Sunset over the water and the two of them standing at the center of a high bridge. One must make the hardest choice of a lifetime.
"What scares you? I mean, what REALLY scares you?"
"You mean, like, the booger man and stuff?"
"If that's what scares you."
"Or you mean, like, driving a Mustang head on into an eighteen wheeler?"
He shrugged. He didn't care. It was a question to pass the day and time the ebb of the tidal flow beneath the bridge's timeless span.
"I don't think anything REALLY scares me, you know. Not since I was a kid."
"What scared you back then?"
She shrugged. The toe of her street-weary tennis shoe found a pebble on the rail beneath her knee, and it was soon bound for that eternal plunge into the icy unknown of the bay's darkest and most mysterious depths. "For a while, it was that tree guy in the Wizard of Oz."
"The tin man?"
"No, that tree thing that gets pissed off because Dorothy picks its apples. I always thought it strange that adults would consider that movie a child's fantasy. It's horrible. Full of monsters and meanness."
"Sort of like the real world. Yep, real scary shit."
"But later," she added with a sigh that was ages old, older even than her weary bones. "Later, it was my mom and dad."
"Your mom and dad? Why's that?"
"They started fighting a lot. Louder and louder. Each word more hateful than the last, you know, like they were in a contest and the loser would have to die and the winner... the winner would become the devil."
"Yeah, I know that feeling. That's true terror, alright." He watched for the ripples of the stone, but they were lost to the general churning of the currents. It's spectacular tumble had passed without sign. No one, save they, would ever know how that tiny bit of the earth came to rest were it must.
At their backs, the city flowed from one unknown destination to the next. White clouds fled across the blue heavens, as though the whole world was a busy highway and these were the telltale plumes of dust to mark the way.
"What about now, though? Something must scare you now."
She shuddered, and turned away from the spectacular western view. Hefting her pack, which seemed heavier than she, she started east again, relentlessly.
Shrugging again, he snorted and spat over the rail. Leering boyishly, he thought how he had always wanted to do that. Mentally, he scratched another item off his life's list. Then he reached for his own pack, and hopped after Shelly.
"Well what?" she bit, head down, feet shuffling, scuffing the grate of the catwalk.
"What about now? What scares you now?"
"Nothing, I said." But her voice was pinched, and he knew she was lying. So he just looked at her and walked along at her side. Until she groaned, and turned away to glare into the passing faces of the motorists, as though one of them might be someone she knew that had once done her some grievous wrong. "You're such a child sometimes, Byron. I swear."
He grinned, and tried not to be hurt. She could be vicious, he knew, and he was leery of her tongue. Still, he wanted to know. He wanted to know what could scare Shelly, this girl that was more than a woman and more than a man, this child that was harder than the steel of this unbelievable bridge, deeper than the deadly, icy waters that flowed far, far beneath their feet. So he nudged her with a bump, pushing her closer to the water side rail.
She squealed and pushed back, threatening him with a bloody death at the bumper of a luxury sedan. And at once, quickly, as though by speaking it so sharply she might spit it out and watch it run away, screaming, she told him her darkest fear.
It was surprising. He had imagined monsters and madmen, but never rats. They had seen a thousand rats, and she had never showed the slightest sign.
"But not the way you're thinking, not just, like, scurrying along the street or anything like that." She fell silent and brooding, and he knew her well enough to keep silent, let her have her own time to tell it. Otherwise, if he tried to hurry her or press her in any way, she would rebel, and he would never hear of it. Never. She was that way about things.
So he walked a long way and he waited a long time for her to line it all up in an order that she, enigmatically, found presentable. As ever, she started at the center, and worked her way out.
"You remember Chigger?"
"Yeah, of course. Who could forget Chiggy?"
She laughed through the corner of her mouth and shook her head. In that moment, as he caught her with a glance before the sun, her long blonde hair straying from a single band at the back of her head and running from her hunting thumb like the rebel she was from beginning to end, in that moment he thought her the most beautiful thing that God had ever set forth on the Earth. His breath caught in his chest, and his heart thrilled to think of pouncing on her in a fierce fit of passion that would see them over the rail and through the air on a forever fall into eternity. Together.
"Chiggy," she snorted, remembering. "There's never been anybody like Chiggy. Like that time he found all that Vaseline and those disposable razors. You remember? And he tried to sell it, right, for like days! But nobody was EVER going to buy Vaseline and disposable razors from a guy on the street, no matter how low he cut the price."
Byron was laughing now. "Yeah. I told him to just get rid of the shit and give it up."
"But not Chiggy. What did he do? He just knew that stuff was good for something. So he figured it out, didn't he? He sat down and he figured it out. Must have taken him, what, five, six hours? But he figured it out. You remember?"