She had never wanted to be a plumber as much as she did that day. They looked so cool, spinning circles in their motorboat across the river as everyone cheered them on.
It was a glowing green, like the color of the nail polish her best friend bought for her 14th birthday, the kind that made her fingers look like they’d been dipped in acid, but also yellow, orange, a swirl of river water churned up in the outboard motor. They wore white suits like a Haz-mat team. The throng of people standing along the river’s edge cheered, pushing against the barriers as if they might jump into the river at any moment.
It rained, naturally. The wind was in its usual ferocious mood. Umbrellas were a lost cause. Best to duck your head and tough it out. The damp air hung low in the streets, where masses stumbled together, carrying 24 packs of Coor’s light and wearing different variations of oversized sparkling green accessories. Everyone loves an excuse to be far past drunk at 10 a.m. Probably should have brought the rainboots. The flats seemed like a good idea at the time, back in the dorms where the heaters were still cranked up like it was January. After the first three puddles, Rachel wasn’t such a fan anymore.
She just wanted to see them dye the river. Why it seemed so fascinating, she didn’t know. Mostly she just wanted to say she’d seen it. Figure out why it was such a big deal.
“Excuse me!” A high pitched voice, directed at her. She turned slightly, but only just enough to catch a blur of green out of the corner of her eye. She didn’t want to get coerced into taking a picture for some wasted group of sorority girls.
There were five of them, dressed from the tops of their homemade shamrock headbands down to their leprechaun decorated socks in the color of the day. They were a few years past their keg-stand days. They may or may not have known exactly what a sock hop was like. Their shoes stood out starkly white against the wet pavement. The kind of women that powerwalk on weekends. She hoped they hadn’t gotten their Mardi Gras beads the old fashioned way.
“Honey, come take our picture,” they said, waving her over with their chunky silver cameras. Christmas gifts from their husbands. Maybe Mother’s Day.
She gave them her defeated smile and held out her arms, over which they obligingly draped their camera straps.
“Smile, ladies,” the one in the middle said, turning her “good side” toward the camera and sucking in her stomach.
Click. Reshuffle handful of cameras. Click. It took her five minutes of reshuffling to get through all the rounds of picture taking. As she switched to each different camera the ladies moved, haplessly getting distracted, forcing her to motion them back into the frame.
“Where are your friends, honey?” One of them tittered. “Come stand with us, look at the view we have!” They chorused.
“No, I’m just gonna – I can — ”
“No, stand here!” They cried in raspy smoker’s voices. “We don’t bite!”
She gave up and obligingly stood between Darla, the tallest of the women, and Virginia, who bore the bright orange hair often sported by those who long ago lost their own hair pigment.
She rested her arms against the railing, craning her neck to see the rest of the crowd.
A flash of metal caught her attention. Darla had taken out a flask. She tipped it up to her mouth, quickly, and wiped her face with the back of her wrist. She squinted her eyes and smiled mischievously. The rest laughed, obvious, delighted by their own daring.
“Knock it back, Darla!” Jean crowed.
“As if she wasn’t sauced already!” Sally laughed, slapping her hand on her hip.
Darla coughed, fanning her face. “Couldn’t we have sprung for something a little better?”
The crowd pressed in around them. They raised their voices to be heard over the throng. Virginia held up her purse. “We did, remember?”
“Ohhhh,” Margaret shouted, “What are we waiting for?”
Rachel felt a wrinkled hand on the small of her back, pressing her toward the outer ring of the crowd. She didn’t know where she was going, or why she was following. She wondered if this counted as kidnapping. She tried to ask where they were headed, but no one turned answered. Fucking hearing aids.
Somehow, they ended up in a small alleyway behind the nearest Subway. Virginia held her purse up near her furrowed face, unclasping it and digging around. She closed one eye to see better. She resurfaced brandishing a worn plastic Ziploc. She shook it up and down in their general direction. Inside, three joints bounced around. Margaret furnished an ornate lighter – these guys were too classy for a simple Bic.
They giggled like a pack of 14-year-olds, clustering together in a protective circle. A few minutes passed before they noticed her again.
“Pass her that doobie,” Darla said, the words forming strangely on her lips, foreign. Rachel couldn’t quite make the connection between their faces and what they were saying. It already had a sort of hazy feeling to it.
She took it, obliging. She had barely touched it when she heard an explosive “Motherfucker!” come from her right. A boost of adrenaline shot straight for her heart. She looked up toward the other end of the alley, registering a large badge-bearing chest striding toward them.
“I don’t want to get rolled by the po again!” Virginia yelled, and she scurried off toward the other end of the alley, leaving the Ziploc hanging from Rachel’s frozen hands. Rachel barely had time to look around – everyone had apparently taken Virginia’s lead – before a hairy, uniformed hand clapped her on the shoulder. She hoped they tipped whoever replaced their hips. They sure could run, for their age.
“Don’t move.” His voice was aggravated, no doubt already fed up with working crowd control for the few thousand people who decide they’re Irish once a year.
She wished one of them had given her their phone number. They could have bailed her out of jail. But they didn’t have cell phones, anyway.