"It was colder than. . ." I stop my complaining and stare at my companion. Realizing sadly, I have had nothing but complaints since arriving in San Fransisco two days ago. Perhaps I should compare the weather to my heart. Dead heavy like Alcatraz.
She looks at me questioningly from under the straw hat I got her from Chile. I shrug and point to a pelican effortlessly skimming the cat paws. She's temporarily distracted. We lean over the pier railing and watch its progress towards the beach. Both of us smile as it lands, stretches it wings in a blanket of white, neatly bringing them into settle.
The buzzer in my pocket tells me the table is ready. We head into the restaurant and the tiny waitress bobs her head in welcome. She reminds me of a sand piper as she skirts between the tables, her bare legs moving to the rhythm of the search. I acknowledge her triumph for seating us at a prime spot. She beams at me and flourishes the menus. Her voice high as she quickly rattles off the specials. Thanking her, I scan the choices. Nothing appeals to me, hunger seems to belong to the past. I impatiently shove the sticky plastic to the side while listening to my friend moan and groan in delight over the numerous seafood dishes. Normally, I feel amusement and pleasure in treating her to a lifestyle I take for granted.
Sitting by the window is a huge relief. I can feel panic rise at being indoors with so many around. These walls slant too much. I feel like they could fall any second. Looking out to the sea, the far horizon has my complete attention. I attempt to slow my breath. Sunset takes over, happening in its typical Hollywood cliche. That thought does nothing to calm me. I scoot my chair back involuntarily, rising abruptly until my ice blue eyes meet two chocolate brown ones with ridiculously long lashes. Why don't I feel relief that these are alive and well, and telling me that reprieve from the inquisition is now over. I reluctantly sit.
"Miri," her voice concerned and firm. "I order you, as your best friend, to tell me what happened last week."
My voice catches. "Cassie!" Shake my head in denial. Images flash insistently across my mind. I can't stop the ticker tape alerts that want their information known. I want to be able to have her reach in and tear the lifeless, joyless weight from my chest. Expose it to the world and maybe there would be someone who could fix it. Or at least bury it. The words are not forthcoming.
Her voice soft, "I know I wasn't there, but reading an article on you . . . the lousy explanation they gave!" The tears coming down her face, leaving trails, pushing the powder to the edge of her chin, reminds me of. . .
The mud and debris doesn't hide everything. The slide shoved everything together. Jumbling living and non-living together. Giant bulldozer run by Mother Nature's' indifference. Everyone's dirty grim faces try not to imagine what pieces of cloth showing through might still be attached to.
I stand on top of what I think is the crumpled remains of one of the many touristy shops I was in yesterday. My news crew and I carefully pick our way across the devastation. No one wants to add to the noise. Sounds of workers, wailing, dogs barking, boats, and various vehicles all blend to the background.
Uneasy, I turn to face the ocean. Intuition leads me to a spot in the middle of the street. Something catches my ear. I think I hear a small voice, muffled under two walls. A rescuer is walking lightly across the top of the leaning one. I could see the one caving under his weight. Plaster raining down. The voice in my soul urges haste. Hurrying over, I yell in Spanish, "no se muevan la pared va a caerse!" The worker stops and inches his way back down. In my limited Spanish, I frantically point under the wall. He gets that I heard a voice. Yelling for more help. We all begin to move what we could. Sounds of pain reaches us. We cheer and begin shouting reassurances.
I find the body of an adult male first. Rolling him out of the way, I find her. Maybe six years old? I recognize her. She was in the same shop, yesterday, with her dad. They were buying her big brother a gorra azul. His old baseball cap was too dirty. I happened to be buying my best friend a Chupallas to use as a beach hat. We talked briefly. Both her and father teasing me for being country.
"Me llamo Miri. Me recuerdas? Como te llamas?" She grins and winces. Her front teeth are missing. I wonder if she'll get them for Christmas. I try to smile, realizing that's an American thing. Then my tears threaten to come. Her legs are wrong. She's broken, barely alive. I doubt she'll see tomorrow. I want to move her, but I'm afraid until she whispers, "Por favor, queiro ver el sol."
A rescuer taps me on the shoulder. Our faces show our agreement of the situation. I lift her, she whimpers a little in pain, her legs dangle useless over my arms. Her chest doesn't rise much with breath. She raises her hand, in it is her brother's blue baseball cap. I remember, they were to give it to him when they returned home. . .today! My tears fall freely now, I have my gift safe in the van.
I walk her to the place in the road where I first heard her. The afternoon sun is brillant. My crew has been filming the whole time. I feel rage at the intrusive cameras. Turning my back to them. I sit with her in my arms. Eyes flutter open, hazel, fringed with black. Eyes that will soon see God. I tenderly stroke her face, moving her hair off her face. Her parched lips move, I lean forward, she presses her brother's cap into my hand. At her last whisper, I lean back and let the sunlight touch her face. She sighs. Happiness, relief and stillness become her death mask.
"She never gave me her name." Cassie grabs my hands across the table. We're both weeping, my heart melting into emotion. "She said, as she handed me the hat, 'Gracias, Senora, no quiero morir en la oscuridad. Thank you, I didn't want to die in the dark.'"