Some Sort of Hostage Situation
Like most Tuesdays, we spend the night out at our favorite Divisadero Street dive bar, swapping dirty stories for fun over $3 sake bombs. But this time I take it a bit too far and let slip some facts about me that you don’t really like so much. You do a good job acting like it’s a principle thing, even though to me it kinda seems like you’re just a sore loser. I can tell you’re burning up, all tight-lipped and twitchy. So, we cash out and leave right away.
The streets between the bar and home are still loaded with people, so I wait until we walk through the door to pry it out of you that you didn’t think I was the kind of girl who would do “that sort of thing.”
“Don’t say that to me,” I spit back at you. “It was a long time ago. And anyways, so what if I am or I was or whatever.”
You don’t say anything in response, but your noxious fuming fills our studio up to what feels like its breaking point. I imagine the windows bursting and the walls cracking, while every cruel word we have ever said to each other spills out onto the sidewalk below.
To stop the whole apartment from crumbling, I announce that I’m going for a walk to get a bit of a breather. I start to put my shoes back on as you gape like you’re trying to decide whether to stop me or not. Before you figure it out, the megaphones start up: Surrender your weapons and come out with your hands up, every thirty seconds or so on loop.
‘Don’t say that to me,’ I spit back at you. ‘It was a long time ago. And anyways, so what if I am or I was or whatever.’
“There’s an active shooter!” We hear neighbors yelling on refrain from their windows, sharing what they know with each other. The commotion seems to be coming from across the street at the far end of the block, just past the corner store that sells the ‘It’s-It’ ice cream sandwiches we love. We might have stopped in to buy some on a calmer night. Before I have a chance to pick up my phone to text June, who lives a block and a half away in the direction of the megaphones, it starts vibrating. She’s calling me.
“Are you and Andy okay? This is so wild! My roommate said there are snipers on some of the rooftops along Judah Street. Seems like serious overkill. But he just tried to go outside and was told we’re on lockdown. Everyone has to stay in until it’s over,” explains June, intonating dramatically like any good part-time actress/burlesque dancer would. “And who the hell knows when that will be.”
“June, can you tell from your place where it’s coming from? It sounds pretty close to us, but our window doesn’t look onto Judah, so I can’t see.” This isn’t exactly true, but you’re sitting by the window, and I worry that you’ll grab the phone from my hand and hang up if I walk over there.
“Oh, I absolutely know. It’s all going on in that apartment above the pizza spot we like.”
“The one that had the kitchen fire a few months ago? Next to the gymnastics studio?”
“Yep! That one. Which, speaking of take-out, you will never guess what Cory ordered tonight. Pad see ew for two. Again. I might have to call him out on this …” June’s ex-boyfriend hasn’t figured out yet that his GrubHub account is still linked to her email address, and recently, he’s taken to ordering suspiciously large late-night meals for two.
I let June carry on for a few more minutes about which girl in their friend group she thought might be behind her ex’s new eating habits. It buys me some time before I have to give my attention back to you, now curled up behind me on our bed, still fuming.
“Hey June, I gotta go,” I finally cut her off. You shoot me a look that lets me know I’ve overstayed my distraction. “Text me if you hear anything. I just checked the news on my phone but nothing came up.”
Still not talking, you take your jeans off and climb under the sheets. I sit down next to you, and you turn away towards the wall. I put my hand on your shoulder and you shrug it off. You reach up to turn off the lamp with the loose switch that sometimes gives a mild shock. Zap. But you’re still trying to hold yourself in so you don’t yelp as usual, and I’m not in the mood to dole out comfort anyway. We sit like that for a while, in the blue-and-red streaked dark, and listen to the emptiness outside interspersed with the megaphone that has taken the place of the usual train rumblings.
'My roommate said there are snipers on some of the rooftops along Judah Street. Seems like serious overkill. But he just tried to go outside and was told we’re on lockdown. Everyone has to stay in until it’s over …'
Ding. A text comes in from June with a news link. A man holding his girlfriend at gunpoint, it seems. Maybe a money dispute, the reporter speculates. Some sort of hostage situation, June writes. For the rest of the night, I lie there trying to count from memory how many yards it is to that pizza place down the block, like a child trying to figure out a storm’s distance from the number of seconds between thunderclaps.
◊ ◊ ◊
The flashing lights are still going strong the next morning when we wake up, and we both know in an instant that we’re in for more long hours of sitting around in our own loud silence. Partly happy for an excuse to stall, I call Leah to tell her I can’t take her to the doctor’s like we’d planned.
“It’s really wild over here, Leah. Patrols on every corner. They have everything blocked off along Judah from 18th all the way to 23rd. No one allowed in or out, unless it’s an emergency. Andy had to call out of work today, and the woman downstairs had to get an escort to take her back to her place. But they only did that because her kids were home alone.”
“Oh, that’s ok,” Leah squeaks out in a voice so rubbery and sweet I remember how the regulars used to call her ‘Honey Bee Lee’ back when we used to close the bar together on Sundays. That was before she quit because the owner’s son got too close to her one night and then tried to slip the little wad of tips out of her handmade macramé purse when she wouldn’t give in. “I’ll call someone else.”
My stomach sinks, because I know Leah will go alone instead of asking for more help. Our other friends are poor guardians of secrets. Almost everyone in the neighborhood knows the story of how I got the cigarette burn on the back of my neck.
I rub the small, round scar and pull my hair around it out of habit, shoot a quick glance at you, then pitch some more ideas into the phone.
“What about Ivan’s sister? Isn’t she in town? I thought you said she was going to come over anyway tomorrow or something to help you out.”
Across the studio, you’re lying on your back on the couch. Face up, arms crossed, the heels of your work boots digging grease stains into the ivory, microsuede arms. I roll my eyes. I can tell you’re trying your absolute hardest to stare at nothing else but the ceiling.
“Ya, she’s in town, but she has her kids with her and, I dunno, I just don’t think she’d want to bring them around this whole mess.”
By this point I’m fiddling around in the kitchen, phone crammed up against my jaw, spoon and jar of peanut butter in my hands. Even though my back is turned, I can feel that your eyes have finally left the ceiling to settle between my shoulder blades. I am more aware than ever that the ten steps or so between where we sleep and where we keep the food is an inadequate space for private conversation.
“Plus, what if she told Ivan’s parents? They’re so religious and would freak out. And then Ivan would get all mad, and I just don’t want to deal with that. I’d rather keep this as low-key as possible. It’s fine, don’t worry about me. Just stay safe over there and get out soon so you can come visit me.”
After a few more minutes of brainstorming, I let Leah go, telling her to shoot me a text when it’s over and to keep me posted if she needs anything. That I’d be thinking of her. I give her some tips on how to hold the cramps and the nausea at bay. I hang up.
“You sure know a lot about how to help someone through an abortion, don’t you?” The words fly across our box of a home and hit my eardrums hard.
◊ ◊ ◊
Two days later and our restless, angry pacing has left the apartment sweaty and cluttered. I open the window to let the thick, beachy fog pour in and sweep it all away. You’ve carved out your own perch on the desk next to the window, and I do my best to avoid you as I pick up the sediment of our fighting: a broken nail polish bottle, your upturned toolbox, some dollar-store taper candles cracked in the middle with the wick exposed, condoms loose from their box.
The whole hostage thing wrapped up sometime before dawn, apparently. No injuries, per the news alert on our phones. But they still aren’t letting us walk outside while they do some precautionary sweeps. “Just a couple more hours. We should have you out by noon,” a uniformed man going door-to-door with the update lets us know. He tells us he’s from the “hostage negotiation team,” which doesn’t mean much to either of us except that it sounds intimidating.
June wonders out loud where the train goes when it’s not running, and I answer that I have absolutely no idea but hopefully somewhere safe.
Slowly, by early afternoon, the street below us makes its way back to its usual sounds. The megaphones are first replaced by the chirping of birds in the park, which are in turn drowned out by those bold neighbors who make their way outside first. These adventurous ones tip-toe, careful like teenagers trying not to get caught doing something bad, even though we’ve been given the all-clear.
June texts me to meet her at the bus stop that sits between both our houses. Our shift starts at 3:00 p.m., and we plan to ride over together and spend an hour or so in the park before we have to serve the weekend partiers beer and fries all night. Our job is normally its own sort of claustrophobia but today sounds inviting. I wave when I see her there. She hugs me. We’re giddy to be out in the world again, at last.
The N train rumbles up the hill and into sight, up and running again after being stowed away for days. Its wheels settle in with a heavy hiss and the doors spring open like they never stopped. June wonders out loud where the train goes when it’s not running, and I answer that I have absolutely no idea but hopefully somewhere safe. “The N train is my favorite of the Muni trains,” I confide, “because it can take me all the way to the far end of the city.” Laughing at nothing in particular, we hop on, and slip away to work.
I pop by Leah’s for a quick visit after we close up, in no rush to get home. When I finally make it back, you kiss me hello. I hand you the six-pack of beer I pilfered from the bar’s fridge. These desperate gestures seem to do the trick, and soon we’re swapping stories about our evening apart.
Looking out the window, I make a note of the customers congregating in front of the pizzeria. Their hungry bodies now fill up the corner where the hostage negotiation team had spent the past three and a half days camping out. So, I guess we’re going to pretend everything’s all back to normal inside too, that our time stowed away with each other hasn’t changed a thing.
Stefanie Doucette is a third-year PhD student at the University of California, Irvine, where she enjoys teaching writing to undergrads and reading American Gothic literature. Prior to attending UC Irvine, she received a BA from the University of Vermont and worked as a contributing writer for The Bold Italic in San Francisco. When Stefanie’s not working on her research, she is usually hanging out in Long Beach with her cat, Kafka.