Zelda arrives to find Jackson and Edward out front, sipping coffees. Jackson greets her with a rib-crushing hug. Edward settles for a wave. They squish into the seat of Jackson’s truck and proceed south to Los Gatos. The back of the cab is piled high with fast-food wrappers and Gatorade bottles. Jackson loops past the wide lawns of the high school and parks on the Main Street Bridge, twenty feet above the mountain-bound drivers on Highway 17.
They cross the street and descend a dirt hill to the Los Gatos Creek Trail. This is, in fact, the same trail that passes behind Zelda’s apartment five miles north.
Zelda’s head buzzes with questions, but she thinks it best to save them for later. After all, the anemone has invited her into his tidepool. They walk a long straightaway along a steeply banked concrete channel. The mountains on either side are steep, as well, giving the walk a canyon-like feel. The late sun imbues the ridges with a pale glow. A mile on, the channel gives way to a more natural-looking creek, bordered by lush pockets of ivy. The hills on the right close in, revealing the undersides of the highway and the imposing columns that hold it in place.
The woods thicken into stands of bay laurel and big-leaf maple. They approach a bench on the left, and Edward takes a sudden turn.
“Watch your step,” says Jackson. “Lots of loose soil.”
They drop onto a concrete spillway and then to a series of chunky bluestones. Their path flattens out next to the creek and proceeds into a sudden canyon, the right side cut off by looming gray-blue boulders. The creek grows wider and shallower. Edward crosses, performing a soft-shoe along a series of stepping stones.
Jackson laughs. “Makes it look easy, doesn’t he? Here: follow my lead.” He lands on the first stone, pauses, then hits the next, making certain that Zelda sees the way. They achieve the other side and split a row of well-spaced oaks to half a tennis court of grass.
“There’s an old road that used to run right next to the creek,” says Jackson. “This spot is so level, we think it might have been a part of that. There’s some old bridges closer to the reservoir. We’ll have to take you sometime. He sits on a well-worn log and pats the spot next to him. The view down the creek is gorgeous, twilight filtering through a high-arching tunnel of laurel branches. Edward kneels at the edge of the clearing, shuffling leaves. Jackson narrates.
“The local authorities are pretty tolerant, as long as one stays out of sight. So we buried a couple of garbage cans.”
Edward lifts a lid, reaches into the ground and extracts a light-brown pack. He unties the fastener, takes out a wad of shiny fabric and pulls it open. It settles to the ground as a fully formed pup tent.
“These pop-up tents are amazing,” says Jackson. “Coulda used one of those in my Boy Scout days.”
Edward throws a rolled-up sleeping bag into the tent, then opens a second garbage can and brings them each a peanut butter snack bar.
“Thanks,” says Zelda.
“You’re welcome.” He sits on the grass, his back to the log.
“The part that would get me is the darkness,” says Jackson. “Can’t afford to give yourself away with artificial light. Although you can count on Highway 17 for some headlights in the heavens.”
They sit and chew. Zelda can hear the traffic above, sounding a bit like ocean waves. She gets the idea that Edward is working up the nerve to tell her something.
Jackson pats Edward on the shoulder. “Buddy? You want me to handle this?”
Edward tries to speak but settles for a nod.
“Okay.” Jackson takes one hand in the other and flexes his fingers. “It’s like this. Edward is very grateful for the added dimension you’ve brought to his professional life, the dancing and… Okay, I’m adding this, but especially when you took that face-plant. Which is why he feels like he owes you at least the bare bones of his story. Good so far?”
Edward gives another nod.
“Okay. So. Edward was a… professional. Had a successful career. Got married. He was very much in love with her. A few years later, she got sick. The cancer treatments were not entirely covered by his insurance. They fought the disease for five years, and they lost everything they had. And, finally, he lost her. The amount of time he spent with her affected his job performance, so he lost that, too. Bastards.”
Edward clears his throat.
“Sorry,” says Jackson. “I’m not supposed to add editorial comments. Anyway. He found some consulting work, and was starting to recover when the mortgage crisis hit and he lost his house, which was refinanced twice during the cancer fight. That was when he decided to live outside the margins, where people couldn’t take things away from him. If you ever – and I’m sorry, Edward, but I’m going to add this one thing – if you ever saw some guy holding a cardboard sign on a meridian and you wondered, if everything went to hell, all at once, would that be me? That was Edward.”
That’s the end. They sit there for a silent minute. Edward’s breath is coming in short ruffs. Zelda realizes it’s because he’s fighting off tears.
“Should we leave?” asks Jackson.
Edward waves a hand. Jackson stands and helps Zelda to her feet. They begin to walk away, but Zelda stops to lean down and kiss Edward on the cheek.
“I’m sorry.” She runs a hand over his hair.
“Not your fault,” he whispers.
The climb up the hill is a challenge, but the main trail is light in color and easy to follow. They stop at a spot where the channel drops into a concrete pool. The waterfall sends out a white blossom, glowing in the faint light.
“You don’t know how huge this is,” says Jackson. “I think, when you had your fall, it snapped Edward out of himself. It’s been a long time since he’s allowed himself to care about somebody. It’s a dangerous thing, to care about somebody.”
“But he cares about you.”
“Sure.” Jackson smiles. “But I’m indestructible. So were you, till you started bleeding all over the field.”
“I promise not to make a habit of it.” Zelda recalls the look in Edward’s eyes, dark hallways of loss. “So sad.”
“Don’t think I don’t know. Come on, let’s get back to the truck before they bust us.”
Photo by MJV