For anyone who has endured years on the run, it is inevitable for him or her to reach a breaking point, where the only direction left to turn is the direction from which they are running. In this particular instance, that destination is the façade we call home.
As a guilt stricken marijuana dealer read his book near the river, a charter bus reached its final destination on a busy corner in downtown Pittsburgh. When the diverse group of travellers from the bus scattered, an attractive young woman stood alone on the street corner, absolutely perplexed, overcome with a sensation familiar to when she first dropped LSD. The makings of life sat before her, written in a code of fractals for only her to see. A brief glance was all it took to understand a simple truth, the truth that this woman was unlike most. Unseen was the weight of a scarred existence, for she carried herself with a style that struck accord with her birth name, Grace.
Her attire consisted of a pair of worn-down blue jeans and a small black tee shirt. The backpack she carried held only a few changes of clothing, a camera, and her bathroom essentials. Straight black hair with a few additional streaks fell to below her shoulders. Assorted piercings filled her ears and nose, among other places. Gypsy rings covered several fingers on each hand. A necklace featuring a Black Madonna charm hung above her chest. Tattoos that each held distinct meaning were strategically placed throughout her anatomy, yet not excessively to where ink became more prevalent than skin.
This included a single teardrop that rested directly below her right eye, representing her innocence.
It took several minutes before Grace’s initial shock subsided. She was unable to pull her gaze from the oddly shaped skyscrapers and yellow bridges that stood as memories of a distant life. A loud screech of brakes followed by the holler of angry voices jolted Grace from her dreamlike state. She began to walk, and the brisk October climate washed over her. Grace donned the black sweatshirt from her bag and took a cigarette from her pack. Lighting her cigarette, she strolled aimlessly through downtown. Her plan was simple, wander without destination with the purpose of re-discovery. To that she headed east.
Walking had always been one of her many forms of therapy, a remedy she hardly took for granted. Her feet bore many calluses, like those of an old veteran of war. Her face was weathered but bore no wrinkles. Her eyes were that of the sea, drowning all who gazed upon them. A rebel by nature, punk rock inhabited her every vein. As a youth, Grace found strength from observing the bravery of female punk rock musicians. She saw them as a mirror to herself. Using their fearlessness she was able to regain her sense of confidence, which over time had developed to a spunk that charmed both men and women alike. Yet seldom would Grace enjoy the attention, as she usually preferred to be left alone. In her own right she too was a master of walls. For trapped inside her chest was a heart that bled crimson. Behind the spunk there was shyness. And when the water stilled the depth was soon revealed. Within that depth there was sadness, the one thing she wished for the world never to see.
As Grace continued her eastbound trek, she couldn’t help but notice that many of the city’s neighborhoods were in the midst of serious transitions. Areas that had once stood barren were now thriving due to exorbitant redevelopment takeovers. Even the soot had been cleaned from most of the major buildings. She took exceptional notice of the tall cathedral that sat within the universities. Even from a substantial distance, Grace could still mark the cleanliness of the once blackened pillar.
On a busy corner, she passed through a crowd of undergraduates that were attempting to board a transit that had not yet unloaded its passengers. Grace then enjoyed a chuckle after hearing the bus driver scold the insensible students in a thick Pittsburgh accent. She was not the least bit surprised to hear the bus driver voice his frustrations, and was far less shocked by the college student’s behavior. It had been years since Grace had held faith in her generation. She had watched many of her peers fall victim to contemporary vices such as pill addiction, technology dependency, egotism, and complete social disconnection.
To Grace, this modern day world had become a dystopia. Yet it was a reality that she had grown to fully embrace. For a soul that has been fractured gains the unique ability to see beauty in the world’s broken fragments, and the offerings of this shattered world would forever be her canvas. Art had always been her passion, and it had been so ever since she was a child. A photographer of exceptional talent, Grace lived each day as if it were a lucid dream. The ability to create rarely strayed from the tips of her fingers, and she would never allow such a gift to ever do so.
As Grace approached a stretch of chained up storefronts, she noticed a curled up homeless man who leaned his body against a parking meter. As Grace drew near, he raised his head and turned his deadened stare to meet her. She apologized politely as he attempted to woo her for charity. It wasn’t for a lack of sympathy that she declined, but instead for the desire not to be followed were he to perceive her as too generous. As someone who lived most of her last decade homeless, yet not entirely roofless, Grace exhibited nothing but kindness towards street people. But she always stood aware of their tendencies. Grace could only fathom the sad story of the homeless man, yet she knew for certain he was completely forsaken by society. That would always be society’s melody. Once an entity is damaged it is permanently cast aside, sentenced to an uphill battle for the remainder of its duration. There were few who understood this more than Grace…
After multiple hours of aimless venturing, Grace crossed one of the city’s many land bridges and arrived at her favorite part of town. She was pleased to see that the neighborhood still contained the unique characteristics that had long attracted her to it.
As an extremely hilly neighborhood, and, due to its location in the East End, it featured many excellent views of both Downtown Pittsburgh and the Allegheny River. Steep streets jammed with tightly packed houses were plentiful. Many of the houses were painted in unusual colors. A few were even stacked upon others as the streets were either too steep or too dense. Even bits of her favorite graffiti still remained, not yet removed by gentrification. To say the least would be to call it a vibrant community, as black clothing was not generally viewed as a vibrant color. The place was, however, a creative haven, where fellow artists, punkers, musicians, and genuinely open-minded people resided in cramped abodes and walked on crooked streets. Many of these individuals looked and acted even zanier than Grace. Gay or straight it didn’t matter; everyone here seemed to embrace true expression. It was the rare insular neighborhood that held no hostility towards outsiders, holding ever true to its grungy charm. At the center of it all stood a bar named Gooski’s.
With the weakening of the sun, the tune of violin unknowingly drew Grace towards the bar. She climbed a short flight of steps and ascended a sharp, jagged street. A smile formed as she strolled. Perched on the sidewalk near Gooski’s was a middle-aged female violinist. Her silk dress swayed with the wind. Her nomadic music filled the autumn air. It was as good of an omen as one could have wished. Grace had crossed paths with the musician on many occasions throughout her youth—back when the violinist’s hustle was based in front of storefronts and bars in Grace’s childhood neighborhood. Her songs were always beautiful, and the violinist would always show kindness.
As Grace approached the woman, she removed a few dollars from her wallet and placed them in the open violin case. The violinist, without breaking stride in her song, beamed and nodded at Grace, who calmly did the same. The younger gypsy then pushed beyond two sets of doors and entered the bar.
It was a dark and smoky dwelling. The lengthy bar sat directly to her left while crowded tables lined the partition to her right. Indigenous tags and punk stickers ruled every surface of every wall. Beyond the renowned jukebox rested a stage where a band currently assembled for their performance. Naturally, Grace took one of two available seats at the bar. A longhaired male bartender appeared after a few smoke-filled minutes and asked Grace for her order in an easygoing voice. Then before she knew it, a shot of whisky and a bottle of beer landed directly in front of her, prompting a grin from the bartender. Grace thanked him and paid for her drinks.
After throwing back the whisky, she lit a cigarette and sipped from her beer. She decided it best to use this night for relaxation, and only that. Of all her plans for the weeks to come, re-connecting with her brother sat at the top of her list. A reunion between the two was sure to be a somber affair, and Grace was certain that she would grow anxious from anticipation. On several occasions within recent years, she had attempted to contact him through social media. Each attempt was unsuccessful. He was nowhere to be found. Grace’s inability to track her brother did concern her. He had always had a knack for trouble. The only thing they had ever disagreed on was his taste in friends. However, Grace figured her brother to be out there somewhere, clinging to life just as she did.
With the passing of the hour, the band, Copper Brown, finished setting up their equipment and began their set. Grace, like most of the patrons, turned her head to face the stage. The band consisted of four members—a brown-haired female singer boasting an exceptionally soulful voice, an intriguing male guitarist sporting tattoos and a short black beard, a gangly male bassist who currently held a guitar, and a wild-looking female drummer.
The band was certainly a talented bunch, as Grace found herself enjoying their folk/blues fusion. Her gaze inadvertently fell to the bearded guitarist while she listened. But as she soaked in the harmony from the dueling guitars, Grace found herself overcome by memory, bittersweet memory. For Grace, the previous two-and-a-half years had been spent living in Ireland, drifting nomadically with a band of gypsies. Of all her earliest positive memories, one consisted of her grandmother’s embellished tales of Ireland. In each story, her grandmother described the island as if it were a magical place. So at age twenty-four, Grace gathered up her saved money and booked a flight. Not long after arriving in Galway, she met a female fiddler named Joan who was performing with her band in a local pub. The two formed an immediate bond, prompting Joan to invite Grace along as she and her band of musical gypsies wandered the Irish countryside. Grace accepted, for it took very little convincing.
As weeks on the road turned to months, the bond blossomed into love and Grace was swept into a dream. For two years they travelled from town to town, performing their songs at whatever venues would accept them. Between towns they would often make camp by night, where the music and dancing would last until morning. When not lending a helping hand, Grace would spend her long, pacifying afternoons taking 35mm photos on quiet walks. The lush rolling hills, endless sheep farms, and charming Gaelic villages of Western Ireland provided ample opportunity for great photography. But it was life with Joan that made Europe such an unforgettable chapter. In Grace’s mind, relationships were like voyages, a shared poetic journey that contributed to each party’s personal growth. With Joan, it was a journey unlike any Grace had experienced. The elegant fiddler was the only person who had ever been able to weather the storm that was Grace. She had displayed unnatural patience and understanding during Grace’s brash spells and traumatic episodes. Joan was also the first person outside of Grace’s brother to genuinely love her, and Grace returned it to the best of her abilities. Then as time passed, her spells and episodes diminished in frequency. Grace, in turn, also developed a patience of her own, a virtue that still held firm to this day. Even after the pair mutually split, Grace’s newfound peace remained. For that, she would never leave Joan’s debt. Nor would she ever part ways with her new passion for folk music, her instant therapy. Although Grace would always be punk to the core, the gypsy would forever remain a part of her…
The sudden change from acoustic to electric guitar snapped Grace from her nostalgia. Her eyes were still fixed upon the bearded guitarist, who, taking notice of Grace, looked directly at the young woman and smiled. Realizing she’d been ogling him the entire time, Grace gave him an awkward smile before turning back to the bar. She then observed the guitarist wasn’t the only patron staring her down. On the far side of the room, a perforated young woman with blonde hair and tattoos had her eye on the mysterious, her intentions written clear as day. Grace’s spunk returned at once. She hit the blonde with a look both calm and fierce, like that of a lioness.
With her card now in play, Grace returned her eyes to the bar. She didn’t have to look to know the woman had left her seat, and Grace was unsurprised when she landed in the now vacant stool beside her.
“Well, hello there stranger,” said the blonde flirtatiously. “Why haven’t I seen you before? You new around town?”
Grace took a sip from her beer, still not facing the blonde.
“I am at the moment,” she said calmly, pulling yet another cigarette.
Ever the quiet one, Grace was in no mood for games. But she would proceed to play ball anyway. Considering she lacked a roof for the upcoming night, it was time to exude one of her many talents. So as the blonde searched for a response, Grace put down her beer and faced the jovial woman.
“What do you say we skip the small talk and get out of here?”
A look of excitement immediately formed on the woman’s face.
“Well, alrighty then,” said the spirited blonde, who jumped from her stool to offer Grace a hand. “I’m Tina.”
Quickly finishing her beer, Grace accepted the woman’s hand and arose to her feet. The two arrived at Tina’s third-floor apartment a few minutes later, stumbling drunk into a small dwelling consisting only of a living room/bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen.
“Make yourself at home,” said Tina charmingly.
She gave Grace a playful kiss before finding her way to the CD player. The sound of British rock from the 80’s began to fill the apartment as Grace took her seat on the bed. Tina joined her on the mattress, and the two began to kiss with a gentle massaging of tongues. They started slow but were soon unable to control their passions, to which the carpet gained two new piles of clothing. Then Grace flipped Tina onto her back and passionately kissed her neck, working her way down to her breasts.
“I see you like to take charge then,” said Tina with a smile.
Grace responded with a wink. The music provided an appropriate setting for what was to follow…
The hour reached 4 AM. Tina lay fast asleep, sprawled on the mattress in an ecstasy-induced slumber with her arm wrapped tightly around Grace. Yet Grace remained wide-awake, cigarette in hand, staring blankly at the ceiling in deep thought.
Alex K.A. was born and raised in Pittsburgh’s East End. At age 18, while attending Taylor Allderdice High School, Alex began his writing venture by crafting acapella hip-hop lyrics. In the seven years that followed, he released two full-length hip-hop projects, The Belgreen Sessions in 2012 and Bird’s Eye View in 2015. A month after the release of Bird’s Eye View, Alex set hip-hop aside to write his debut novella, Hell With the Lid Off, which he released in June 2016. In early 2017, he released his second novella, The Windmaker’s Daughter. As for the future, he plans to continue writing and releasing short stories of varying types.