Narrated by Bob Eccles
Pearl felt herself fall in slow motion. She saw the floor getting closer, felt the rush of air against her skin like a breeze. She saw her own hand, almost as a separate object, grasping toward the edge of the nearest table. When she hit the floor, the pain was a dull ache in her hip that cracked and oozed like egg white through her nerves. It wasn’t until the waitress took her arm to help that the pain exploded and the world became real again. Pearl winced and waved her away. The waitress ran to call an ambulance.
Jayden took a running start toward the edge of the bridge and hurled the cane with all his teenage strength. The wooden cane spun three times in the air and landed in the river with a splash. It sank, then bobbed to the surface, metal handle glinting in the sunlight. Jayden stood on the bridge rail, snorted and spit, the thick wad of mucus sailing through the air to land a few feet behind the floating cane.
Pearl took the last sip of her coffee and set the empty cup on the table. She looked around. The restroom was on the other side of the restaurant, but it might as well have been a world away. She placed both hands on the table to push herself up, and held onto the chair with a shaking hand before taking her first step. Her feet didn’t leave the floor, just scuffed along in her white shoes toward the restroom. Without her cane, her whole right side felt heavy, her arms dangled like useless strings, brushing the pleats of her pants. Pearl was only a quarter of the way across the room when her shuffling toes hit a bump in the carpet and everything became slow-motion.
Jayden spotted Emily standing alone on the bridge, texting on her phone. He broke away from his friends and ran to her, swinging the cane.
“Hey,” Jayden said, but she just glanced at him and then back down to her phone.
“Check this out,” Jayden said, and he twirled the cane around his body like a martial arts fighting stick.
“God, you’re a dweeb Jayden,” Emily said. She snapped her phone shut and stalked off, leaving the bridge and Jayden behind.
Jayden looked at the cane: polished dark wood, worn rubber tip. Old useless thing. It even smelled like the old woman, he realized.
“Stupid worthless stick,” he said, and then he backed up to get a running start.
Pearl had just finished her muffin when she realized the cane was gone. She dabbed the crumbs from her mouth with a napkin and shifted her legs so she sat sideways in the chair, cursing the weak bladder that age had given her. She reached for the cane, which she always hung on the back of the chair, but it was gone. She bent forward, straining to look at the floor, but it hadn’t fallen.
The discomfort of her bladder tugged again. She risked humiliating herself in a public restaurant if she did not make it to the restroom soon. Pearl finished her coffee before she placed both hands on the table to help her stand.
Jayden and his friends left the restaurant, laughing. On the way to the river, he imitated the old woman, hobbling crookedly with his hand shaking on the handle of the cane. Then he took turns trying to hit his friends in the stomach with the metal handle, and got a good one on Logan before two other friends tackled him from behind, tried to wrench the cane away. Jayden fought them off. Logan pointed to a group of girls by the river.
“You think Emily is with them?” he asked, whacking the cane across a bush.
“Emily Smemily, that’s all you ever talk about,” Logan said.
“Is not,” Jayden said, but then he saw her standing on the bridge.
Pearl sat at her regular table, the one her late husband Charlie always liked because of the view of the river. The waitress was busy hassling a group of boys and Pearl’s coffee cup was empty. Pearl had raised three boys, and these kids in the corner booth weren’t doing any harm, just being boys. She called the waitress over, glad both to get her coffee and to give the boys a break.
She took a bite of her muffin. Blueberry, Charlie’s favorite. It was too dry, like always, but it wasn’t the taste that brought her back to this restaurant week after week.
“I told you not to bring your little cronies in here,” Jayden’s sister said as she re-tied her apron. They had taken over the largest booth and spent the last half hour drinking from syrup bottles and flinging sugar packets at each other.
“Like it matters,” he said.
“I just need you out of here, okay? I don’t care where you go.”
An old woman from a neighboring table said, “Miss, could I have that coffee now?” and Jayden’s sister turned to fill the woman’s cup.
Jayden stared at the old woman, gray-haired with a shapeless flowered shirt. She ate a muffin with her fingers, her hand trembling on the journey from plate to mouth. A crumb stuck to her lower lip, bobbing up and down as she chewed.
Gross, Jayden thought, she’s worse than grandma.
His sister shot him another look from across the room. Jayden smacked the flying sugar packets and told his friends they had to leave. As they passed the old woman’s table, he saw a wooden cane hanging on the back of the chair. She was leaning forward, still stuffing more of the muffin into her mouth. Jayden snatched the cane from the back of the chair and ran for the door. The old woman kept eating and Jayden and his friends ran out, laughing.
AUTHOR BIO: Sarena Ulibarri is currently finishing her MFA at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she is also on the staff of Timber Journal. Her fiction has recently appeared in Lightspeed, The First Line, Birkensnake and elsewhere. Find more at sarenaulibarri.weebly.com