Targe never saw the woman cross the street. He hadn’t seen her step off the curb, she just seemed to be in the middle of the road. It wasn’t like he made a habit of monitoring all the crossing points of an intersection, he didn’t, but this particular intersection was practically empty of pedestrians. Cars were backed up in all four directions but walkers were nearly non-existent today, except for himself and the elderly woman sporting a very bright, blue sweater. Where had she come from? Why was she just standing there?
Feeling like he should do something Targe walked toward her, the safe, anonymity of the sidewalk falling behind him. He tried to catch her eye as he approached, his boots thunking audibly against the asphalt despite the heated rumble of many engines held in check. The lunch hour was closing in. The digital bank sign to the east flashed 11:26 am followed by the temperature, seventy-six degrees. If the morning weather man was correct things were going to get much hotter and storms would be crashing by six o’clock. It was unreasonable for Targe to think the woman might be caught in a down-pour that was over six hours away but the idea still flashed into his mind. He could see her, very clearly, standing in the middle of this same intersection while clouds rolled back and forth above her, thunder snarling angrily, hair slicked flat to her head. A strong feeling of deja vu washed over and his feet hesitated for second as he tried to shake it then continued walking, his mind focused on the woman.
“Ma’am? Ma’am, can I help you?” Without thinking Targe spread his arms apart, effectively corralling the woman with his open hands, a hug interrupted. He looked into her face, searching for something that might connect them. Brownish golden eyes stared right through him, focused on something else, something other than that moment. “Ma’am?” He passed his left hand up and down in front of her face, noting that her eyes didn’t track the movement.
“Excuse me? Do you any aspirin?”
Targe’s jaw fell open a bit and his eyes widened in surprise. She wasn’t looking at him. Who was she talking to? He couldn’t stop himself from speaking.
“My ankle is killing me. It’s all swollen and really hurts to walk on.” The woman bent at the waist just far enough to pull at her pant leg and expose a smooth, unmarred, nylon protected ankle joint. “It’s so painful!”
Apprehension tightened Targe’s lower back. He glanced back at the sidewalk and the corner he had left to come here and try to help. A car horn beeped lightly behind him, the noise making him jump and compulsively he tried to cover the weakness by closing one hand around the woman’s elbow. She was warm but stiff, not the pliant flesh and bone he had naturally expected and her body heat was subdued, as if it came from deep inside and had lost much of its radiance before reaching her extremities.
Another horn beeped followed by a longer, lower blast to his left. The lunch crowd was getting restless. Targe needed to get the lady out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Gently he pulled at her elbow, hoping she would just follow him to the curb. He may as well have tugged on the street itself. The woman remained solidly in place, a physical fixture in the crosswalk. She didn’t seem to have even noticed Targe or his hand on her. He goggled at her in confusion.
“I don’t know what happened, it just started hurting and now I can barely walk on it.” She was studying her ankle, he collar length light brown hair, over-due for a touch-up on the roots, wisping around her face, responding to a breeze that Targe didn’t feel. The bottom of her button-down sweater seemed to sway in time with her hair. Targe glanced again at the bank clock. Seventy-eight degrees. Things were heating up.
“Ma’am please, you need to get out of the road.” It felt like an empty effort but he couldn’t help himself. He pulled at her again. His heart skipped as the woman glanced in his direction, a curious look crossing her face. Had she heard him? He saw her eyes narrow.
“Excuse me. Are you listening?” Her lips moved in time with the words but her voice seemed to drift backwards, away from his ears.
“Ma’am?” Targe felt sweat pop up on his forehead and begin to roll down toward his eyes. A chill seemed to pass through him, a shiver that shook his shoulders. It did nothing to cool him though
“Hey mister?” The voice of a young boy, distant and breathy behind him. Targe ignored it, focusing on the woman in front of his eyes.
“Come on lady, I’m going to walk you to the curb.”
“Well, that’s rude. The least you could do is look at me.”
Who the hell was she talking to? Targe could tell she wasn’t talking to him. The small glance in his direction had been more like a response to a mosquito than her actually responding to him. A drop of sweat trickled from his temple down to his jaw. He turned his head and brushed his chin against his shoulder. He absolutely hated sweating. If he wasn’t working out or playing a sport then sweating was his sworn enemy.
“Mister? You should get out of the street.”
Eighty-one degrees. Targe stared at the bank sign in disbelief. The temperature had risen five degrees in only a few minutes! 1:34 pm. What the hell? Panic rolled through him and he squeezed the woman’s arm.
“Lady! Look at me!”
A small hand patted Targe’s arm.
“Mister, can you see me?”
Another horn blast, this one longer but fainter, barely getting Targe’s attention. Anger through him and he turned his head, eyes narrowed, searching for the offender. To his horror all the vehicles surrounding him were now the same make and model, each one stretching like a limousine. The longest limos to ever exist, the back ends vanished into sharp points at the very edges of his visual perception. All four directions looked identical, each with a bank sign flashing ninety-four degrees. Sweat poured down Targe’s face, the trails making his skin twitch. His shirt, a long-sleeved button-down that had seemed perfect when he had put it on that morning now felt like an itchy wet sack stuck to his torso and upper arms, the neck as scratchy as fine sandpaper. He wanted to pluck at the fabric, to undo the buttons and find some relief but he couldn’t. His empty hand remained outstretched in a permanent welcoming gesture while his other hand gripped the lady by her elbow. The boy’s voice continued incessantly behind him, the hand patting his arm non-stop.
The last rational thought Targe had was of himself as a kid, standing in the changing room of a department store, caught in that one spot between the mirrors where he could look at himself, replicated in all directions, forever.