Night Walk, Seattle

It’s seven-something, barely dark. The signs say “public access” everywhere, but it still feels transgressive somehow to be here in the public space. But I’m walking like I’m looking for something.

I’m not afraid, but I feel like I should be, like there’s something off about my cavalier inattention. If I got mugged, raped, murdered, could it be considered somehow my fault? This is a thought that occurs to me not so much as concern but as a habit, an item on some checklist I guess I usually run.

I can’t think of any usual reasons to fear misplaced blame, no obvious wealth or tits, just femaleness. I check it off my list as: I could probably seek justice.

Tonight, I don’t stop my wandering legs; I lean into the restless need to prowl. I’m out tonight because I couldn’t hold still. So I took the bus toward the park, but I did’t get all the way there. I saw a place with trees, pulled the stop cord, sat in the grassy place until the sun went down.

I’m coming from Magnolia. Down the cement ramp, past the travel agency. The bus pulls up just as I reach the stop, doors hissing open. But I shake my head and pass by. I’m taking the long way home.

The helix bridge draws me out to the waterfront park. Open until 11. It glows out towards the water, too empty, but tempting. I climb the stairs.

Sudden noise, below. The train clanks into motion in the train yard; rabbits leap out of view from the scant lampposts. I walk on. The grain chute from the silo is silent overhead.

Seattle is lovely on the waterfront. The beach smells of salt and diesel down by the old P-I globe. The gibbous moon throws shadows down on the path. The water’s lit yellow with work lights on cranes. A ferry, windows glowing, glides by. Only little ripples lap.

I’m supposed to feel at home here.

When I’m on the road, I could be anywhere: walk any mileage, ride any transit. I can adapt to local food, timing, language. If I feel ill at ease- it’s all right to. I’m a visitor.

But these dark streets, I should own them. I should sink into autumn like it’s my own weathered skin. I belong here! I can shout it to myself. But something about the act of it feels alone.

I’m from here. I can’t pack up every three days and move on. But I can’t feel the heart of it, either. I’m as distant as when I’m footloose in a place.

I think of the mountains. The islands. The woods. I’ve chosen this place; I like it best. I like the drizzle of the passing seasons, the gasping wonder of sunshine days, the way people engage and disengage with each other.

Comfort cages. By leaving the warm and meant-for-me place, I choose to walk the night. I pretend I could be anywhere. That it doesn’t matter if I feel at home.

Two or three joggers pass, silent, dark, going the other direction. I walk south and up the hill.

Dog walkers and smokers roam the streets by Key Arena. I’m walking towards the Needle, towards the Center like a tourist. Rats crash after each other through the dead leaves. The fountain is going.

The fountain draws. New UW students play tag nearby in pristine purple hoodies; tourists cluster to take pictures, even in the dark. There’s something about the fountain– it’s meant to bring people together, and somehow it does.

It’s too dark and cold for children, but the fountain invites a game. The nozzles sync to the music, jets of water rising and sinking back. Every child knows on instinct: from the rim, you run down into the basin, dart in to touch the waterfalling dome. Run back, before you get wet.

The music ebbs and rises, world drumbeats, spray in my nostrils and cool mist. I owe my smile to this fountain, tonight. The nozzles shoot playfully down the line. Does my adult dignity dare it, in the dark?