“I don’t think I’ve ever…met him,” says the woman mostly to herself, scoping the portable plasterboard-stand near the entrance pasted with clippings and reminiscences, like something there might help her be more decisive.
“Why did you come, then?” I ask.
“Oh, I heard he was a real cool guy and…my coworker said he was comin’ and he usually knows where the action is.” She turns toward me gradually as she speaks.
“Where are you…oh!” She pulls away sharply and utters a stifled shriek. “Was that you speaking to me?” Who are you?” She now speaks without looking directly at me.
“I think so…I’m a…just a member of the crowd.” She ponders this for a few seconds and rushes away into the path of another woman.
Have I met her before?
“Hi, Cheryl…great to see you!” says the woman. I haven’t seen you since the crafts fair down in the Port. Oh, these vibes! I’m so glad we came.”
“Wouldn’t miss an Irish wake, especially when it’s in the hood. This is my daughter, Eulene. We’re hopin’ this will be a good play date for her. What was your name…again?”
“Oh, sure. I remember.”
“Did you ladies know the…guest of honor?” I ask, wedging between the two. Dorota effervesces a silent shriek as Cheryl pivots to face me, her hesitation suggesting she anticipated someone else, the voice tone revealing an anxious recognition. “Did you…know him?”
“As much as I could under the…circumstances.”
“What cir…cumstances do you mean?” asks Dorota, now staring directly at me. A woman steps between us, defraying the answer and scrambling her stare.
“Norma…is that you?” asks Cheryl. “I haven’t seen you for years!” Cheryl pulls her away from me to a table as Dorota sashays through the crowd.
I can’t believe she’s here!
“Did you see that clipping on the board, Norma?” quips Cheryl. “Remember the guy who climbed up the Thomas Bridge and screamed at everybody? They had to get a crane to get him down. This is him.”
“Seems like I remember something like that. How long ago was it?”
“Oh, it said it was…”
“…I remember that well. It was about four years ago. But there were a lot of different opinions about what really happened,” I add.
“Did you know him…personally?” asks Cheryl.
“Well…in a certain way.”
She seems to be trying to capture my whole appearance without showing it. Why is she so stern and cross-eyed?
“You mean he was a family member or…a relative?”
She winces while looking at me straight on, nervously glomming all details of my appearance like she’s trying to commit them to memory.
“Something like that.” I angle my face slowly away and slip through a lane of conversations as she lofts her voice toward me.
“I think I saw your picture…somewhere.” She stretches to glimpse me slip into a denser group of partiers around a small stage where a few musicians are stroking their wares. The muted instrumental covers of the Pogues piped into this spacious cabin are being replaced by tin-whistle-and-fiddle rhythms.
Ah, a roost behind the refreshments table. They really laid it out. I wonder who was responsible.
Cheryl wends through the fringe of the area to the rear with a perplexed expression on her face as the music electrifies the crowd, transforming complacent mourners into stricken performers.
Should I participate? These posters on the wall…where did they get them? I have to get a double shot of Jameson’s. Alan the bartender doesn’t give me a second look. Why is he so…dour? I didn’t think he was capable of mourning.
Cheryl appears, her expression now absorbed in the music, and delivers a monologue to the assembly, rapturous until fixing on me with a blank stare. The crowd expands and seems to consume her.
“I think he…an argument with…” A twenties something woman nearby, attired in ripped denim and an ILWU tee who’s gyrating on the lap of a portly bearded male, can barely be heard over the din of the music decibels. Less than fully engrossed in the physical contortions, she peruses the crowd like she’s trying to find someone.
“I don’t recognize him,” says the male.
She was at Leland’s Café last year, kicking off the run to Diablo Canyon!
“You said he had an argument…who with?”
“His ex, or girlfriend from what I heard. It got out of control I guess and…”
Why is she looking at me like that?
She swivels off the male’s lap but loses a direct sightline toward me as she plants her feet. I slip behind a nearby couple.
I never really knew her. What is she thinking?
“Didn’t we party with him that one night at…”
Probably the loft down on 7th but…I don’t remember this couple.
I ease away from them and slip across the room to a nook that partially shields me from a group feasting on the amenities, mostly the liquid form, while scoping the crowd for more surprises.
I don’t recognize these people or anyone else.
“Let’s head over to Leland’s…this place is…I don’t know anybody here and…who’re they celebrating anyway?” The voice blusters from a male bug-eyed with boredom and robed in the colors of a local biker club. He fidgets with his keys and turns sharply to the woman next to him as if soliciting her opinion.
“I’m for that! Why did we come here anyway? Never heard of this dude. And where’s the body?” The woman, with frizzed-out blondish hair fanning out from her face like her body is plugged into a nearby circuit, is gripping her empty glass protectively with both hands. She looks around the space, poring over every detail several times.
What is she looking for? Does she really think there’s a body somewhere in this building?
“There isn’t one!” spurts a tall and wispy blonde dancing with herself nearby. “Heard a woman who claims to be his legal wife snatched it…wanted to make sure she’ll cash in on the dude’s goodies.”
“Likely excuse,” says the male. “Probably isn’t one anyway. These people…aren’t they known for their make-believe worlds? Let’s get otta here!”
Good riddance. He should believe in something!
I rise and inch stealthily from the nook, the woman jerking a glance in my direction. But she quickly jerks back like she doesn’t seem to see anything. I slide past the table and lock on her. She zooms my face and holds her glance for a few seconds before turning away with a frightened expression, her glass crashing to the floor.
I thought I recognized her. Where was it?
Pondering this question, I wend through the thicket of revelers toward the rear where there’s a jam session taking shape. Microphone tests and amplifier screeches give way to a mottled rendition of U2. The crowd seems much different here, more like committed music fans who could be performing anywhere.
“Did you know the guest of honor?” I ask a woman riveted to the rhythms. No answer. I repeat the question and she swivels toward me, giving the entire space a quizzical glance before resuming her trance. I tap her on the shoulder, and she swivels around again but stays focused on one space.
“Oh, there you are…I couldn’t quite…see you…could you be quiet…they’re workin’ on a demo.”
I meander to the front, the crowd so thick I have to squeeze between immoveable bodies. One of them refuses to budge despite my mannerly overture. The more I push to create a space the more vigorously this person fills it. I see now that it’s a woman. Her head is draped in a multi-colored gypsy scarf. She finally turns to face me and bolts backward, pushing the bodies with her, leaving ample space for me to shuffle through. She wraps her arms around herself as if she’s experiencing a slight shiver.
I make it through the crowd, stopping not far from the entrance, and pivot around for a glance while stepping to the exit. It cascades into a discordance of whispers. Then some backstep gingerly while Cheryl and Dorota and a new male face, lurch forward. The whispers reverse cascade to silence.
“Is it…him?” blurts an anxious voice from the rear.
“I can’t…tell,” adds another closer to the front. “Could you move into the light so we can see you better?”
“Yes…yes, we want to see your face more clearly,” says Cheryl. “I thought I recognized you earlier from somewhere.”
I step a few paces to the left. Several faces in the crowd develop enlightened expressions and begin to converse quizzically, taking ever more frequent glances at the front.
“We still can’t make you out,” interjects Dorota.
“I guess I have one of those…faces.”
A woman slips free from the crowd and approaches the front stealthily, squinting. “It is you. Why are you here?” Amid riveting gawks someone screams, and I inch toward the doorway.
“Thanks for coming!” blurts Cheryl.
He vanishes through the doorway.