I still didn’t understand exactly what was happening. But it was obvious that I would soon be completely stone. And that somehow, the homeless woman was responsible. Nine-one-one had been a dead end, my plight so unbelievable that calling back would only result in arrest. Briefly, that thought seemed tempting — at least it would force someone to come find me.
But ultimately, what good would it do? I’d become a medical mystery, poked and prodded and locked away in a plastic bubble where I couldn’t infect anyone else, or be hauled off to permanently decorate a drab prison cot with my equally drab, new skin. Of course, they’d have to pry me off the ground first. Maybe I’d just be transformed into some awkward fixture of the park, handcuffed to the bench in an obscure statement artists would interpret as social commentary.
No, I was cut off from any sort of emergency services, and I had no family or friends close enough to be of any help. Not that any of them would. My phone’s contact list was brimming with the illusion of a full life. Numbers for friends I had left in Virginia; numbers for the parents I had severed all emotional ties with; numbers from a plethora of one night stands and shallow flings, ghosts of relationships I never allowed to develop; and numbers for business contacts that only gave me the time of day as long as my art continued to line their wallets with commissions. Hundreds of names, and absolutely no one who gave a damn about me.
I’d made sure of that, hadn’t I?
Resignation swiftly followed, leeching away all emotion, all hope, until I was an empty, vacant shell, staring in stunned silence at the river. The only thing I could feel remotely relieved about was that realization stripped away panic. I watched the churning water flow past me and for the first time since this whole thing started, I could think clearly.
“You know, it usually works better when you’re completely covered.”
The snickering voice stabbed through my running monologue of bleak options, bringing the world past the tip of my nose back into focus. Like a person roused from anesthesia, I slowly turned my head to the sound.
Walking toward me were a young couple — late teens, early twenties. The boy had his arm wrapped around the girl’s shoulders, his hand resting dangerously close to public indecency. They both wore extra-tight, skinny jeans that made their legs look like twigs, and fluorescent t-shirts that would have been horrible even in the 80’s. Their jackets were normal, but buried beneath scarves layered in clashing color. The boy sneered at me behind vibrant red, thick-rimmed glasses I was sure weren’t prescription, while the girl giggled behind the hand pressed to her mouth.
“You’re trying to be, like, a statue, right? It works better if you paint your entire body, dude,” the boy laughed, gesturing to the fact the grey was only mid-way up my thighs. The girl refused to meet my gaze, looking away as she pretended to contain her mirth.
They were mocking me. Instead of realizing I was in trouble and trying to help, they were outright mocking me!
“Might want to keep practicing,” the boy said. I wanted to punch the condescending smirk off his face. “And pick a better location.” His hand left it’s prime groping position to gesture vaguely toward the river while he looked around dubiously. “Go hit up Dominic down by Pioneer Square. That kid does a mean bronze. Maybe he’d give you some pointers.” He winked at me, like he was imparting some grand particle of wisdom I desperately needed.
I watched in slack-jawed silence as they continued past without stopping, too shocked and numb from the adrenal exhaustion of the past few hours to even manage a sound of indignation.
They weren’t more than two feet beyond me when the boy turned back, calling out, “ ‘A’ for effort though, bro,” and flicked something my way. I watched it glitter as it spun toward me, landing with a dull, metallic ring on the bench next to my hand. I looked stupidly at it, hearing their laughter ridicule me in earnest as they kept walking.
Finally, it registered. I was looking at a coin — a nickel, to be exact. Fury roared to life, fanned by the oxygen of understanding, and my frozen voice finally returned to me. “I’m not a goddamned street performer!” I shrieked at their backs, so mad I would have tackled the insolent little bastard if I hadn’t been stuck on the bench.
The boy waved his free hand in my direction, not even bothering to turn around, and I faintly heard his response drift back to me: “Whatever, dude.” The girl’s shoulders hunched even more as she laughed. And all I could do was glare after them, anger boiling over like a pot left too long on the stove.
Fury and indignation melded with horror and despair; a giant, mushrooming cloud of emotion that threatened to wipe away the rest of my sanity. Looking for some sort of release, I grabbed the nickel and hurled it into the muddy-brown water of the river. It made an unsatisfying dent, absorbed so quickly that it didn’t even splash.
Without thinking, my fingers curled around the cell phone resting uselessly at my side, gripping the delicate touch-screen so firmly I felt it crack beneath the pressure. The broken phone quickly followed the nickel’s path, arcing in slow motion toward the water–the cracked screen flashing intermittent white like an S.O.S. message no one understood. It, too, was swallowed soundlessly into the water, joining the other inanimate victims of my rage. But it wasn’t enough.
So I screamed — a wordless roar of anguish, betrayal, and shame.
I screamed until my throat gave out and the turmoil I felt was expended. I must have sounded like I was being stabbed to death but I didn’t even bother to look for reactions. I already knew. No one would come check on me. They’d all pretend like I didn’t exist. I was just a loud nuisance imposing on their happy little moments, something to be tuned out as easily as road construction noise on a summer day.