An Old Companion
The suspense writer Chelsea Cain says that all her life she has felt safe. This safety had nothing to do with the company she kept, the economy, or locks on her door. It was simply something she understood about herself the same as she understood she is a writer. This, I have noticed, is an unusual quality amongst suspense writers, whom, in the course of our conversations, often talk about the threats lurking in the shadows of the world: terrorists, tornados, bad luck, bad people. When I was a waiter I used to walk at night from the restaurant to my car through a small park in downtown Seattle. It was a lovely park by day, but it was rather shadowy at night. One evening, as I left the office tower in which the restaurant was housed, a young woman appeared from behind a wall. It was summer, and it was still warm, and she was dressed in a sleeveless shirt. She was quite young. She was out of high school, I suspected, but not by much.
She asked me if I knew how to get to a certain street and I said I did. “Good,” she said, “I’ll walk with you.” She wasn’t a prostitute. I mention this because these women would occasionally approach me, and always their invitations were both predatory and distant, and this girl had neither of these qualities.
My new companion began talking about what a cool city Seattle was as if we were old friends. She named a band she had seen. I found I was worried for this girl. She shouldn’t be walking through the park with me, I thought. She didn’t know me at all. Plus she had a woman’s body but a girl’s vulnerability. Even that she was wearing a sleeveless shirt concerned me. There was too much of her exposed.
Soon we reached the end of the park and she thanked me and told me to have a nice night and wandered off toward her destination. I couldn’t stop thinking about her as I found my car and drove home. One part of my mind wanted to continue worrying about her, but another part couldn’t. The girl couldn’t have chosen a more trustworthy companion for a walk through a shadowy park. Worried Bill wanted to call this luck. Unworried Bill knew the truth of it, and as always he would spend the drive home comforting his old companion.
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