When Will I See You Again?
We didn’t know her name. She refused to write, or to share her implant’s address, but I know she could read. Keats and Martin found her sleeping nude on the beach, shivering under dried kelp, bruised all over her body. Keats and Martin wrapped her in their dusters. Between them, they carried her up to our tent city under the boardwalk. They took her to me, because she was short and skinny like me and I had more clothes than most did on the beach front. I needed my uniform, but I could live without a skirt and a turtleneck and some undergarments for a while, as long as I had my uniform. I could take her up to the community center where I could take her off to the woman’s side, and help her wash up.
I hated the bruises all over her. She was beautiful. Her hair was long, almost down to her ankles. It was bent and twisted up into blond dreadlocks. I couldn’t penetrate far into that hair with shampoo.
She didn’t have any soap or shampoo. I let her use some of mine. I helped her, gently, running my hands over her softened skin, and her soft hair. I was so gentle, I was afraid to even push into her hair with shampoo. She was pulped like a fruit.
I gave her my clothes. I led her back to my tent under the boardwalk, among the artists and drifters. She laid down beside me on a beach towel.
The moonlight of the bay spilled over her from the flap of my tent. I stayed awake the rest of the night, gazing down on her, hating whoever had done that to her.
“I have to go to work,” I said, in the shower, “But someone needs to take you to a medical station. Look at you, honey, you got the shit beaten out of you. Did you jump out of a moving car?”
She looked at her feet. She covered her nakedness with her hands, and her hair. She had long, long, long hair, down to her knees. It was blond, and roped into dirty dreadlocks. She was using a lot of my shampoo. I wasn’t mad.
“Did you get your jaw broken?” I said.
I reached out to her, and gingerly tried to touch her face. She winced and pulled back.
She shook her head. She curled into a ball in the shower. She didn’t stand up. I finished. I checked her for signs of soap. I saw none. I turned off the water for both of us. I pulled her up to her feet, again, and tried to towel her off. She took the towel from me, and finished the job herself. She dressed in my clothes. They didn’t quite fit. I was curvier than she was. She was gaunt, and misshapen where her beaten body was swollen.
She was slowing down my routine, and I didn’t want to be late for work. I couldn’t risk being late. I took her out of the community center to the boardwalk proper where barkers and fast-talkers plied their trade for tourists. Street performers, artists and musicians and animal trainers and dancers, sipped coffee and hung together in clumps, waiting for the tourists.
I pinged Andy an urgent, a dancer I knew, sipping coffee with some musicians who managed to keep an apartment together in the city.
What’s up, Med?
He stood up. He looked around the street for me. He waved when he saw me. He jogged over. He saw my face, and the urgency in my face.
“Med?” he said.
I pointed to the woman next to me. “Andy, this woman got the shit beat out of her last night. She needs a medical station. I don’t think she knows where one is. She can’t even talk.”
“I’ve got to work.”
“So do I, but I’ll get fired if I’m a little late. Look, I’m not asking you to hang around with her. I’m just asking you to take her to the medical station. Ping me and tell me that she’s there, and spread the word that someone needs to get her back to my tent. Isn’t Hecate over by the med station?”
He frowned. He looked at the woman beside me. He saw her face from between the dreds that hid her. He breathed in.
“Oh,” he said. “She’s wearing your clothes, Med.”
“We found her naked, bruised to shit, lying on the beach last night. She hasn’t said anything since we found her. I think her jaw is busted. She won’t even open her mouth.”
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah. Yeah, I can take her. Shit, yes. Come on. I promise I won’t hurt you, okay? We’re going to get you to a medical station.”
She was docile to him. She let him take her arm. He was gentle with her. She looked over her shoulder at me, but I couldn’t read her expression.
I sighed. Andy would probably stay with her. He wouldn’t leave someone alone in that condition.
I wondered – in the back of my mind – if Keats and Martin had done this to her in the first place. I shook it off, because they were my friends, and because I had only ever seen them get violent with tourists. They were petty pickpockets – shovers and trippers, not street fighters. They didn’t have the patience for the brutality all over her skin.