The darkness of the city: in broad daylight. Jill Evans, Chris Leavitt’s nominal girlfriend in Crystal From The Hills, schools him earlier in the story, about his arrogance and naivite. It’s naive to wander the streets of West Oakland, patronizing the locals, imagining he is free and safe. She envies him. Women, I think, envy (and thus are irritated by) carefree young men who take for granted their advantages. And so, the next passage, a pre-climactic wake-up call for the similarly traumatized Jill, is foreshadowed, like all of the events of the story. It’s just a matter of what gets noticed really. For all Jill’s faux streetwise warnings, not to mention Chris’ obsession with Shadows, who used to follow him only at night, it is Jill who is caught off guard, thinking she is immune.
To cap it off she was jumped on the way home the following morning. Her mistake had been stopping at a light, obeying the rules of the streets, but not those of the street. Leaning back on her bike, Jill took a brisk swig from her water bottle, only to feel a hard thump against her back wheel. As her bottle tumbled away with water spraying from her mouth, Jill felt a strong tug upon her backpack; the force threatened to drag her along the pavement and for a split second she imagined that somehow she’d been ensnared by a passing vehicle. Feet shuffled around her as the bag was torn away. Her assailant turned to throw Jill’s backpack to a partner, the action resembling that of two basketball players executing a fast break. But with his back turned, the first of the two young men was rendered vulnerable. Without a second thought, Jill lunged at him and began wind-milling her arms, surprising herself with her own intensity. Instinctively, she opened up her right hand, and with a scything motion, slashed through his blocking limbs, scratching his face on the way through. The partner ran and faced her. Seeing him face-to-face scuttled assumptions, and reduced him in years. No more than fifteen, she guessed, regarding the gaunt, angry face of the boy. He reached for his back pocket; no small task given that his pants hung halfway to his knees. From the front, a web of denim hung between his legs, placing him at a disadvantage should a chase ensue.
It was as if she recognized him—not the boy per se—but the type: meaning, the age, the demeanor, the ephemera, and the race: black. She could hurt this boy, she realized. In her current state, that is—she could do real harm. And then she might treat him. In fact, it seemed to her that she had done, on countless occasions. She’d nursed young men like this. She’d dressed their wounds, their grisly knife and gunshot injuries. She’d replaced their bedpans, brought them food, and seen them wince as she’d replaced their catheters. With a look of sheer rage that masked humiliation, the boy brandished a gleaming firearm and dangled it with a fashionably downward arc towards Jill’s face.
“OK!” she cried breathlessly, and held up her arms in surrender. The boy’s face shook. Looking around, seeing odd witnesses, he appeared to take stock of this moment, and decide what humiliations—past, present, and anticipated—will merit the ultimate retribution. With a deft turn, he then sprung away and disappeared, showcasing an impressive sprint. Later, she estimated that the entire incident had taken less than a minute of her time.
Unhurt, Jill gathered herself, assessed her apparently undamaged bicycle, and then resumed her journey back to her apartment, though not before remonstrating in the street to no one in particular.
“Really. In broad daylight!” she exclaimed, feeling angry and bewildered at the community she’d chosen to live amongst and help.