Zelda had a scam she'd run sometimes where she'd have Link push her into traffic, out in front of a moving car. This wasn't something she could do on her own -- she needed Link for that last loose force she couldn't control, wouldn't have to will. If they timed it right, the driver would slam on his brakes just a little too late and she'd hit the hood and sometimes she'd roll up onto the windshield and be flung off when the car stopped. She'd be wearing a fake belly under her dress and she'd cry and tell the driver she was pregnant and she couldn't feel the baby. Link would run in like the concerned father, his green tunic all sweat-soaked and shaking. And together they'd con the driver into handing over whatever he had in his pocket. Sometimes cab fare to get to the hospital or to get home. Sometimes, if it was a fancy car and if Link could sell it, they'd get the driver thinking they were going to call one of those slip-and-fall guys from the TV and he better pay up before it becomes a whole thing.
It was never very much money and there were only so many times they could get away with it in any one city. So they moved around a lot, hitchhiking wherever trucks would take them. New York and Philadelphia and DC. Winters, they'd try to get to the coast and get south because Zelda liked the sun and the ocean, liked to sit out on the beach while Link would busk. Sword tricks on the boardwalks for whatever bits of change he could get people to drop. Sometimes he'd play his ocarina.
For a while Zelda had a thing where she wanted to be an actress and so Link bought them bus tickets for as far west as they could afford, which wasn't far, and they hitched the rest of the way. Except LA wasn't how the movies made it look and Zelda got bored fast. "I just don't feel like playing their game anymore," she said one morning after another failed audition. They were sitting under the pier eating funnel cakes Link had bought with money he'd lifted out of a wallet some surfer left on the beach, lazy waves lapping up over their feet. "Z: It's warm all year here. We can stay here and be comfortable."
She didn't smile, didn't even look at him. "There's something more for us. Just not here." This was a thing Zelda would say a lot, that there was something better beyond wherever they were. Like there was some castle she could see in the distance that she thought she and Link could reach, somewhere they belonged. But the castle kept moving, shifting, and however hard or fast they moved toward it, it never came closer, always stood just over the horizon, just out of focus.
They spent the rest of that Spring headed back east and, by Link's compass, north. He didn't tell her but he'd read about Detroit and was inching them there. A city of abandoned buildings where anyone could make a home out of nothing. Sometimes when he'd get sad that's all he could imagine they'd ever have: nothing. Other times, usually late at night or when they hadn't eaten in a few days and were feeling lightheaded, Zelda would lay down next to him, lay her head on his chest, grab his hand: those times, it seemed they had all they'd ever need.
Zelda's scam didn't work well in Detroit. There weren't many fancy cars not worn over with rust and whenever they'd try to run it, most of the time the driver'd just shrug his shoulders, get back into his car, and drive off. Sometimes the driver would offer to take her to the hospital or to his home, to his family. His wife was a nurse, maybe, or maybe he had some extra food or could put Link and Zelda up for a night, just to make sure their fake baby was okay.
But Link had found them a place to sleep, a house at the edge of the city, its insides carved out, its outsides still standing just fine. They spread out their packs and made a bed. Zelda hung a painting she'd made as a kid. And they took in the wild dog they found one morning digging through the weeds out back. Link figured there wasn't any trash for him to eat, that there has to be something worth something and then something left over before there could even be trash. They fed him when they could. And when it started to get cold and ice started freezing up through the floorboards, they'd spend nights pulled into each other with the dog between them or on top of them or at their feet.
There was that night it snowed like it'd never stop.
And it was sometime after that first snow that Zelda flinched. They were downtown at the corner of Woodward and Gratiot and Link put his hands on the small of her back and went to push her forward like always except this time she pressed back against him. He didn't get the idea at first and tried again, pushed her harder so she couldn't resist and she stumbled headlong into the path of a Buick that hit a patch of ice and came in heavier than she was used to, heavier than she was expecting.
They spent that night in the hospital with the guy from the Buick. His wife came down later and brought them soup and sandwiches and rolls. Link held some back, put a roll in the pocket of his tunic to take to the dog if the dog was still there whenever it was they got home. Zelda went in for surgery around ten and Link found a quiet spot in the hallway to wait, stood there all night staring at the wall, memorizing the map posted on it, the rooms and paths of the hospital, all the different ways in and out.
Born and raised in the square-mile suburbs of Detroit, Matthew Fogarty currently lives and writes in Columbia, where he is fiction editor of Yemassee. He also edits Cartagena, a literary journal. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Passages North, PANK, 14 Hills, Smokelong Quarterly, and Midwestern Gothic. He can be found at http://www.matthewfogarty.com.