Today started like any other day for Trin. Being a homeless girl gives a person a surprising amount of consistency in their life. She roused herself from the back alley that she didn’t get chased out of last night. This one was a nicer one, no rotting food or rats and a warm air vent to keep her company throughout the night. It even dried out the clothes she was wearing. None of them fit properly, and they certainly didn’t match, but when you need to steal from a thrift store or take handouts from a shelter, a girl doesn’t have a lot of options. At least they were fairly new today, not too dirty yet. She stretched and moved her limbs around, trying to get her blood flowing again after sleeping propped up against concrete and brick. She absentmindedly touched the leather pouch on her side to make sure it was still there.
Inside of the leather pouch was a large crystal marble that was bigger than her fist. It looked as though a rainbow of colors swirled through a white fog inside of it when she glanced out of the corner of her eye, but when she held it very still and looked it was a plain white. Trin didn’t know if it was valuable. She never showed it to anyone. It never left her pouch, and the pouch never left her side. It was always hidden under the fold of an oversized sweatshirt or tucked under the waistband of a high-waisted, dirty skirt, whatever she had available that day. That marble was all she had left of her family now. It was hard to remember them sometimes. Harder every day. She was only eight years old when she last saw them, and 6 years later that seemed like a lifetime ago. She didn’t know for sure that they were dead, but since they hadn’t found her by now, she didn’t hold out much hope.
Trin didn’t like to think about that day in the woods. It was the only memory she had that didn’t fade, the only place she could see her father’s face again, but going back to the woods, to the cabin, in her mind, was painful. There had been days and weeks where she didn’t think of anything else. She obsessed over it, every detail, trying to find some clue that she missed so she could find her parents again. But those days were over. This country wasn’t that big. She knew that if they were alive they’d be looking. And in six years she’d have heard something about them in a city this big. But there was nothing. So she kept that memory locked away, refused to touch it, lest it be tarnished by time the way she was now. That was a sacred place, full of pain and love and tears and longing. This morning, like always, she stayed away from it.
Instead, she set out walking. Most don’t know it, but the homeless of a city form a kind of network. When you don’t have anything, what you do have is your friends. It’s rare for any serious quarrel to break out, and when it does it ends quickly. Trin’s people, she considered them her people, depended on each other. They all did what they could to help each other and they all survived another day. Usually. It was getting late into Spring now, which was good for Trin because Winter was always the scariest time. Around Christmas people were a little more generous, but frostbite and starvation needed more than a few extra bucks to stay away. But Spring also brought more people walking about, and that meant more cops being called, more derisive looks, more being pushed and kicked and thrown out of stores. Trin has long ago learned to disappear into a crowd, and her size helped, but crowds had a way of outing you once they heard shouts of “Thief!” and “Stop Her!” Everything was a double edged sword on the streets, but Spring made Trin cheerful anyway.
She made her way under the interstate with a smile on her face.
“Good morning Mr. Holden.” she called out to a bent, bearded old man leaning on a massive concrete support.
“Trin! Good ta see ya around these parts so early. Was tha night good to ya?” he said back. His face was a permanent scowl, but his voice echoed Trin’s good mood.
“It was Mr. Holden, thank you. And was it to you?” Trin replied. She did her best to be as polite as she could. People were more receptive to a polite, homeless child, and she found that if she never dropped the act, even her own people were more receptive, especially the older ones. Sometimes she wondered if it even was an act anymore since it was how she always acted.
“Well mah old bones don’t take kindly to any nights anymore, but thank ya for askin’ girly.” he replied. Trin smiled and kept on walking.
“Ya know…” the old man started. Trin stopped in her tracks and turned to face him. She kept on her smile even though she was annoyed at the interruption. Mr. Holden was bound to go on one of his rants again and Trin needed to get started with her day. But being rude wouldn’t due, Mr. Holden was a good friend to her and had kept her from starving on more than one occasion.
“This is tha site’a tha worst accident in recorded history. Problem bein’ that they didn’t record it!” he started. Trin started slowly walking towards him, wondering how much truth this story held. “Yep, there was a kintergarden class come down here and was passin’ by on a field trip. Each one’a them childrens had a puppy they had just adopted, from an orpahnage! Yep, tha’s right, a puppy orphanage. Man come runnin’ along tha otha way carryin’ tha cure for AIDS! First and only time they made it causea tha formula bein’ with him too. Alla the sudden, the highway up an’ collapsed, killing every one’a them. 30 sum kids, their pups, and that man. Concrete broke through tha road and broke a gas main, choked nigh on two hundrit people ta death ‘for they got it shut off again. Among tha dead was a convention for tha Scientists for Tha Advancement ‘A Mankind. Sixty-five of tha brightest people in the world, dead in tha same room.” The old man stared off into the distance as though contemplating the tragedy where he stood. “Believe it was onea them super fellas, but the bad kind, dropped down here tryin’ ta scheme one plot or anotha, managed to break tha highway.” he said softly, like in a whisper. Trin’s smile dropped.
“Now Mr. Holden, you know you ought not talk about the super people out loud. You’ll get in trouble.” Trin said, annoyed at her own use of ‘ought’. Hearing Mr. Holden talk tended to rub off on her own speech and she had to try and keep up her manners.
“You’re right girl, you’re right.” said Mr. Holden.
“Tell you what Mr. Holden, I’ll come by later and we can build a memorial to the worst tragedy in history. Even if it wasn’t recorded. We’ll make people remember.” Trin said. Mr. Holden looked up and smiled a large smile.
“That’s mighty kind’a you. Thank ya Trin, I’ll try ta get some supplies.” the old man replied. He started off in the direction Trin had come, moving faster with his cane than Trin had seen in a long time. She went on her way as well.
Mr. Holden was a nice old man, but crazy to boot. And since he was alive to see the rise and fall of Aberrant Humans, or the AEM as they were called, he didn’t mind talking about them even though it was illegal now. All mention of the AEM was outlawed and all of them were tracked down and killed. But Trin didn’t remember any of that, they got the last of them years ago and most of her life had been in the city, after they were gone. Sometimes she fantasized about what it would be like if they were still around, fighting their epic battles in the streets, good vs. evil. She’d dream that one of them would come and take her away, give her a home and love her and—well they were gone now, so it didn’t matter. What mattered was making it to tomorrow, and that’s just what Trin planned to do.
Headed uptown, she saw that the construction was still blocking off half of West Street. It seemed like the construction had been going on for literally forever, Trin didn’t remember a time that the road was completely passable. But it gave her the practice to be adept at navigating construction sites. Trin was already running late and couldn’t afford a detour. She broke into a light jog, heading up Cleveland Boulevard towards West Street.
She passed a few alleys that she knew well, and waved at her people in them, and to the ones on the street corners. Most of them just waved back when they saw her running, or yelled out a short greeting which she always returned. But then she passed Mrs. Livinston.
“Oh Trin sweetie, where are you headed?” she asked as though Trin had just walked into her living room and sat down for tea.
“Over to the shelter Mrs. Livinston, it’s Tuesday so they’re handing out bread today.” she said, managing not to slow her pace.
“Would you be a dear and–” the older woman started, but Trin interrupted her.
“Sure thing Mrs. Livinston, be right back!” Trin called as she left.
“You’re such a dear, thank you.” Mrs. Livinston replied as she used her old multicolored poncho fan a small fire she’d set to make coffee. Trin’s people lived in a culture of mutual respect, but Mrs. Livinston maintained just barely enough to be accepted. She shared just enough, attracted the cops to the brink of everyone’s tolerance, but never managed to do enough to be a pariah no matter how much she pushed people’s patience. Occasionally, she did something really nice for someone, and never drew attention to it, but people remembered and always repaid the favor.
Trin approached the constructions site and jumped the orange plastic fence with practiced ease. She turned to see that they had torn up more of the street and the passable lane was full of traffic. Today would be a difficult run. She broke into a full sprint, throwing her legs out as far as she could. With an empty stomach and a purpose, it was easy to be athletic, and Trin was already fairly acrobatic. Most of the construction workers ignored her, but a few waved to her with a smile. They were used to this by now and usually just let her pass. All of them except one. The foreman came running out of his trailer in his three-piece suit and brand-new hardhat. He was the kind of guy who never actually got his hands dirty and still needed everything done his way, more of a businessman than a leader of construction workers.
The man waved his arms and screamed at them to stop her. He himself didn’t chase too far, but threatened the jobs of every man who didn’t try to catch Trin, and a bonus for actually apprehending the small construction-zone serial trespasser. This was the hard part for her. Trin doubled her efforts, hurdled herself over a crane cockpit and slid down onto the arm of a backhoe. She scrambled up it and almost called out when it started moving. The man inside was trying to swing her back towards her pursuers, but she let go and flung herself past some empty water drums. Trin hit the ground hard, but rolled and sprung back up. She was at a full sprint again in no time. There was a man coming at her from the left. She tried to jump a concrete barrier but the man clipped her leg with his hand and Trin tumbled. Luckily she slid under a pile of lumber supported on either end and she quickly scuttled out from underneath and made for the end of the site. One man stood in her way, hunched down with his arms spread. Trin recognized the man, who smiled at her. She smiled back. He’d never actually grab her. She lept just a few feet in front of him, pushed off of his outstretched hands that he brought together in a feigned attempt to grab her, and cleared the orange plastic fence. She hit the ground running, glancing back just long enough the see the man stand up, dust himself off, and give her a subtle thumbs up.
Trin made it to the end of West Street, grateful to have made it with the help of a friendly stranger, but she was too late. All of the bread had been passed out. Her jogging stopped, and she walked up to some of her people who were walking away with their hands full. She implored, one person after the other, to share with her. One after the other, they all couldn’t. Some had families, and she understood and didn’t hold it against them. Some where much worse off than she, and she was glad they got something to eat. Eventually someone gave her a few rolls. Not enough to get her through the day, but it was something. Trin ate two of the rolls slowly, taking the long way back around to Mrs. Livinston. When she got there, the fire was out. ‘Looks like the police didn’t get called this time’ she thought to herself. Trin went down the alleyway and gave Mrs. Livinston the extra rolls.
“You’re such a sweetheart, thank you Trin. Would you like something to drink?” the older woman asked.
“Yes please, Mrs. Livinston.” Trin replied, sitting at the makeshift table.
“I saved you a cup of coffee, still piping hot.” she said, “and I even put in a little something extra for you.” Mrs. Livinston winked at Trin, who sipped the cup. Normally she hated the bitter drink, choked it down only for the warmth or the energy, but it was sweet this time. Trin saw that it was light brown and assumed it was creme, maybe a little bit of sugar. But it also had a bite to it. Trin sipped it again. It was alcohol. Trin smiled a large, genuine smile at Mrs. Livinston and she laughed back.
Trin sat back and enjoyed the cup of coffee with ‘something extra’, letting the warmth flow through her. If there was anything that her people never shared, it was alcohol, unless they had an abundance, but no one ever did. And Trin couldn’t even get into a liquor store to get any. She couldn’t be more grateful. Sugar and liquor were the things Trin craved the most, in part because of their scarcity. Mrs. Livinston sat next to her and they sipped their drinks, chatting about nothing in particular. When she was done, Trin thanked Mrs. Livinston again and walked away, down towards the river where the Liberal Arts college was and people were usually friendly enough to let you eat their leftovers. It could have been the courage in the coffee, but maybe she could even get a bath in the river.