The gaps between Chloe’s fingers glowed green. Meet you at the bird! The message read.
Chloe didn’t know what the bird was. She was already late and now had to shuttle herself across Olympic Village to look for a bird. She was on the hunt for a hundred species, from pigeon to phoenix. Why couldn’t he just name a place?
Just looking for parki— Chloe spotted a breach—a green Prius jetted out from the bastion of cars. She jerked her dusty Ford Explorer into the tight spot. It had been an unusually dry summer for Vancouver.
Chloe pumped up her blond hair in the visor mirror and surveyed her face for imperfections. She smudged her eyeliner back into place, squeezed candy apple red onto her cheeks and applied a fresh coat of lipstick.
“Mirror, mirror in the car, how many drinks shall I have at the bar? Okay, two it is.”
She jumped out of the car and slammed the door shut. Her thick black heels slapped the pavement as she walked towards a statue of a giant bronze sparrow.
Chloe recognized him right away.
“Hi, I’m Chloe,” she announced before she was halfway to the bird. Jonah lifted his chin and walked towards her. Relief swallowed his gait.
”Hi Chloe, I’m Jonah. Great to finally meet you.”
“Impressive, you’re actually better looking in real life,” Chloe said.
“No Tinder surprise? Don’t worry; you look much taller than five-one.” Jonah smirked and gestured towards the bar.
He was taller than his pictures suggested. His pants were beige, his shoes were beige and his chest was neatly contoured by a white and blue dress shirt. He looked like the beach. She hoped he could carry a conversation.
Chloe assumed that she was Jonah’s first internet date. She had the instincts of a cyber-love veteran; she’d been online dating before Plenty of Fish, when tinder was used to ignite campfires. Her first was a DJ from Craigslist. She loved meeting strangers under a cloak of anonymity. For Chloe, internet dates were blank slates ready to be painted with inebriated adventures free of all accountability.
Chloe and Jonah sat at a squat table on a patio. The city glittered on the harbour but was mostly obstructed by a red umbrella that had been left open.
They stumbled through stranger-meets-stranger pleasantries. Jonah told her that he had finished his residency in June and was relieved to finally “be in the game.” She lied and told him that she had recently finished a graduate degree in philosophy, and celebrated by traveling around the world—the traveling part was true.
Chloe had been an upper-middle-class vagabond most of her life. She’d backpacked through Europe and Asia, volunteered in Africa and worked odd jobs for the cash to keep her going. She lifeguarded and bartended, fundraised for political events and was now working as an extra in a Hallmark movie.
Although Chloe was pretty and often charming she was never accepted by the cool crowd in high-school. The harder she tried the more desperate she looked, the more harshly she was rejected, humiliated. Weeks before graduation on a cool spring afternoon she slashed the tires of the most popular girl in school. Later that afternoon those deflated rubber tubes caused the vehicle to collide with a tree severely injuring three of her classmates. No one ever found out that it was she who caused the accident. After graduation she lived her life on the run.
To an outsider Chloe’s life exuded freedom, but she was far from free. Like a shattered mirror her travels left Chloe’s life in fragments. She barely stayed in one place long enough to make friends. Whenever a root appeared Chloe ripped it out of the ground in search of greener pastures. Whenever a bridge was built, she burned it down, leaving only a vast emptiness inside.
“It was really only after seeing the rest of the world that I decided to road-trip across my own country…”
“But, Montreal to Alaska…you’ve done so much,” Jonah said.
“Look who’s talking, I’m not the one who’s a doctor!”
“Yeah, but I’ve just done this one thing,” Jonah said.
He ordered a flight of house cider and a couple of beers. After some more chit chat about work and travel, they arrived at conversation.
Jonah was the kind of guy who said things like, “everything happens for a reason” and, “you betcha,” but Chloe liked him. She tried not to fidget and locked her fingers between her knees. So far, so good, she thought. She was pleased with how sophisticated she came across, especially while deconstructing the ciders. She picked up on his medical jokes. By the third drink, she questioned him about the fabled and bizarre action in the E.R. He told her about malfunctioning catheters, armpit stabbings, and what he called ‘marijuana disease,’ where a patient would vomit uncontrollably until they had a hot shower. She studied his smile as it cracked open the dimples above the corners of his mouth.
“Have you ever delivered a baby—”
“Yeah, it’s the happiest moment in medicine—”
“—to a woman who had no idea she was pregnant?”
Jonah smiled and looked into his glass.
“No, I haven’t.”
A sharp breeze cut across the harbour.
“Looks like we might finally get some rain tonight.” Chloe suggested they move inside. Jonah smiled and led the way.
The stuffy bar wrapped around Chloe like a quilt.
“How ’bout some whisky!” Chloe slammed her empty glass onto the bar like a cowboy lost in Tribeca.
Chloe hadn’t arrived sober to a first date since her roommate in college suggested she calm her nerves with a couple shots of Smirnoff. By the time she met Jonah, she was already on her third drink. Her previous dates had consisted of nervous puns, ceaseless nail biting and escapes to empty hallways—but the quiet there only amplified the echo of awkward conversation. She felt the disappointment and judgment of others with telepathic certainty.
During these dates, Chloe would comb through her utterances word by word until she could pinpoint what she had said wrong. She scrutinized herself in bathroom mirrors, miming her replies to see how forced her facial expressions must have looked.
The more she drank, the more the insidious gaze of the Other melted away. By her fourth or fifth, Chloe was liberated.
Chloe didn’t notice when tipsy became drunk and when drunk crossed over into black-out.
“You’re keeping up pretty well,” Jonah said.
“Yeah, you know, I’ve always had this crazy metabolism.” Chloe corrected her posture.
“We’re on our way to breaking the three golden rules of a first date,” Jonah said.
“Well, I already brought up my ex, you talked about politics—”
“What’s the third…religion?” Chloe barked.
“I was gonna ask if you like cilantro—” Jonah laughed as Chloe continued.
“—I never half-ass anything—let’s make it a trifecta! You don’t believe in God do you?” Chloe hiked her elbow up onto the edge of the bar and rested her cheek on her fist.
“Yeah, I do actually.”
“What?” Chloe catapulted her body towards him.
Jonah leaned back. His eyes narrowed.
“Judaism is actually a significant part of my life.” His hand tightened around his glass.
“But you’re a doctor, aren’t you supposed to be smart? I believed in God once too—until I was about five and developed reason,” Chloe said.
The bartender snickered.
“Well, Hmm… Well, I don’t really know what to say.” Jonah’s eyes were hard and almost pitying. He looked towards the door.
“Oh, come on. That’s not what I meant at all—you’re so sensitive!”
A glass shattered behind the bar.
“I should get going. Can I call you a cab?” Jonah said.
“You’re just jealous of my grey matter mister-man.” Chloe tapped the side of her head with her index finger.
Jonah tossed a fifty onto the bar and lifted himself off the barstool. “Wait!” Chloe watched him walk towards the door. She chewed on her fingertips. Should she run after him? Should she call his name? She looked for the bartender. He wasn’t there. She settled on yelling, “Dickbag!” moments after the door shut behind him. A grey-haired woman at the end of the bar examined her drink. The place smelled of beer scum and dish soap. Chloe finished Jonah’s drink without tasting it and stumbled through the rain to her car.
Chloe tugged open the heavy green door, grabbed ahold of the steering wheel and hoisted herself onto the cracked leather seat. She jiggled the key until it impaled the ignition. She turned the music down to a whisper and squeezed her way out of the parking space, inch by inch, back and forth, side to side, then charged out onto the road. The streets shimmered with the dim lights of the city. The sidewalks were mostly empty, the road was as remote as the Alaska Highway. A bloody deluge flooded Chloe’s mind. She slammed her fist on her forehead, “Stupid, stupid!” Warm tears pooled above her lower lashes.
She passed a post office and a clock tower—or was it a statue of a clock tower. She took backroads, veered on to East 34th and after negotiating a few roundabouts was almost at Canada Way.
Chloe wasn’t looking at the road; she wasn’t looking at anything. She palmed the passenger’s seat in search of her phone. That’s when it happened. A loud screeching noise up ahead yanked her eyes forward. A white rectangular blur jerked itself back and forth like a wild switchback before dissolving into the blackness, leaving a figure in the middle of the road. Chloe veered her Explorer onto the sidewalk and threw herself out onto the pavement.
A young woman with long black hair was on her back. Her face was pale, eyes shut, bright red lips pulled apart like thick velvet curtains. Her snow-white blouse was soaked through with mud and blood and yellow. She smelled like lavender and decay. Chloe felt like she was going to vomit, not from the blood, but from the alcohol. She remembered calling 911, but couldn’t remember what she said.
On her hands and knees, Chloe watched the woman’s chest for movement. A broken button on the woman’s blouse moved in and out of focus. Chloe lowered her cheek to the woman’s lips to feel for breath and fell backward when she felt them brush against her skin. Her lips were warm. Chloe bent over again, slowly this time, and waited for the slightest tickle. She tried not to shake.
The only thing Chloe could remember from lifeguarding was: ‘fire, wire, gas, glass.’ What? When was the ambulance going to get here? Chloe craned her head back, opened her eyes and breathed into the sky. Maybe she was looking for help. When was the ambulance going to get here? And then she remembered. She grabbed her phone and called Jonah. No answer. She called again.
“Uh, hello.” He picked up.
“Jonah, somebody was hit—”
“A truck—like a hit-and-run. I don’t know what to d—“
“Call an ambulance.”
The dial tone hummed. Chloe’s tongue stiffened against her teeth. A rainstorm that couldn’t swallow itself bellied above.
‘Ah, ah, ah, ah stayin’ alive…’ It came back to her. Chloe slammed her phone onto the ground and began compressions to the beat of the Bee Gees. One-two, one-two, one-two. Disco cavorted along the muddied pathways of her brain. Chloe could hear the ebb and flow of sirens, but was it for them? She kept going. Was she supposed to break the chest plate? She couldn’t remember, but she pushed down with the entire weight of her tiny body. One-two, one-two, one-two.
The wail of the ambulance approached its crescendo. Red and white burst into a cotton candy fog. Her gaze was trapped in a web of middle distance. As if grabbed over the mouth by a ghost, Chloe was etherized on her knees by shame until a flash of vertigo rattled her into flight. She shot up and sprinted towards her car. As she dug into her pocket for the key she tripped. A police cruiser pulled up and an officer approached.
“Stay where you are.”
The officer eclipsed Chloe who was now on the ground. He pressed down on Chloe’s back and handcuffed her. Behind them, a pack of white ambulances formed a broken crescent around the body. Paramedics in dark glistening coats performed CPR.
“You are under arrest, do you understand?”