Today's Reading

"Where are your shoes?"

"I don't want to tell you about my shoes," she said. "I haven't done anything wrong. I'm an American citizen."

"Ma'am, where are your shoes?"

She lifted up the single flip-flop she had left. "The other one broke," she said.

Behind him, other cars continued into the night. Did they even notice her standing in the dark, a small woman with bare legs and feet? She was aware of the bluing bruise she'd caught banging her knee on the subway door. In the shower that morning, she'd skipped shaving her legs. In the beam of his headlamps, could he see hairs standing up in splinters?

"Ma'am, I really need you to get into the car. I can't leave you here. What if something happened to you?" In his voice, she heard the insinuation that normal women, innocent women, didn't walk alone on bridges at night.

"I'm fine," she said.

Mina knew her stubby ponytail was frizzy. Bleaching black to Marilyn Monroe-blonde had taken four rounds of peroxide. Now it stood up in breaking strands. If she'd conditioned it, would this cop think she was sane? If she'd blow-dried it, would he have let her go home? And, of course, there were the tattoos twining up her arms.

"We can talk about it in the car," he said. His shadowed friend was bent over the radio, lips to the black box.

Mina was tired. It was the heat, or perhaps the wind. So she got into the car. The seat was smooth. Someone must've chosen the fabric specially. This must be wipeable and disinfectable. People probably spat on this seat. They probably pissed on purpose and by mistake. Between the front and back seats was a grille. She would not be able to reach out to touch the curve of the cop's ear or straighten his blue collar. The flip-flop lay across her knees.

The cops wanted to know her name, address, phone number and Social Security. She gave them.

"We're taking you to Mount Sinai," said the cop.

"I was just going for a walk, clearing my head. I don't need to be in a hospital. I was just clearing my head."

Damn. Repeating yourself was a habit of the guilty. Mina tried to slow her breath.

"See it from my point of view," he said. "You're walking alone on the bridge at night. I can't let you out. I don't know what would happen."

Only then did she understand that they must do this every night, drive back and forth across the bridge looking for people like her.

"I have to go to work tomorrow," she said. "My husband will want to know where I am. Please, please, just let me go to the subway."

"We can't do that, ma'am."

The car left the bridge and fell back into Manhattan. She kept telling them she wasn't trying to cause trouble. She said it so many times that the word "trouble" began to sound like "burble" or "bubble." Heat rose in her eyes. She pushed the water off her face.

Finally, they agreed that she could call her husband, and they would go to the paramedics parked near the bridge. If the paramedics said she was okay, she could go home.

"Oscar," she said. "Oscar, I need you to come get me. They won't let me leave until you come get me."

"Slow down," he said. "Where are you? What's going on?" She tried to explain about the cops and how she'd been clearing her head and now they wanted to take her to the hospital. About how she needed him to be there.

The ambulance was parked under the highway. Was it, like the cops, always there? Always waiting for people like her? The cop got out of the car and opened her door. He didn't cuff her or even touch her. But her breath came double fast. The pearly pimple on his lip gleamed. He led her to the ambulance. The steps into the vehicle were constructed from a steel mesh. They hurt her feet. A hand reached out to help her. It was soft and firm and female. It was attached to a slim arm and a body in scrubs the color of the swimming pool where she'd made her first tentative laps as a preschooler. Mina smiled into the face and the face smiled back.
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