On the Wall
Ruth was running. This was not something that she enjoyed; rather it was something that she did only out of necessity. It happened much too frequently; from dogs or rednecks or gangs whose territory she had inadvertently wandered into. At this particular moment, she was running from the police. Luckily these were the huffing-and-puffing police and not of the shoot-first-ask-questions-later variety. Her spindly legs were able to cover yards of distance with each leap and where she climbed fences, spider-like, they were left to find alternate routes. It wasn’t long before she lost them completely.
Head down, hands on knees, she took slow, shallow breathes until her heart slowed its furious beating against her rib cage. She straightened her tall thin body-- she had been told often that it was too thin but it was her natural frame-- and slung her bag forward to check it’s contents. A rainbow of half-empty spay-paint cans. She had been painting a frantic jazz scene. Men and women entangled into a serpentine ball of bodies and excursion. Drips of sweat on forehead, vacant eyes full of desire and loss of self. Now it would be whitewashed over and she would have to find a new location to purge her anxiety. Not tonight though; it was too late to start over. She would stack out a new spot tomorrow. Shouldering her bag, she began the long walk home.
Sunlight was turning the world behind Ruth’s eyelids searing red. She tried to block it out by putting a pillow over her head but it was too late, she was wide-awake. Her lips felt like sandpaper and she could feel that her short, auburn hair was matted from tossing and turning. Sitting up, she forced her gummy eyes open and looked at the clock. 8:30. She’d only been out for four hours. There was no choice but to get up.
Kicking off the shoe she had missed when going to bed, Ruth went down to the kitchen in her socks. There were enough people passed out on her living room floor to make her feel like she lived in a squat. This was normal for her house. There was the constant hum of too many people in too small a space. What pissed her off was that she paid rent and none of these assholes contributed a dime. She was annoyed to find one of the intruders sitting at her kitchen table. She was normally the only one up at this hour. His scraggly beard suggested that he couldn’t have been more than eighteen. He was eating cereal; Ruth’s cereal. Her name was even written across the box that was sitting in front of him.
"Who are you?" Her voice had that early morning thickness that always made Ruth think of Ella Fitzgerald.
The kid eyed her through his mess of blond, post-Nirvana hair. "I live here, who the hell are you?"
It was too early in the morning for Ruth to put up with this. She snatched up her cereal and stabbed at her name with a sharply pointed index finger. "You do not. I live here. And this is my cereal. I think that it’s time for you to go. I’m sure that your mommy’s wondering where you are."
She reached down and snatched the bowl of cereal from in front of him. Before turning to leave she smacked him with the box. She went back up to her room, being sure to kick any sleeping person she happened to pass. Ruth sat on her bed and ate the, now soggy, bowl of cereal. She wondered if it was too early to call Derek and resolved to wait a half-hour.
After numerous unsuccessful attempts to reach anyone she knew, including two voicemails and three hang-ups to Derek’s cell phone, Ruth decided to leave the house. Daylight tagging was a risky endeavor, but Ruth had the perfect place in mind. She threw on her favorite sweater, sea-foam green with cutouts at the shoulders, and grabbed her red cats-eye sunglasses. After throwing a few extra cans into her pack, she went out into the afternoon sun.
Ruth was holding a can of blue and balancing precariously on the ledge of a three-story building. She had been undisturbed for the past hour and a half as she worked. Originally she had planned to put up a simple tag in bright colors that people would notice from the freeway. The wall that she had found was too perfect for something so basic. She had to get rid of this image in her head. Her sketchbook lay open beside her, and she had Rage Against the Machine blaring in her headphones. She was almost done. It would be visible from the Burnside Bridge.
She highlighted her dancers in navy with a silver underlay. Ruth had never tried a layering technique before and had found it initially difficult. It came easier now, as she constructed a self-portrait in the middle of the knot, untouched by the mindless movement around her. She filled her green irises with pupils that had just a hint of copper. It was by far the best work she had ever done, and it was her biggest solo piece. Ruth searched in her bag for her camera but it wasn’t there. She had started chronically her art after her first piece had been painted over. It had been a deeper loss than she had expected and she didn’t want to repeat it. She was climbing down the dingy stairwell when Derek finally called.
“Stop bombing my phone, Ruth. One call, one message is good enough.”
“I’ve been busy. I’ve told you from the beginning that I have a lot going on. If you can’t handle that—
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Portland Fiction Project
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