A venue empties, people streaming through a narrow door. Clearing the way for others behind them they fan out and slow as people regroup on the street. Ian didn’t slow, exiting he turned sharply left and began an easy and familiar walk. It was a beautiful night, warm and with a subtle breeze inviting him to enjoy the twenty minute journey home. It would calm him, helping with his buzz and the adrenaline from the show. He could still hear the bluesy rhythm and repetitive guitar of the bands encore. Echos of the cheering before the house lights had come up and pushed people towards the doors. He walked briskly, a quick and easy strut. At a corner, waiting for a light, he checked his belongings before he got too far from the venue. Keys, wallet, and a souvenir shirt he had bought at the show. A long time ritual at any live show he attended. It was all there. A white LED’d walking person and he was moving again.
Los Angeles was still awake. This street was deep enough into the city that its quiet moments wouldn’t come for hours. His journey was three long stretches and the first was crowded with packs of bar hoppers, the hurried overworked rushing to and from jobs and the isolated and lonely homeless. Traffic burst past him just to sit idling at intersections, horns honking at amateur left turners. Ian passed a laundromat and turned right down a side street. Less and less noise and more and more trees. Iron gates partitioned apartment building lawns from the sidewalk and the tightly packed cars along the curb. He walked automatically, comfortably lost in his thoughts.
It happened quickly, startling him. He had turned the last corner, quickly swinging around a fenced in patio and his feet kicked something. Many somethings. Glass tumbling and rolling into other glass, breaking and sliding along the concrete. It was dark, and he squinted to see the ground. A vigil. Dozens of patron saint candles shone in the dark night. Casting a warm light onto bouquets of flowers and folded cards. In front of him, a dozen or so lay broken, their lights blown out in the destruction. Candlelight flickered over pictures of a teenage boy. Him smiling with family or in school photos. A young life. A child, loved by his mother, father, siblings, and friends and now frozen in time in memoriam on a street corner.
Panic broke over Ian, a sudden and sharp dread. Looking around, flight considered. It wasn’t a busy street and what would be do? What did people expect to happen, placing this right on the corner. His thoughts raced, distracted and immensely present at the same time. Intently focused, staring at his shoes on the glass shards that twinkled in the candle light.
“Hey holmes, what did you do that for, man?” It was too late. “Yo bro, that ain’t cool.” It was a young man, khaki shorts and a white shirt. Tattoo's visible on his arms and neck. Another, less friendly looking man stood beside him, eyeing the destruction.
It was difficult to make out the expressions on their faces. Some considerate soul had broken all the nearby streetlights, helping to push their harsh light back to make way for the warm glow of the candles. Dozens of illuminated visions of Saint Joseph or Saint Anthony holding a child. A few Saint Jude’s, the patron saint of hopeless causes stood flickering solemnly. Their faces all seemed to be gazing at the same thing.
Ian stepped back, crushing glass beneath his feet.
“Hey man, where you going? You’re not going anywhere!” The man had pointed at the ground, stepping forward slightly. Ian stopped.
“I wasn’t going anywhere.” Ian wasn’t committed to the decision.
“Fuck no you’re not. We got a problem here.” He spoke with the confidence of a man used to confrontation. He turned to his friend, beginning a hushed conversation. The quiet man’s head simply shook. His hands were fists. Tightly clinched fists immobile at his side. Body language saying everything.
A man approached from behind, interrupting the meeting. Slowly walking up with an awkward limp, one long step and a short one. “Juan, what’s happening here?” The one who had been doing the talking turned around to face his friend, raising his arms high for a rigid and aggressive hug. They snapped their arms around each other and in the motion Juan’s shirt lifted up, revealing a gun tucked into his pants. In dreams things go from climax to climax. One moment you’re in a concert and then instantaneously there’s a man with a gun and the part in between is simply edited out. On the cutting room floor of your mind, if it even existed. Dreams are feedback loops of hyperbole, emotions trying to top each other. Adrenaline searching for more adrenaline. Looking for the high water mark that wakes you, opening your eyes and there’s your pillow and relief hitting you like a cold shower. If Ian had been dreaming this would have been the moment that would have brought him back to life.
“Look” Ian began, regrettably.
“Look?” Juan nudged his silent friend who shook his head.
“I…” This was starting badly, he realized. “I mean. I just need to say that this was an accident.” Ian was usually a good negotiator. “Of course this was an accident, what kind of fucking idiot would do this intentionally?” He was pointing at the glass.
“I don’t know you, but we get lots of fucking idiots through here.” Juan said, his words ending with a nod towards Ian.
“I’m really sorry for this and I’ll fix it however I can.”
A woman approached the group, stopping behind Juan’s silent friend, clutching her hands to her chest. A young girl followed and quickly adhered to her side. Wet eyes, streaks of misery on their cheeks.
Ian filled with exasperation and frustration. The weight of the situation becoming unbearable. This wasn’t him. This wasn’t a thing he would do. They thought he was a terrible person because only a terrible person would do this intentionally. He wasn’t terrible. He was a clumsy fucking fool who needs to pay attention to where he is going.
Violence broke over the scene before any further and deeper pleas could be made. He knew Juan’s punch was coming, the man wasn’t the kind to surprise him. It was fairly indicated in the moment but Ian’s amateur status left him defenseless. It landed across his chin, spinning him around. He nearly lost his footing on the glass and found himself with his back to the candles. Warmth quickly pooled in his mouth and spilled down his chin. All the players froze, yielding a split second to evaluate Ian’s reaction and anticipate his move. Ian knew he had to act quick and did so on instinct. He faked a lunge right and instead sprinted left in front of the friend and around the tearful mother. The friend jerked his hand out and either by luck or skill hooked Ian’s back jean pocket jerking him to a stop before the pocket ripped and spilled his souvenir shirt onto the pavement. He heard the mother scream and some yelling from across the street as he stumbled, pushing himself back up. He was getting momentum to run again and was unprepared for Juan’s second punch. Harder than the first it ended Ian’s maneuvering. A helpless and quiet darkness rushed up around his vision, accompanied by a sense of free fall and then nothing.
Ian woke up on the concrete to an aching in his chest and head. He coughed and was surprised by a shocking pain echoing from his left side. A quick check for blood found none. It wasn’t a slow and dull pain but a sharp stab of a broken rib or something worse. He rolled over and pushed himself up. Nobody was around. No cops. No Juan’s. No mothers. He figured he couldn't have been there long. He remembered the looks of the eyes on him. Their pain filling him with terror. A river of relief swept through him. Now it was just him and a quiet street and the same comforting glow of the candles. He stood up, wanting nothing more than to be home. Looking around he noticed his new shirt. It was laid neatly on top of the broken glass at the base of the vigil. Light reflecting off the logo. Ian sauntered forward and began to reach down for it. His eyes, lower now to the pictures, noticed something he hadn’t before. A picture of the boy, standing with some taller, older men. Behind them and on the boy’s shirt was the same logo stretched over broken glass in front of him. The boy was smiling. Smiling like a dream had come true. Hours and hours over years and years built into one smile at one moment. Happiness so natural and easy for children. Ian dropped his hands and rested his upper body on his knees, staring at the photo. Staring across a gap like none he’d experienced. He shook is head, stood and began walking home.