here? They’ll cut your throat, sure as not! Sure they will!” The bum was not speaking quietly, but the citizens of the square turned away from the speech. Scott realized that it would be impossible to disassociate himself from the crazy bum at this point. He came to a stop, and leaned his side against the fence again. He gave up. He didn’t really care what these people thought of him. Away into his own mind, Scott retreated in a sort of trance of daydreaming.
Leaning there against the fence that was intended to keep people from tumbling headlong down the bank into the river, Scott came the closest to experiencing sleep as he had in four days. He sank deep into himself. He dreamt, more than thought, of how he was going to get home, what he wanted to eat for breakfast, the girl from his favorite TV show, whether or not he needed to do laundry. The sound of the bum’s unbroken monologue provided the backdrop for all this. Scott both heard, and ignored it.
A high pitched scream brought him out of his stupor in an instant. He came all the way awake, more alert than he could ever remember being. The first thing he looked at, wide-eyed and interested, was the bum. Scott took notice of his strangely pointed, red had for the first time. If the mental ward kept a standing army, that would be their dress uniform cap. Then he blinked, turned his head, and looked to where everyone else was looking.
A woman and her tiny dog were standing at the juncture of the sidewalk and the bridge. She was still screaming and pointing down into the river. Scott and the bum joined the small rush to see what was happening. Momentarily, they stood next to the woman and her yapping, pacing dog. No one could miss what was bothering her. There was a body in the water, a young woman floating face down. People muttered and gasped around them. Scott heard someone say that they should call 911. The bum gripped his shoulder, and Scott turned to face him.
“The Queen! She’s in trouble!” Scott met the bum’s eyes and couldn’t agree more.
“You’re right about that!”
Scott vaulted the fence and scrambled down the steep bank. The bum ran a short distance down the bridge and jumped up onto the guardrail. His dive was comical; knees flexed out, hands steepled in front of his face, and then a perfect arch up in the air and down into the water. Scott ran directly into the river, tripping over the water and swimming almost by the time he was ankle deep. They met at the girl’s body.
Scott didn’t realize how cold the water was until they were hauling the woman to the shore. The air outside was in the fifties, the water couldn’t be warmer than forty-five. They pulled the woman up onto a flat spot of the bank by her armpits. Scott and the bum kneeled down next to her and looked down. Scott could hear hushed talking and sobs coming from the sidewalk above. He poked his finger into her neck, searching for a pulse. Weak and amazing, it was there. She was pale though, so pale.
Scott knew no more about CPR than anyone else who watched TV. He put one hand on top of the other and began pushing on her sternum. He counted to five without knowing why. The woman made no response. Scott pushed on her chest five more times. The bum looked at him from across the girl.
“Aid you milord?”
“Blow in her mouth!”
The bum too a deep breath, leaned over, and blew it out six inches away from the girl’s face. Scott thought about correcting him, but wasn’t sure that it was the right thing to do for someone who’s lungs were full of water anyway. He began to pump on her sternum again.
“Return to us, fair Queen!”
“One, two, three…”
The girl convulsed, gagged, rolled over, and exhaled water into Scott’s lap. She coughed, rolled the other way, and began to vomit all over the bum. The bum threw his arms up in joy. He was elated.
“The Queen! She was in the river, and the river was in her, but now they’re both out! All’s well! All’s well!” The girl laid back, but continued to cough and sputter. Scott held her head and tried to comfort her. Her eyes were wild, searching and questioning Scott’s face.
“It’s OK. You’re gonna be fine. Just try to relax.” He turned and looked over his shoulder to the small crowd at the fence. A suit with a phone to his ear shouted down that help was coming soon. Scott thought that it would be nice to have help immediately. Scott looked back across the woman to the homeless man, still celebrating. He stroked the girl’s hair and spoke to her the way one would speak to a frightened pet. The men grinned and shivered at each other.
What are the chances? Scott thought. Two guys go down into the water: an insane hobo and a guy who hasn’t slept for four days. They pull out a dead body, and now she lives. Who would have thought?