by: Catrina Dennis
Everlasting life is a much smoother ride with an escort….
The LA River. Anyone who has ever seen the structure, which can be assumed to lead directly into hell, is as dry as the deserts that once surrounded it. It is huge and seemingly never-ending, reflecting its presence upon the stubborn and headstrong Angelinos that built it. Imports refer to it when their dreams are crushed, and locals take their friends there as a joke. It has served as a background for movies like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a home for those who lack one, and a location for so many fashion house shoots, that my college textbooks could barely keep up with them.
So when my skull hit the pavement at the river’s base, it almost felt like being home. My glasses split in two, piercing the skin near my pathetic sideburns. I’d been trying to grow them out, but much like the three hairs that had sprouted from my chin over the course of my twenty-three years, nothing had really come from that valiant effort. My shoulders lurched forward, followed by my back, snapping into two long, lanky pieces of spine that jutted out from my torso.
I lay there staring forward, trying to focus on the off-brand, Russian logo on the side of my glasses and the scattered teeth on the concrete that came from a once shit-eating grin.
“Really, Luke? It’s so early.”
Right on time. Her heels hit the pavement, clicking as though the cement had turned into the tiled hallway of an asylum. Riley wasn’t a new friend, but she wasn’t necessarily an old friend either, and decidedly called herself my insurance agent so that we could avoid the word “friend” altogether. She had always been there without being there, intently watching me grow and popping in at times like these. Riley had pulled me down from a few expertly knotted nooses, popped my neck back into place that time I flung myself into traffic, and fixed every cut on my arms and wrists after I failed Textiles. This had become routine for us, so it was no longer refreshing or amusing to hear the Brazilian stomp of her irritation heading straight for my mangled body.
“Don’t you have a date tonight? You ruined your favorite shirt.” The way Riley healed was hardly thrilling and definitely not fun. If I were a pain junkie, and in any way straight, I might somehow get off on her hands forcing my shoulder back into place with a hard crack, or the way she pulled my hair with more strength than I could ever muster to jerk my limp body up.
“I have a second favorite shirt,” I managed through the blood. ”It’s the Queen logo tee — aaagh!” Riley seemed more irritated than usual, grabbing my jaw and digging her nails into my skin so harshly that I feared her black nail polish might seep into my veins.
“You’re going to take all day to heal, you know that. No way to meet your Prince Charming.” She studied my eyes once they had regained their focus and slipped a pair of cheap glasses out of her jacket’s inner pocket, then onto my face.
The gash and broken bones of my skull seemed to thread themselves back together as she ran her fingers through my hair. Riley had never given me an actual description of what her job entailed, but I had gotten used to this, and it was somehow refreshing to feel her hand resting against my cheek for a few seconds, before she struck me, backhanded, with the other. I grunted, holding my face and rolling my jaw until it was fully set again.
“What the fuck, Riley?!”
“I had a date. He could have been the one, you know.” She dusted off my shoulders and gave me a once-over. ”You smell like shit, but you’re good again. If you’re going to do this, try and do it in the afternoon. I was in London.”
I could feel myself smiling. “Alright,” I managed, looking up to the overpass above our heads. “Left my backpack up there.”
“I’m not your fucking maid, Luke. You can climb up there and get it yourself.” Riley pulled out her phone, always a new model that I’d never seen, and ticked off a box on an app that looked a lot like a checklist. “What did it this time? Is he a bear? You don’t like bears?”
“No, he was my type.”
“Knew it. Nothing but bears for you.”
I dug my hands into my pockets. “Sorry.” We usually didn’t talk for this long and I was starting to feel the incredible pressures of my own social anxiety weighing down on my shoulders. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your date.”
Riley looked up from the brightly lit screen of her phone, studying me with her rusty brown eyes. “Huh? Oh, sure. Whatever. He wasn’t really all that cute. Smelled like potatoes.” Her manicure made soft ticking noises as she navigated through something on her phone, then shoved it back into the folds of her leather jacket.
“You should go shower. Get pretty. If you weren’t immortal, you might have missed out on meeting your one true love tonight.”
I looked at her, skeptical, and without missing a beat she snorted, “I’m not your fairy godmother. I’m fucking with you. This guy could be a total loser. Worth finding out, though.”
As usual, she was right. I didn’t really have a choice but to keep living, and I knew that.
We sat in silence for seconds that seemed to drift into years. I often wonder about years, about lifespans and my immortality, and how long it would be until I found myself watching the people I know die out and get replaced by new ones. These were all questions Riley had shrugged off and avoided, claiming that it wasn’t her department and that the wait I was to endure was worse than attempting to get food stamps Downtown.
“Hey,” she said, moving closer, her small form one of the few that I seemed to tower over. ”You should really try and see this guy. People can’t heal you like I can, but they can make you like yourself more than me.”
I stared at her, stunned and silent. Riley was never affectionate or caring, never a mother figure, and had voiced her absolute hatred for her job countless times. ”I could have been one of the Grims,” she had once told me, “but my Dad flipped out and sent me to school for this.” The fact that she had offered me any advice or care in the least was mind-blowing, and probably took more effort than most things in her daily life.
I nodded, offering a shaky smile. ”Alright. Fuck, my shirt, huh?”
Riley grinned. ”I think Queen will work. Go get ‘em, tiger.”
As if in sync, we pivoted and began to walk away from one another. I looked over my shoulder and she was gone. My watch was shattered and stained in red, but I had six hours before I had to meet this guy, and that was enough time to put on a show. Hiking up the bank of the LA River, I looked back at the thin, never ending puddle in the middle and sighed before completing my ascent.