Mortality is weird, Niva intones.
We pass an overturned car on Channing, the lights of a fire truck flashing keep away. Don't look.
Recently, a man was murdered by a driver who was apparently angry that his commute was obstructed by a procession of bike messengers memorializing a recently slain compatriot. He ran the cyclist down, "pulverizing him beneath the wheels of his semi truck." (San Francisco Bay Guardian, December 6, 2000)
Not a day passes without a violent death scene revealing itself in my head. It's a private movie I play, especially when I bike or walk alone in shadowy streets, clutching a heavy pair of scissors.
Here's a scene: my crumpled body, at the foot of a rickety stairwell. Shot, knifed, garroted, or crowbar'red by a stranger, discovered, pale and still, in winter daylight by a morning jogger.
So I brake at all the stoplights and look both ways when crossing the street as a pedestrian. Behind me, too—but does that really ease my terror? It mounts, almost hysterical: when will it happen? How will it happen? Who, of my loved ones, will die violently? Stoplights and the presence of policemen provide only a fragile illusion of safety: You are safe as long as you obey their rules. Do they truly protect my life? Can I ever truly feel safe?
Is that why Rini always said, Call me as soon as you get home?
At midnight, someone walks behind me. Faster and faster, my heart beats, outpacing feet wistful for flight. I look. An older white man, who looks tense himself, hisses, You're okay. I won't hurt you.
Um, thanks for the assurance, I guess.
Maybe if I was a man I wouldn't be so scared. Bad things happen to all women, Mummy said, as she explained why she cried when I was born. They happen because most men think a woman is vulnerable, regardless of the strength of her mind and her limbs.
Faster, I think, as Boy and I walk through a Golden Gate Park made unfamiliar by night. Trees shiver, their burden crackling. Shadows shape and shift themselves under inky sky; my eye imagines serial killers, witches, monsters, immense dogs that lunge first for the throat.
Hurry. Home, soon.