Occupy

Occupy

In Fiction by Jacqueline Berkman

Occupy
Photo by Nick Jio on Unsplash

Lindsey’s family was heading to San Francisco to celebrate her father’s journalistic achievement at an honorary luncheon, but she had other plans. She kept this to herself as they piled onto BART, her sister and parents whooping when they found three empty seats in a sea of Oakland Raiders jerseys. Lindsey grabbed a pole ten feet away and shuffled for balance as the train hurtled onwards, rooftops and storefronts zipping past under a blindingly blue sky. The sun was already beating down on the glass windows, the oniony scent of body odor filling the train.

“Yum!” her mother said, and Lindsey turned around to see her squinting as she read something from her phone, projecting her voice to compete with the raucous shouts of football fans. “The spot we are going to has crème brûlée French toast and a side of seasonal market fruit. Has anything ever sounded so delicious?” Her mother was wearing her bohemian mom look, white tank top and a green Pakistani pashmina, which she never hesitated to tell anyone she’d found at the bottom of a clearance pile at Goodwill. She said it with a pride that Lindsey found gross, as if the anecdote said something about her tenacious, enterprising spirit rather than the fact that they’d been poor the last couple of years and had to settle for scraps. “Richard,” Susan said, “are you going to get something sweet?”

Lindsey’s father’s leg was crossed at the knee, and he was wearing a buttoned-up flannel shirt and tortoiseshell glasses, a recent effort to curate his image as a hip but unassuming middle-aged journalist who’d been just as surprised as everyone else to discover he had made it. This new look was just another charade. Lindsey knew that he listened to self-help podcasts at night and was champing at the bit for this moment to arrive, to finally be recognized as the genius he’d always felt himself to be. He stroked his chin as he read something on his phone, and when he finally looked up, his eyes were misting, the way they always did when someone complimented him.

“Sorry,” he said. “Randy Kleiner at The Outpost just tweeted me, saying the piece made him cry. And that’s making me cry.” He wiped his cheek with the back of his hand.

Lindsey’s sister, Sarah, put her hand consolingly on her father’s shoulder. She was wearing a big PETA pin and some kind of skimpy bra that smashed her breasts together, enormous, jello-like globules bobbing with every sudden movement of the train, and she seemed completely oblivious to the man in a Raiders jersey across the train who had been ogling her for the past five minutes. The perv broke into a hacking, phlegmy cough, and Lindsey wasn’t sure if it was this or her father’s self-congratulatory tendencies that made her want to retch.

Her father’s article that was getting all this attention centered around a coffee shop owner named Maged whom he had recently befriended. Maged lived in Concord, like them, but was originally from Cairo, and during the onset of the Arab Spring, Richard compiled a series of interviews with Maged about what the end of the Mubarak regime meant for his family in Egypt.

It wasn’t a badly written piece. In fact, if Lindsey had been reading it at her desk in the West Concord High School journalism office, where she was the opinion editor for The Patriot, she might recognize that there were some decent turns of phrase. But the fact that it was being heralded by some of the nation’s most highly regarded outlets as “the first great piece of journalism dealing with the Arab Spring’s impact” struck her as truly ridiculous. She knew, at the age of seventeen, that no one was yet paying her for her opinion about anything, but it seemed to her that someone who had actually been at the protests in Tahrir Square would be better equipped than her father to write about the current situation in Egypt. Better yet, someone who was actually living in Egypt. Her father’s misty-eyed preoccupation with this far-off conflict seemed only all the more hypocritical given his complete lack of interest in the Occupy Wall Street protests happening right there in the U.S. It was something Lindsey had been itching to call out, but given that she was planning on sneaking away from her dad’s event to check out today’s protest, she figured she should keep her mouth shut.

“I’m so proud of you, Dad,” Sarah said. She had been digging into a baggie of grapes and now chewed one whimsically, her cheeks puffed like a chipmunk. What a kiss-ass! Of course, she was twinning with their mother in a white tank top and pink pashmina, and the perv across from her was now licking his lips, which made Lindsey’s innards twist even more. How could her family be so oblivious? Why had no one told him to piss off? She was about to go do it herself when her phone pinged with a text message from Derek. “U ditch them yet?” he asked, which made her burst into a smile. “Not yet, still in transit,” she replied, her face flushed, before looking around to determine if anyone seemed to have caught on to her secret. But no one was looking. She cinched her hoodie around her waist as the train jerked forward, and knees wobbly with imbalance, gripped even tighter onto the germ-ridden rail.

By this point, Occupy Wall Street had been going on for several weeks in New York, weeks that Lindsey and Derek, before things had gotten awkward between them, had spent laughing at YouTube videos of hipsters screaming and sharing BBQ Seitan pizza in Zuccotti Park. They’d spent considerable time dissecting the protestors’ motives twice a week in Derek’s mom’s BMW, en route to their twice-weekly internship at Cherry Blossom Financial Group, that Lindsey’s family, convinced she was perpetually toiling away at The Patriot, still didn’t know about. Over the past couple of days, there had seemed to be some kind of seismic shift in the Occupy Wall Street movement, with reports announcing that protests were spreading across the country. Though it wasn’t until that morning that Lindsey caught wind of its imminent arrival in San Francisco. Murray, Derek’s cousin and an industry analyst at CBFG, had invited them to a watch party at the firm’s rooftop terrace in the Financial District that afternoon.

For Lindsey, the invitation was a no-brainer. She’d read in a business article that the best way to forge relationships with co-workers was in a more relaxed context, and a rooftop party seemed like the perfect environment. And even if she was feeling generally pressed for time, with any free moment she had on any given day going to her college applications, today was her chance to ask her internship advisor Trevor (who’d gone to Wharton — she’d Googled it) for a recommendation.

“MacArthur Station,” the operator announced. The train’s sudden stop spurred the ogling man across from Sarah and a horde of other football fans to transfer across the platform to the Dublin-Pleasanton line, leaving crushed goldfish crackers and red cups with remnants of piss-colored beer in their wake. In their absence, the train felt silent, like the aftermath of a raucous party. Doing her best to block out the contents of the trash-strewn carpet, Lindsey studied flyers for rideshare apps and music festivals and insomnia medications until her mother yelled, “Why don’t you join us?”

Ugh, could she be any louder! Drive the nail into the chalkboard even more, why don't you? Lindsey gritted her teeth again at the thought of what her mother represented: a pendulum of inconsistent moods and emotions bundled under big hair and scarves, operating under a general haystack of phoniness. Why couldn’t her family just leave her the hell alone? She wanted to say as much, but she didn’t want to give them that satisfaction of labeling her the “Difficult one,” a label they all, for their own reasons, seemed to relish. So, sighing with great resolve, she grabbed a pole closer to them. As she approached, her sister held up a mostly empty baggie of grapes and smiled a fraudulently blank slate of a smile. “Want some?” Sarah said.

“I’ll pass, thanks. You know that over half of the seats on BART have fecal matter on them, right? It’s been proven. Doesn’t exactly inspire an appetite.”

 Sarah grimaced then, and her mother too. They looked exactly alike with their reddish hair, heart-shaped faces and ski jump noses, and it was all Lindsey could do not to rip a flyer with crowd surfers at Treasure Island Musical Festival off the wall.

“While we’re on the topic of gross things,” Lindsey said, “were any of you remotely aware that a total creeper was ogling Sarah’s chest for like thirty minutes?”

“Oh, come on,” Sarah said, though her face flushed, and Lindsey thought she seemed secretly pleased.

“You mean the man that was sitting across from us?” her mother said, waving her hand dismissively. “He was just a bit drunk. A lot of them were.”

“Please, Mom. He was full-on leering.”

“What man?” her father said, looking up from his phone.

“Oh my God, Dad. Seriously? Open your eyes. There are other things happening in the world besides your rave review from The Outpost. Maybe you shouldn’t just let your daughter walk out of the house in a skintight tank top.”

“Lindsey, we’ve talked about this,” Susan said sternly. “It’s none of your business what your sister wears.”

“But if you want to lend me your hoodie, I wouldn’t complain,” Sarah said, nodding to the sweater wrapped around Lindsey’s waist. “I am a little chilly.”

“Hell no,” Lindsey said. “It’s not my fault I actually think about what the weather will be like before I leave the house.”

“Lindsey, that’s enough,” Richard said, his eyebrows raised. “I can’t have you at my event if you’re going to have an attitude like this. If you keep it up, you’ll be uninvited.”

“Is that a threat or a promise?” Lindsey said. Outside, the bright October day plunged into the darkness of the Transbay Tube, and the rail corrugation made it too loud to talk or hear anything else. She grimaced in the ear-popping darkness before her eyes settled on her own reflection in the ghostly glass: her pale skin, the light brown hair twisted into a pale bun, the completely flat chest. She was a seventeen-year-old girl with the body of a fourteen-year-old boy, and the sudden reminder of this when there was no easy way out made her want to bang on the glass and scream. Instead, she closed her eyes and counted to a hundred. It was only when the train rolled into Embarcadero Station that her breath began to slow, and when the doors opened, she gulped air as if she’d just escaped from jail.

“Linds,” her dad said when they were on the escalator. It was a nickname he used sparingly these days. (In fact, the last time she had remembered him calling her that was when she told him she had been appointed opinion editor of The Patriot. “Atta girl,” he had said. “I'm proud of my Linds.”) “I meant it about the sarcasm. I really need you to rein it in, you’re going to be meeting a bunch of my colleagues. Are you up for it?”

“Am I up for it?” Lindsey said. She turned her head, pretending to think. His condescension didn’t surprise her. Her sister and mother may have had their own little two-person alliance, but that didn’t mean Dad was on her side. He’d always played Switzerland in their family battles, and she’d always been alone and outnumbered. “I’m not gonna swoop in and ruin everything if that’s what you’re asking. I know how much this means to you. I mean, I’ve never met someone who craves recognition more in my entire life. And I’m in high school!”

Her dad recoiled, as if he had been slapped, and her mom put her arm around him and cooed into his ear as they walked briskly toward a coffee kiosk. They whispered together, occasionally turning to survey Lindsey, as if perplexed as to how two well-intentioned people like themselves could have raised such a snake-haired Medusa. When they returned, their reaction was precisely what Lindsey would expect. Her attitude, they said, was appalling. They were ashamed of her. She was grounded and needed to take the BART right back home. Lindsey nodded and said she understood. It was 11:30 a.m., the sun almost reaching its peak, the entire city spread out before her. It was almost too easy.

Once her family was out of sight, she put on her sunglasses and headed toward Powell Street Station to meet up with Derek. She felt almost sorry for the embarrassingly earnest tourists headed for the waterfront: pointing at landmarks, sporting Fisherman’s Wharf T-shirts, stopping in the middle of sidewalks to take photos of unremarkable city streets. She felt it was critically important to never seem too impressed by anything. To do so was to lessen your own stature, whatever semblance of power you had. But her own efforts to be cool and blend seamlessly into the crowd were threatened when she heard Sarah yell her name, and she turned to see her sister’s wobbling breasts bouncing full speed ahead toward her.

“Hey! Are you heading to Occupy?” Sarah said, wiping the sweat off her upper lip as she tried to catch her breath. The Walk sign turned on, and Lindsey pressed forward, arms pumping by her sides. Oh God, was Sarah heading there too? Lindsey kept her gaze focused straight ahead, hoping if she walked fast enough her sister would give up and stay behind. “Don’t worry,” Sarah said. “I’m not gonna tattle. I’m actually heading there too.”

Lindsey stopped abruptly. “What the fuck?” she said. “Mom and Dad are letting you skip the ceremony?”

“I said I wanted to talk to you before you left,” Sarah said.

“Of course,” Lindsey said. She kept her head down, almost stepping on a man scrunched in a pale gray sleeping bag that camouflaged into the sidewalk. “You get to play the concerned, dutiful sister while actually doing what you wanted all along. How classic.”

 “It’s not like that,” Sarah said. “I’m only going to check it out for a few minutes. And I was going to apologize for yesterday, if you’d just let me talk for a second.”

“Go for it,” Lindsey said, even as she walked faster, putting distance between herself and Sarah. The last thing she wanted to do was think about the day before, when she’d wandered through the quad on what she thought was an ordinary lunch break only to see her sister in a plunging V-neck top screaming into a bullhorn about the horrors of animal testing, her goose-pimpled cleavage sending the crowd into a totally different kind of frenzy.

“Look,” Sarah said, “there’s no excuse for what I did, I get that. It’s just…you have your things. The newspaper, cross-country, whatever that after school club thing is that you go to. And this demonstration was my thing, and you kept asking these questions in front of everyone that were, like, designed to poke holes —”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t rely on Wikipedia stats that are riddled with inaccuracies and then slap people when they call you out on it,” Lindsey said.

“Can I ask you something?” Sarah said. She turned to Lindsey as they approached the heart of the Financial District, her eyes glassy, as if moments away from tears. “Have you ever, ever, ever been on my side?”

Lindsey stopped, a lump gathering in her throat. The truth was that there had indeed been a sliver of time, a handful of years in early childhood, when she remembered not despising her sister. But then puberty and the recession happened, and whatever rose-colored memories she’d had dissolved into something muted and gray.

“Oh, give me a break,” Lindsey said. “What do you want me to say? Poor Sarah, you’re a victim, nobody understands you, I’m forever on your side? It’s all a bit boring, don’t you think?” Though Lindsey supposed what was really boring was the past, the sentimental waterworks of the whole thing. Who cared about the past when there was so much going on here, now? Everywhere she turned there was another office building and people who radiated success: men in startup hoodies queuing in line for food trucks, women in pin-striped suits typing into their Blackberries as they clomped down the street in their heels. Lindsey didn’t want to waste another second revisiting the stupid past when she had this, a brief but exhilarating preview of what her future could be, rich and powerful and beholden to no one.

“God,” Sarah said, shaking her head in dismay. “You never miss an opportunity to act like a complete bitch.”

Across the street, Lindsey watched as throngs of people charged out of Powell Street BART station: a cavalcade of musicians with bongo drums and guitars bouncing on Market Street, an army of bleach-blonde punks with septum piercings chanting “We are the 99%,” a mother with bags under her eyes holding hands with a little boy as she held up a sign that said, “The World Has Enough for Everyone’s Need But Not Everyone’s Greed.” The boy’s shoes, gray with orange laces, were scuffed with dirt and full of holes, his left big toe nearly touching the asphalt every time he took a step to keep up with his mother’s strides. And then there was Sarah, furiously texting on her phone, a closed-mouthed, secretive smile forming across her face. “I have to go,” she said.

“Yeah, well, I do too!” Lindsey shouted, though she doubted Sarah even heard. Who the hell was Sarah texting with? How could she go from crying to happy that damn fast, anyway? All around, blank-eyed pedestrians swarmed: protestors carrying posters, co-workers shouting, a woman in an oversized Batman T-shirt pushing a grocery cart shouting, “They’re all fucking assholes,” and Lindsey felt like she’d been swallowed in a rip current, flailing and invisible in broad daylight. And so she fought back, elbowing the masses to reach her sister and then tapping her on the shoulder. Sarah turned around with her eyebrows arched, as if expecting her sister to say something reconciliatory or tender. But Lindsey, looking only at Sarah in her cotton tank top, felt a ripple of vicarious fear. She unzipped her hoodie and handed it to her sister. “Wear this so you look like less of a slut,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey met Derek, as they planned, outside of Powell Street BART station. He was wearing a pink Lacoste shirt and polo shorts, an outfit she suspected his mother had laid out for him, and they hugged with the amicable stiffness of debate partners.

“This is so lame,” he said. His arms were folded, and he grinned smugly as they walked past people moshing to a Rage Against the Machine cover.

“Yup,” Lindsey said. “It’s the worst.” Earlier in the week, Derek had given her a ride home from Cherry Blossom Financial Group, and they made out for the first time, a spirited conversation about Ayn Rand’s theory of Objectivism turning into a slobbery exchange of tongues and cinnamon gum. They’d parked down the street from her apartment complex, which is where she always had him drop her off because she didn’t want him to see the dump where she actually lived. In the three days since, neither of them had acknowledged what had happened, and Lindsey had found her feelings about Derek dramatically oscillating. Sometimes she’d remind herself that he was just another coddled boy who wasn’t as clever as he thought he was, other times she’d think of his full-throated laugh when she said something funny, and she’d turn warm with longing. Why hadn’t he texted? Even if she was ambivalent, she didn’t want him to be, she knew enough to know it was always better to be the one with the edge.

“Murray just texted,” Derek said. “We should head over to Cherry Blossom before all of the crazies encroach.”

“For sure,” Lindsey said, relieved amidst the awkwardness with Derek that there was a tangible update about what to do next. Drivers honked in assumed solidarity as they began to make their way upstream, stopped by a human traffic jam outside a massive steel tower.

“Here lies a site of major corruption,” one of the septum-pierced punks yelled into his bullhorn, as if he were a particularly passionate docent at the Museum of Natural History. “It’s time for the big players to stop ignoring us.”

“Yeah!” the crowd shouted, as a Bob Dylan look-alike played his harmonica, the chants of “We are the 99%” growing louder and louder.

Derek looked down at his phone and his lips upturned into that same closed-mouthed smile that Lindsey had seen on Sarah’s face before she’d threaded her way through the crowd. It was the elusive smile of someone with a secret, their body in one place and their mind in another, and Lindsey grew overcome for the second time that day with the feeling that she was invisible even to those whom she was supposed to know best, a ghost hovering above a crowd, imperceptible in broad daylight.

But when Derek finally looked up, he smiled at her, expressive and engaged, as if he had been paying attention to her all along. “Murray said there’s a secret entrance,” he said, gesturing toward a side street. “What do you say we watch this shit show from up above?”

They had only just stepped into the marble foyer when Murray, in an ill-fitting blue suit, sprang up from a blue couch to greet them. “Jeez, you guys showed up fast,” he said. They shuffled into the elevator and climbed just past the 10th floor, the “R” for Rooftop beckoning like an elusive promise. “Welcome to the party of the century,” he said as the doors opened and they walked out into the light.

Lindsey blinked with disbelief. On her left was a wood-paneled tiki bar with a thatched roof obscured by monstera plants and birds of paradise, people sipping on neon-colored cocktails with umbrellas. On her right were fifty or so employees milling around black-and-white striped couches and firepits that stood dormant at the height of midday. Gray railings surrounded the edges, and when she approached and looked down, she saw a horde of protestors like a gale force wind, gathering momentum a block or so east. Up above, there were stacks of buildings, each taller than the next, the omnipresent Transamerica Pyramid jutting into the sky. She bit her lip so she wouldn’t burst into a smile. Already, this was so much better than the office in which she’d mostly been confined to a cubicle alongside Derek’s, running industry reports under fluorescent lights.

“This is pretty sick,” Derek said, and Lindsey nodded, hugging her goose-pimpled arms. She wished she had held onto the hoodie rather than give it to her sister, who was god-knows-where by that point.

“Mur! Get back to work,” said Trevor, Lindsey and Derek’s internship supervisor. He walked towards them, a glass of champagne in his hand. “Aw, I’m just fucking with you, man,” he said, clapping Murray on the back. “I mean, who could work during a shit show like this?”

“I brought the protégés,” Murray said, gesturing behind him to Lindsey and Derek.

“Ah,” Trevor said, looking pleased. “Well, if it isn’t my direct reports. How’s it going?” he said, smiling at Lindsey.

“Pretty good,” Lindsey said. Even though Trevor was her internship supervisor, he was also an associate at the firm and she rarely saw him: he spent nearly all of his time in boardroom meetings, and her primary communication with him was a two-minute check-in at his doorway once a week that was interrupted 90% of the time. To see him here, now, with his attention actually on her, felt as if she were actually meeting him for the first time. She lingered on the waves in his golden hair, his chiseled jawline, the blue eyes that turned gray against the sky.

“I’m gonna grab us some drinks,” Derek said, nudging Lindsey before turning to Trevor. “That’s cool, right?”

Trevor shrugged. “It’s an open bar and what you choose to do with that information is up to you,” he said, winking, to which Derek returned a thumbs up and excused himself.

“Nice kid,” Trevor said, covering his ears as the sounds of bongo drums and trumpets reverberated through the streets. “How are you liking the internship?” he shouted.

“I love it,” Lindsey shouted in return, and then regretted her use of such a passionate word. “I mean, it’s great,” she said, a bit more quietly. “I am learning so many valuable skills.” This, she told herself, was not so far from the truth. When Derek had told her that CBFG was accepting high school interns and that he could get her in because of Murray’s connections, she had done a double take. Her parents detested this firm, uttering its name in recent years as if it was the devil incarnate. According to them, CBFG was the reason they had lost their Oakland home and had to move to an apartment in Concord. She supposed it was for these reasons that she, too, was supposed to hate CBFG, but she had instead grown fascinated by it, fascinated by how a place that had allegedly done so much damage could march triumphantly forward, as if the muck of its past never happened.

“Trevor, I was hoping to ask you a favor,” Lindsey said, and when Trevor had looked up and given her his undivided attention, her heart fluttered with the fear that she’d somehow screw the request up.  “I know I’ve only been interning here for a month or so, but I was wondering if you’d write me a letter of recommendation. I’m applying to Wharton early decision, and I think it could make me stand out from the pack.”

“The freak show is headed our way, Trev,” Murray said, slapping Trevor on the back as he handed him a tequila shot. “Drink up.”

“Oh, Christ,” Trevor said, and Lindsey stood there, her stomach twisting as he chugged his shot before he proceeded to survey the looming throng of protestors. “Storm’s coming in,” he said. Lindsey, hand trembling, tapped him on the shoulder so as to try and regain whatever morsel of attention he could devote to her. And it seemed to work, because Trevor smiled as if he had just remembered that she was there. “Right,” he said. “You were asking?”

“A recommendation letter,” Lindsey said.

“Oh yeah. Happy to, Linds. You’re smart, you’re going places. In fact, I see a lot of you in myself,” Trevor said, and she smiled, a warmth filling inside her as Derek returned with their champagne flutes. Trevor clicked his glass with theirs. “Cheers,” he said, and Lindsey downed hers, the champagne fizzing in her stomach like a well-kept secret.

“Damn, Lindsey, take it easy,” Derek said, though his voice was overshadowed by the protestors’ chants as they made their way to CBFG.

“This, ladies and gentlemen, might be the worst place of them all!” someone yelled into his bullhorn, the crowd chanting “Booo!” like an army of backup singers.

“Here we have it,” Murray said, gripping the railing before turning again to face Trevor, Derek, and Lindsey, his eyes wide with excitement. “We’re really in it now.”

Trevor shook his head. “God, they’re tedious. You’d think they would get tired of complaining. But people who love to feel like victims never get tired of hearing the sound of their own voice.” Lindsey nodded, and as she looked down at the protestors and listened to their roars of outrage, she was reminded of her mother two years before, pacing back and forth in their  Oakland kitchen with the Employment Development Department’s hold music blasting from the speaker  before finally yelling, “I’ve been on hold for forty fucking minutes.” Lindsey remembered how at the time she had recoiled at the shrillness of her mother’s voice, and then at her sister crying at the end of the hall, probably using the whole episode as fodder for some of her emo poetry. But now, years later, the recollection left her with something different, a lump in her throat.

“I’m with you, Trevor, I’m sick of all of these complainers,” Derek said, joining them at the railing. “And damn, there are a lot of them.” He turned to Lindsey. “You OK?” and he put a hand on her shoulder. “You seem kind of tense.”

“I’m fine,” Lindsey said, though his touch was confusing: meaty and clumsy, a platonic catcher’s mitt that had lingered. Was he flirting with her? Would Trevor think less of her if she flirted with Derek? “I just don’t like heights. Could you grab me another drink? Maybe a beer or something?”

“You got it,” Derek said, winking before he headed to the tiki bar. Lindsey turned away from the railing and sat on a cushion as she rubbed her arms, shivering. The fog had started rolling in, casting everything in an eerie white glow.

“You fucking cowards!” the man down below with his bullhorn continued. “Celebrating up there, like human suffering is some kind of party. Got anything to say for yourselves?” But it  wasn’t really a question, the way he said it, and when Lindsey thought again of that damn morning in the kitchen in Oakland, she looked down at the ground, confused by the tears welling up in her eyes. She wiped the back of her hand against her face, determined, if anyone asked, to chalk it up to her allergies.

“Thank God,” she said when Derek returned with a beer, greedily pressing it to her lips. She watched Trevor, who had been in an extended conversation with an older gentleman, excuse himself and square his shoulders as he approached the railing to address the crowd. “You want us to say something,” he boomed. “We’ll say something,” he said, turning to look around at all of the employees gathered around, twenty or thirty at least, whispering amongst themselves. “We love money!”

A stunned silence rippled across the crowd and across the rooftop, and Lindsey herself drew a sharp intake of breath. It was thrilling, like the rickety ascent of a roller coaster, the moment of suspended quiet before something momentous happens. Had he really just said that?

“Whoa, he went for it,” Derek said, but he had the hiccups from his beer, so it sounded like a frog’s croak.

“Maybe you should chill with the drinking,” Lindsey said, though she took another sip of beer herself. She wasn’t surprised when he ignored her, barreling toward the railing and shouting “That’s right!” as he put a hand on Trevor’s shoulder, his shaky voice billowing out over the crowd. “We love money!” This in turn inspired five others to approach the railing and continue the chant, and then five more, until at least twenty of them were shouting it, their voices cresting into one massive wave.

“There’s a special place for you in hell!” the man with the bullhorn bellowed in return, and the voices down below roared even louder.

That was when Trevor put his arm on Lindsey’s shoulder and signaled to her to follow him away from the crowd. She nodded, ignoring Derek’s inquisitive gaze as she walked with Trevor in the direction of the couches and the tiki bar. “So much drama, huh?” he said. “I’m going to teach you about the best way to deal with trolls when all else fails.”

“OK,” she said, lightheaded from the feeling of his warm hand on her shoulder — she marveled at the hairs on his knuckles, blond like the top of his head — as they approached the tiki bar. He nodded to a server, who returned with a green tote bag. Trevor slid the strap over his shoulder and Lindsey saw what was inside: bruised bananas and shriveled apples, eggs giving off a sulfuric stench as they wobbled in their styrofoam carton. “Watch and learn,” Trevor told her, with a wink, as he made his way back through the crowd of employees and towards the railing.

“Hey, numbnuts!” Trevor shouted with his megaphone. He dug into the tote bag and grabbed a banana, rotating his shoulder as he tilted his arm back, the veins in his forehead protruding in furrowed concentration as he released the speckled fruit, and it flipped through the air. “That’s what you get for mouthing off!” he shouted, the bananas splatting all over the ground. He reached back into the tote to grab an egg, and Lindsey, looking away, gagged as Trevor threw that too, watching as it cracked right in the hair of the man with the bullhorn.

 “I don’t fucking believe this!” the man yelled, running his hands through cobwebs of runny yolk, and there was a murmuring in the crowd that was quickly escalating to shock. Lindsey herself was so preoccupied with the spectacle of it all that it took her a minute before she recognized Sarah’s voice shouting, “You greedy motherfuckers!” as she pushed her way to the front of the crowd, grabbing the man’s bullhorn. “You think some fruit and eggs will scare us?” She was still wearing Lindsey’s hoodie, but it remained unzipped, of course, never missing an opportunity to showcase her gigantic tits. “You’re bullies,” Sarah continued, “and you’re not going to win!”

The crowd roared in assent as Derek grimaced. “Damn,” he said, turning to Lindsey. “That girl looks familiar. Does she go to our school? She’s kind of cute. But what an idiot.”

“The cutest ones always are,” Trevor said. “Right, Linds?”

Lindsey laughed, but it came out more like a gasp, as though whatever fragile dumbwaiter her self-worth had been resting upon had plummeted.

“Give me that,” Lindsey said, seizing the tote bag from Trevor. She gagged as she grabbed an egg, cold and hard in her hand, and threw it directly into the valley of her sister’s cleavage, where it exploded into a runny mess. At the sound of her sister’s scream, the lump in Lindsey’s throat hardened. Had Sarah seen her? She considered the possibility, but in the adrenaline rush of the moment, she didn’t care. She grabbed handfuls of apples and bananas and systematically began throwing them down below in every which direction, reveling in the quick multiplication of the mess. “Damn!” Trevor said, sounding awestruck, Derek and Murray nodding in assent. “Lindsey’s fierce!”

“Well, are you just going to stand there?” Lindsey said, and they all dug into the bag alongside Lindsey and hurled produce on the ground as the protestors down below jumped from side to side and squatted and tumbled to avoid the rotten cores, the squashed bananas, the cracked shells and oozing yolks.

“You’re gonna pay!” someone shouted from below, and Lindsey looked again for her sister, but she was gone, obscured in a crowd of people charging up CBFG’s marble steps.

“Oh, shit,” Murray said, gawking at the assembly line of police officers that had formed a collective shield at the front entrance.

“Stand back,” the officers repeated in unison, each with a bullhorn of their own. “I repeat, stand back.”

“We’ll stand back when those scumbags are held accountable!” the man from earlier yelled in return, clumps of yolk still in his hair, and Lindsey watched as he and several others proceeded to rush up the steps by diving between the officers’ legs.

“Second warning to stand back!” an officer yelled.

Lindsey watched an officer grab a crawling protester by the back of his ankles. Where was her sister? “I’m gonna go sit down,” Lindsey said, growing lightheaded.

“You can’t sit down now,” Derek said, nudging Lindsey, his eyes wide with excitement. “This is the best part of the show!”

“Give us one good reason why we should stand back! You’re just as bad as they are!” shouted a voice that was unmistakably Sarah’s, her unwavering, clearheaded rage rising above the rest as Lindsey saw her emerge from obscurity and face the officers. Turn around, Lindsey longed to shout, the fear in her rising again. Get away from there. Zip up the goddamned hoodie! But she bit her lip. The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth as the cops blasted the air with tear gas, Sarah and hordes of others disappearing into a cloud.

“Oof,” Trevor said.

“Yeah, I’ll say,” Derek said, and he started to ask Lindsey something, but his voice sounded garbled, her throat was filling up with bile, and she’d barely begun to elbow past the crowd when she heaved and vomited all over the tile floor.

“I’m sorry,” she said, acidity burning in her throat before she got down on all fours, dry heaving on the ground. Her hand trembled as she wiped away strings of hair from her mouth. When she looked up, she saw that the crowd had backed away, though Trevor, still nearby, was wrinkling his nose, frowning at the sickly green chunks splattered across his shoes. She fished in her purse for anything she could find to clean up his shoes. “I must’ve had a strong reaction to the tear gas. Here, let me fix it,” she said as she knelt on the floor by Trevor’s feet, a wadded-up paper napkin in her hand.

“Just stop,” Trevor said, but still Lindsey insisted, repeatedly dabbing and proclaiming she could make things better. When he looked down at her again, he scowled. “Lindsey, I’m serious. Stop. You’re only making things worse.”

Around thirty minutes later, after Lindsey and Derek had taken the elevator down and made their way back onto Market Street, Lindsey hung back a few steps and looked for her sister. She looked for her in the conga line of stomping feet, and in a medic tent, and among those lying on the marble steps and hugging their knees, praying for relief from the peppery burning in their eyes, but she was nowhere to be seen. She tried sending Sarah a text, but sometime during all of the commotion, Lindsey’s phone had died.

She followed Derek across Market Street, where the traffic began to dissipate, order and civilization returning to a Thursday afternoon. All the while, she kept looking for Sarah, even after they’d paid the parking fee and settled into Derek’s mother’s BMW, the scene behind them like the stubborn remnants of a bad dream.

“What do you keep looking for?” Derek said when he started the car.

“Nothing,” Lindsey muttered, rummaging through Derek’s central console. “Do you have a charger? My phone’s dead.”

“I forgot it,” he said.

“Well, can I borrow your phone? My parents are going to kill me.”

“My phone’s dead, too,” Derek said. “Just chill, OK? You’ll just have to wait till you get home before you send whatever embarrassing thing to Trevor you were going to send.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I see the way you look at him,” Derek said, shaking his head as he merged onto the I-80 East.

“Look, Derek —”

“Just be quiet,” Derek said. “Murray went out on a limb to get us these internships, it was the one thing in my life that I liked, and you literally just barfed all over it.”

Lindsey leaned against the window, her head heavy as they headed east. She looked out at the redwood trees and the pastel-colored houses. If she squinted, she thought she could see her family’s old place in the Oakland hills, the pink house with the white shutters on a hilly street just east of College Avenue, the geranium rippling across the hillsides like purple exclamation points. She could close her eyes and remember the early 2000s, the days on the deck that were cool and crisp and peaceful. Days that her mother spent sketching furniture designs and her father jotting down article ideas and she and Sarah, still little girls who spent their days barefoot and wearing billowy Disney princess dresses, chased each other around the grass. It was in this way, overlooking the Bay, that entire days in her childhood could pass, sailboats bobbing along placid waters in the mornings, the Oakland light dueling with the San Francisco fog in the afternoons, and the Bay Bridge announcing itself at dusk, burning neon under pencil-gray skies.

But then she blinked, and it was gone, the movie screen of her memories replaced with Derek’s tapping thumbs against the steering wheel, the endless dotted yellow lines along the interstate, the gray asphalt of a freeway offramp. There were the gas stations of Concord, the sandwich shops and shipping and packaging stores and endless rotation of green and red and yellow lights. And when Derek finally pulled onto her street, outside the building where he thought she lived, she figured now was as good a time as any to tell him the truth.

“I’m actually that one,” she said, pointing to the three-story cinder block building with a patch of parched grass a few complexes past.

“Oof,” Derek said, pulling up outside. “Since when?”

“Since all along,” Lindsey said. Derek looked down, a sour smile spreading across his face. “Just say it,” she said. “I know it’s a dump. Just like I know your mom dresses you for school every day,” she said, reaching over her seat for his phone, face down on his lap, “and that you definitely still have plenty of battery. All I wanted was to call my goddamn family and tell them I’m OK.”

“Oh, that’s classic,” Derek said. “Pretending to be a nice girl only when it suits you, how typical.”

“Screw you,” she said, flipping him off as he drove away. The elevator in her building was still broken, so she hopped across the parched grass and walked up the three flights of stairs. Her parents had insisted this place would be temporary, a place for them to catch their breath and lock down new gigs, to save up the money for somewhere better. But they’d now occupied their unit for more than two years. And maybe it was the way the late afternoon light slanted across her face as she rounded the second floor that Lindsey realized that this would be the last place she ever lived with all of them before she graduated and moved out, before she took the next step to become whatever it was that she was supposed to become.

She took out her keys and opened the apartment door, expecting a full-on interrogation from her parents, her punishment read out with the solemnity of a jail sentence. But when she unlocked the door, she found the place was empty, the blanket on the couch rumpled in exactly the same place where she’d last left it.

“Hello?” Lindsey said, but she heard nothing but the ticking of a grandfather clock against the dark gray walls. The place was freezing. “Is anyone here?” She walked into the bedroom she shared with Sarah, which was also empty, her folded sheets in sharp contrast to the heaps of pillows and blankets on Sarah’s side. She charged her phone, and while she waited for it to sputter to life, she threw on her UPenn sweatshirt. But she couldn’t stop shivering.

About the Author

Jacqueline Berkman

Jacqueline Berkman is a fiction writer and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and earned an MFA from Lesley University. The short film “Panofsky’s Complaint” based on her short story “Picking Locks” was screened at the Cannes Short Film Corner, the Brooklyn Short Film Festival, and LA Shorts Fest. Her short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Coachella Review, The Write Launch, Waccamaw, and The Writing Disorder, among other publications.

Read more work by Jacqueline Berkman .

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