". . .i turn to her.
we are both fallen and smooth,
just minutes on the streets. . ."

daniel labarre

She should have known better. It was always the same. She should have learned by now. But, there was always that faint hope. Maybe, just maybe, things would be different. Just for once, maybe she would meet someone.

She had taken an extra amount of time earlier in the evening to make herself as attractive as possible. After her shower, she had taken special care to massage moisturizing cream deep into the skin of her long legs. She had brushed her long dark hair until it was shining, and called on every trick she knew to subtly apply her make-up so that it was hardly noticeable. After she slipped on her clinging black silk dress and her high heels, and stood, turning, in front of the mirror, she was pleased. She knew she looked good. She felt fortunate. She knew that her kind of beauty was a gift, the luck of the genetic draw. What she saw in the mirror raised her hopes that perhaps tonight . . . just maybe . . .

As soon as she arrived at the disco in the old restored schoolhouse, she knew that she had let her imagination get the best of her. It was still the same old scene. The crowded dance floor, the alcoholic haze, the loud relentless pulsing music. She knew that they were probably snorting coke on the stairs. She knew that they were having casual sex up in the balcony. She knew that she could participate in whatever was going on. But she couldn't take it anymore. She said hello to a few people she knew, fended off a couple of drunk guys on the make, and realized that she didn't belong there. The idea of finding the love of her life in this desperate scene was so ridiculous that it was laughable. She finished her glass of wine and left.

Outside, the air was warm and fresh. A slight breeze blew along the empty street, as she walked slowly down the sidewalk. This part of town always reminded her of Europe somehow. Perhaps it was the tall cement retaining wall on the other side of the street that followed the curve of the road down to the old Episcopal Church. It reminded her of mountain villages in northern Italy.

Photo courtesy Jerome Historical Society

She stopped walking and looked out over the valley below. The lights of Clarkdale and Cottonwood stretched away to the south, following the river. The beam of the airport beacon cut regularly through the sky above the towns. A small plane approached the airport from the north. She watched as the blinking red light of the craft slowly dropped into the valley, descended below her line of sight, and glided in for its landing. She listened for the sound of its engine, but all she could hear was the throbbing music from the schoolhouse.

She loved early summer nights in Jerome. The soft warm breeze was soothing on her skin. It was like an air bath. The whole town was filled with lush growth. Fruit, mulberry, cottonwood, and paradise trees were coming alive everywhere. She leaned with her elbows against the metal pipe railing that separated her from the quiet, overgrown, empty lot below. She remembered playing kick the can in lots like this when she was a little girl. She remembered the excitement of hiding in the darkness - the magic of a summer night, the feeling that something miraculous might happen at any minute. She tapped one of her high heels lightly against the sidewalk impatiently, sighed, and wondered where the magic had gone.

*      *      *       *

God, it was good to be back, he thought as he ran along. He laughed to himself. He thought Phoenix had been bad news when he lived there a few years ago in the sixties. But now, Jesus. It was amazing how fast a place could deteriorate. He breathed deeply as he ran slowly along the top of the ridge, sometimes running around the rocks and boulders, sometimes jumping from one to another. He forced the clean air in and out of his lungs, hoping to flush out the lingering smog.

He never told any of his new friends in town about this private ritual he went through whenever he came back from the city. He didn't know why, really. It was just something he felt he needed to keep to himself, as if telling someone would lessen the experience. The almost full moon had come an hour ago across the valley above Sedona. It provided enough light for him to pick his way along the rocky ridge above the town. He glanced down on the old mining town as he ran. The view from here never failed to create an intense sense of deja vu inside of him. It was a strange and unsettling sensation.

Suddenly, he tripped over a large rock and went sprawling. As he fell, he hit on his right side and shoulder, rolled, and landed in a small manzanita bush. He lay still for a minute to check himself for injuries, found only minor scratches, and then laughed at himself. That will teach you to let your mind drift, he thought. He was breathing deeply, almost panting, as he pulled himself up. In running through these hills, especially at night, he had found that thinking was a major distraction. Whenever he started thinking, even if was about the run itself, he would invariably lose his focus and end up hurting himself one way or another. The act of thinking fragmented his awareness.

Resolving to keep his mind still, he headed back down toward town. This was his favorite part of the run. It led down a ravine that, in early spring, ran with water from the snow melt. Now, however, it was dry, and he was able to leap from boulder to boulder, from ledge to ledge, gathering momentum as he did. His body set up its own rhythm as it half ran, half fell, down the mountain. His mind was quiet and clear. His body had its own split second intelligence, picking each move - from boulder to ledge, from ledge to boulder with uncanny accuracy. He continued to gather steam until, suddenly, the boulders gave way to a smooth, sandy, dry creek bed that ran ahead of him for seventy yards. When he felt the soft sand beneath him, he stretched out into a full run. Still going down hill, he was moving at such a speed that his legs could barely keep up with the rest of his hurtling body.

He heard a large semi-truck below him. He knew that it was coming down off the hill from Prescott. He could hear the driver down shifting and hitting his air brakes. He began to try to slow himself down, because he knew that at the end of the sandy stretch there was an abrupt five foot drop to the road. He knew he wasn't going to be able to stop himself completely. He threw his weight backwards, trying to slow down. As he reached the edge and involuntarily started to go over, he saw the body of the semi passing in front of him, an arm's length away. He fell through the air as the back of the truck went by him, missing by inches. The swirl of dust in the truck's wake lashed across his face and eyes, blinding him for an instant.

He hit the road on the balls of his feet, his knees flexing to absorb the shock. His left knee banged against the concrete and he threw out his palms to stop himself from falling on his face. Wiping the dust from his eyes, he slowly stood up. That was way too close, he thought. Adrenaline surged through his system and his heart hammered against his ribs. As his vision cleared, he saw her standing on the sidewalk twenty feet away. She was staring at him.

*      *      *       *

She had turned to walk home when she first heard and then saw him running down the dry creek bed. How he avoided being hit by the huge semi, she didn't understand. She hadn't even noticed the danger until it was too late to do anything about it. Too late to even yell a warning. As he stood up and she got a good look at him, she thought she knew him. He looked somehow very familiar. Maybe she had seen him around town. She couldn't place it. However, something in the back of her mind saw him as darker and shorter than he actually was. It was confusing. She looked closer and was sure that they had never met, but as he stood up and looked over at her, something happened. She felt a sudden and overwhelming magnetic attraction to him. It surprised her. Shocked her. She tried to deny it, to shake it off, but it only got stronger. It came out of nowhere and possessed her.

She was beautiful. It was the first thought that came into his mind. The sound of the semi faded as it made its way through the town. Its brakes screeched in the distance as it rolled down the steep curving grade. The music from the bar reasserted itself on the night. A slow, lush ballad drifted out along the street. A pair of headlights approached. With a start, he suddenly realized where he was and moved to get out of the road. As a small foreign car came around the curve and its lights flashed across her, their eyes met. The mutual unidentifiable recognition was immediate. Had they met somewhere before? How could he have forgotten? He stepped up onto the sidewalk and smiled. The car passed them and continued on its way.

She smiled in return. The thought came to her that now the time was right. Nothing or no one would pull them apart this time. She laughed out loud at the suddenness and oddness of the thought. What the hell was going on? People didn't fall in love at first sight anymore. It was crazy.

At the sound of her laughter his smile grew wider. What a beautiful voice. It penetrated him. Did strange things to him. Where had he seen her before? He couldn't place it. Couldn't be sure. There was, however, one thing of which he was suddenly certain. He loved her. He knew that beyond any doubt. He let it sink in. It made no sense. But there it was. He realized that he couldn't stop smiling.

The attraction they both felt drew them closer. As he came within her reach, she saw that his face was bleeding slightly just below his left eye. Her right hand reached out on its own and touched him there.

"Are you alright?" she asked.

Her voice was as melodic as the lush romantic music coming from the old schoolhouse . Before she had a chance to drop her hand, his left came up and grasped hers gently. His right hand slipped around her waist, and he pulled her to him.

"Let's dance," he said.

She laughed as they stepped, spinning to the music, out into the empty street.

Clark Street      by Terry Molloy       Copyright 2000      All Rights Reserved

For More Stories About Jerome Click Here           Author's e-mail        Home