Lights and Money
Rain rolled down the window like glittering stars, shining like money in the passing lights of the city. I couldn't touch them of course, not from inside the monorail. Figures. That's the story of my life over the last few years. Money everywhere, raining from the sky, and I can't put my hands on it.
Just like the rain.
Past the dirty, rain-streaked glass, I watched the city flash by. The train whipped past windows, too fast for me to see. Figures silhouetted in their homes, in businesses, or restaurants. The lights of these places felt like separate universes. I couldn't get much more than a glimpse of whoever might be inside each of them, and I wondered what their stories were.
Just like the people on the monorail with me. They've gotta have stories too, otherwise they wouldn't be on this train. Or in this city. People without stories have better, simpler lives elsewhere. You live here it's because you've got a story to tell, or you'll earn one soon.
I glanced at the man across the aisle from me. He's the best example in sight: unkempt salt and pepper hair and a ragged black beard streaked with white, deep blue eyes stare at the seat in front of him with a fixed gaze, I can't see his hands under thick woolen gloves but he's got the build of a heavy worker. Judging by his rain-soaked but sturdy clothes, he's used to living outside. His worn and beaten shoes tell me he's homeless. But here he is on the monorail.
Why is there a homeless man on the monorail? Sure it's a dry, warm place on a cold and rainy night, but anyone wearing a badge of any kind would boot him out in a second. This may not be the north-end line, but even in the south end the law doesn't like freeloaders. No, he had to get a ticket to be here. He could be the kind of street sleeper who's got some money tucked away, after all he clearly works, but the gaunt look of the face under that beard tells me he doesn't eat much. The man can't get enough money to eat regular, but he somehow scraped together enough cash for a ride on the monorail. The express, a long haul. This trip was important.
I realize I've been staring when his gaze turns to me. He's got the look of a man who's given up. More wondering to do, more questions. I want to know his story so badly, I can almost taste it. I can hear the echoes of it behind him, in the roll of the train wheels beneath us. But I just look away, back out to the rain and the city lights. One thing's for sure, he didn't buy a train ticket to get stared at by some snoopy detective doesn't know how to mind her own business.
I can't help it, that's just what I do. But I still feel a little bad, for staring. Guy probably gets that enough.
My stop comes next, and as the monorail rolls to an unsteady, screeching, halt I lurch to my feet in the rickety old car. I hate the south-end line.
I avoided the gaze of the man I stared at earlier, just as worried about embarrassing myself as embarrassing him. As soon as I stepped out of the car, onto the terminal platform, I was drenched by the same rain I'd been daydreaming about earlier. Pulling up my coat collar didn't do much, and even my favorite wide-brimmed hat did nothing to keep me dry.
"Welcome to Cherry Hill, friend. May I see your ticket?" The automated ticket-bot's cheerful voice unit is scratchy and warbles, like a bad record. Even protected from the rain in his little scratched glass dome, this poor bastard hasn't seen a maintenance man in years. His pretty silver casing is weathered and beaten, and his arm rattles when he holds out a plate in place of a hand.
I set my ticket on his plate, without stopping, and made my way to the stairs. The bot thanked me for riding the Tower City Monorail, but I wasn't listening anymore. Once down on street level, among the bright neon signs over closed-up store windows, I headed straight toward home. The moving sidewalk was working today, and normally I'd enjoy the luxury, but I hate the rain so I walked anyway. I've always been a fast walker, but as rain got heavier I couldn't help but pick up my pace. My feet were soaked; stupid call to wear heels on a day like this.
With my fast pace and the help of the sidewalk, I make it home in damn good time. The apartment building loomed over me with the feel of an angry father, wielding disappointment. I couldn't help but stop and glower up at the azure neon sign. Haplan Homes, is what it's supposed to say. Some punks shot out the "M" last week, and management can't be bothered. They probably won't.
Up further, past the gray brick edifice of my apartment building, past the wires and power lines that crisscross every part of this city, I could see a zeppelin. They're always a sight, on a night like this. Lit from below by gold and silver city lights, dark as an empty field on top they seem to fade into the thick clouds above. The rain cascading down its sides made it look like the whole thing was crawling slowly upward, and it made a nice zeppelin-shaped hole in the rain going all the way down.
I watched it for a second, to see where was going, and it veered in the direction of Emery Heights. Another arrival from Paris, then. Socialites back from celebrating New Year's Eve in the City of Lights. Suddenly the rain cascading off that zeppelin looks like money again, raining down on all of us, but it's no help.
The hell am I doing standing out in the rain, looking at zeppelins?
My building's front door wasn't locked, it never is. The little area where once a concierge would work was currently occupied by two sleeping figures, huddled up in thin blankets. Nobody works in that spot for this building. Haplan Homes hasn't had that kind of class for twenty years.
There were more sleeping figures in the stairwell, and I did my best not to wake them. Eventually, for their sake and mine, I gave up and pull my heels off to ascend faster. Luckily I only had eight floors to go, and I was almost home. The hallway of my floor is all faded ragged carpet that was once plush and vibrant, walls that have been painted over too many times, and a majority of working light fixtures. It's the best floor in the building.
The automated security camera and computer in my doorway gave me a bit of trouble getting in, but it only took a few exasperated repeats to convince it to open. "Dixie Gray: Investigator." That's what it almost says on my door. Took me three hours to paint it, five years ago, and a lot of that work is gone now. Still, it's at least partially legible.
My office is a shambles, just like always. Light streaming in from the billboard across the street makes it look like the inside of a movie theater, smoke and everything. Sadie must have had someone over. I dropped my coat and hat just inside the door and each made a satisfyingly wet thud. From there, I was already pulling off wet clothes as I moved past the bookshelf that conceals my bedroom door. It's the best kept thing in this apartment, and made barely a whisper as I entered.
Sadie's already out, asleep like the dead. From the light that slipped in through the window blinds, I could see her curled up in a tight little ball. She hates sleeping alone. I sat gently, not worried about waking her--I've learned that's near impossible--but because it just felt good to be home. Outside is cold, and lonely, and uncaring. But in here I've got one small place that is warm, and I've got Sadie.
When I stretched out next to her, she rolled over and curled up around me. Maybe it isn't much, just a crummy apartment so overpriced that two grown women can barely scratch together enough money to hang onto it, but it's ours. And maybe we're nothing special, just a two-bit private eye and a working girl with dreams of elegance, but I like us.
I think about us as I drift off to sleep, and for an instant my thoughts go back to the man on the train. I wonder if he was curious about my story, too. Not likely. Most people have the good sense to mind their own business. But I wondered what other people would think of my story, if I ever told it.
Probably not much, but that's okay.