My plan: cross street, hide in bushes, run for help, head for nearest porch, scream

A small, green pea of panic

It’s twilight. Walking deeper than usual into my loop of a route (no backtracking!), past the point when I’ll let myself turn around. Now I’m pumped. Now the songs on the Walkman make my gait pop, arms swing, calves flex, heels dig.

The tape ends with a click, and I fumble for the eject button. The sun has sunk, coastal clouds coming in. Shadows fade, and I welcome the beam of an oncoming car, another corner’s streetlight. I am just far enough from home, just nearsighted enough, to register a small, green pea of panic. My stride steps up. I zip my sweatshirt. A breeze snaps at the back of my neck, where earphones dangle and sweat cools.

Street-tough assembly up ahead. Three or four of them. Feels like high school, walking past the “hard guys” — the ones who smoked and swaggered. Rap music comes in waves, fades in and out from a swinging boom box. What hip-hop step did I learn in aerobics? What move mimed to Janet Jackson can I pass off for cool? Bravada might be misinterpreted, so I bring my broad shoulders in, lower my head. I pass up a short cut; I don’t trust alleys now.

I compose a tentative crisis itinerary — just in case:

  • Cross street
  • Hide in bushes
  • Run for help
  • Head for nearest porch
  • Scream

“ ... Five more miles to go now ...” I sing to myself, weakly. “My feet are hurtin’ mighty bad—“ I hear footsteps behind me. Loud talk. Drunk talk? An adrenalin rush of apprehension, the false energy of fear. I imagine superwoman strength — “I don’t know what came over me! You know how a mother will lift the car off her child?” — but I am naive. I turn the next comer, do a half-skip, the start of a trot and stop. Heart pounds in my ears. It is dark; no more blue hour between sunset and nightfall. I’m squinting now — scattered lights blur at their edges and look like tangible stars.

Almost back in residential territory. The thought of stalkers seems silly. The footsteps I heard were probably a couple homeless guys. Vons clerks on an evening cart corral. Six blocks and I’m on my own turf, with its bougainvillea and birds of paradise. I slow down, breathe in the heady scent of night-blooming jasmine. I gaze — fuzzily — past the freeway, out at the harbor, down to the airport, over to downtown. The night is sparkling.

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