Although it was dark and the chill was settling in, the plaza was busy on the first of a three-day weekend. The restaurants and bars were full of bubbling conversations. Couples strolled by with restaurants on one side and the harbor on the other.
A little girl, about nine, stood on the plaza beside a bench, staring out onto the harbor where sailboats and yachts were swaying with the tide. Past the boats, on the other side of the water, there were condos, restaurants, and abandoned warehouses that may have, for some reason, held her interest.
People walked behind the girl in groups and in couples, but she seemed unaware of their presence. A young Asian couple with two rambunctious pugs walked by and the dogs veered around the girl, circling her and tangling her in their leashes. She looked down at the snorting dogs and their people, who were frantically trying to unwrap her legs, but she didn’t move or respond to their laughing apologies. As the couple with the dogs hurried on, they turned back to glance at her, whispering back and forth.
Music blared from a bar nearby. Clanging bells announced a train’s approach, followed by the long rolling rumble of Amtrak taking people up the California delta and beyond. The moon continued its slow journey across the sky and the wind gently blew the girl’s hair across her back.
Although she had been standing still and straight, all at once she inhaled deeply and began to shudder, slumping against the bench.
She knew it like the cut of a knife before it bleeds. Her parents weren’t coming back.