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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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“Force & Victory!” – You will be Warned

“Force and Victory!” someone calls, and Christian starts awake. “End of the line, y’all,” whoever it is, the driver, at the front of the bus. “Ollie ollie oxen free!”

He’s on a bus. Sat on a slatted wooden bench toward the front of it, passengers filing past and off, ducking their way out the front door, men and here and there an occasional woman in coveralls, lunch pails in hand, jackets slung from shoulders, hard hats still on a couple of heads, a man in a brown suit and a bow tie, shifting from one foot to another as he waits for the press to pass, a gaggle of kids in dungarees and sneakers, swaying poodle skirts, subdued perhaps the lot of them but clearly amused by some entirely private joke. Christian, smiling, frowning, shifts on the bench to look out the sunstruck window spotted with old rain. “Puertas a mi izquierda,” he mutters, watching them make their way along the sidewalk, waving, laughing, calling out, trudging stoop-shouldered away, tipping back a head to smile at the still-high sun so bright, and in her arms a broad round footed platter, a cakestand, all of milky green glass.

Christian leaps to his feet almost to collide with an older woman veiled in black and hatted, clutching the arm of an even older man, his loosely double-breasted suit and tie of black. “Sorry,” says Christian, hung back with a grimace, following after as they shuffle together to the front of the bus. Nodding to the driver as the couple works their way down the steps, the driver’s uniform and cap of navy stripes on periwinkle, and the badge at his breast says Portland Traction Co. His dark-jowled face unaccountably amused. “Interesting sweater you got there,” he says.

“What?” says Christian, and then, “It’s a hoodie.”

“Hoodie. Sounds like hoodlum, but I bet that’s why you kids like it.” The doorway cleared, Christian leaps down the steps, “Get on home!” the driver calls. Levers the doors shut. The sigh of releasing brakes, snort of the engine, the drably olive bus pulls away. Slipped through the milling crowd he turns about. A big band’s strutting somewhere, led by a scratchy chorus of horns from the big wooden speaker mounted on a corner of a couple of rambling storeys, Vanport City Shopping Center, chrome letters in a cursive sleekishly austere. Across the way a flat-roofed building, United States Post Office, the sternly sans-serif letters across the front, Vanport, Ore. A flagpole high before it, and canted on the grassy curb a small round sign, Jay-Walking is a Grave Mistake. Another flagpole there before another ramble of a building, Administration, say the sternly letters by the glass front doors, and a slip of red’s been pasted to the one of them. The only cars are parked, extravagantly streamlined, small windows, narrow wheels. The crowd from the bus almost entirely dispersed along side streets, footpaths, an aproned woman, box on her hip, left chatting with a suited woman in a skirt, a few of those kids share a furtive cigarette, and that song still chugs from the speaker, you’d turn your back on a star, your heart is fixed, and you’re against, the state of things as they are. No one to be seen that carries a cakestand.

“Okay,” mutters Christian. “Now what.”

Past the city offices the street curves along a slender stretch of water neatly edged by trim low trees and shrubbery to the right, and two storey houses lining the left, each of a length, each with three wrought-iron porticos spaced along the front to shelter two front doors side-by-side, and clusters of windows above and around, and each with the same low-hipped roofs, and the siding and the trim of each the same warm yellowing browns and creams. Curtains here and there, lace-trimmed, tied back, or roman shades, venetian blinds, or stark bare light-struck glass are all that differentiate this apartment from that, or the blue tin wagon left by the one front step there, a nosegay wound among wrought-iron curls, but each and every one of those front doors has something red, a sheet of paper, pinned to it, or beside it, hung limply in the still and quiet air.

A distant peal of laughter, someone far-off calling. The street about him empty. No one to be seen, moving through a doorway, past a window. No cars at all, no busses, trucks. The slender water glassily flat.

Off the dusty street, over the grassy curb, a foot on the step lifting up to the narrow portico. Red paper flyers, pasted to the sidelight of the one door, pinned to the lower panel of the other, simply printed in big block letters:

REMEMBER
DIKES ARE SAFE AT PRESENT
YOU WILL BE WARNED IF NECESSARY
YOU WILL HAVE TIME TO LEAVE
DONT GET EXCITED

The paper flutters. Christian steps back and back again, out into the street. The air’s changing, rising to a sound, the rush and wash of tossing leaves, though the greenery about him’s unruffled, becoming a rumble. Around the curve of the street here comes a pickup truck all bulbous fenders and slanted, bifurcated windscreen, the wood-paneled rear of it slewing about so slowly toward him as it rides a bubbling slurry of Christian’s running, running, “Jesus!” gasping as his foot hits water, a puddle spread before him rising a-tremble with the swelling sound, waves skirl and spilling slosh before him ankle-deep, now stumbling shins arms wide his pell-mell slowed to frantic, kicking strides, the water climbing his legs now sucking at his knees as that pickup backward floats on by, fenders swallowed in froth. The first time he falls he manages to work his drenched way back to his feet. The next swell topples him, and when his head finds air his feet churn groundlessly beneath him. An enormous groan off that way, a mighty crack, “Oh, God!” arms flapping uselessly about, pop of glass a screaming wrench a splintering fusillade of snaps, “Oh, shit,” water spinning him along, tossed and turned about to just catch sight of the first of those houses, curtains trailed in humped and bubbling rolls of white-grey water sloshing over sills of ground-floor windows, blundering through doorways beneath those porticos slowly turning, the whole long face of it swinging away from him, a building entire, shoved from its footing, stately to float away. And there, another, and another, jagged spars and broken wood at the corners shockingly bright against staidly colors of trim and siding, there’s one foundered broadside on the spindly legs of a water tower too frail, it seems, to bear up under the brunt and yet, and yet

Christian’s hand finds a branch, seizing, pulling, both hands braced against the rush of water choking on the filthy spume his leg now crooked about an unseen trunk, breathing when he can as he holds, he holds, until sometime later he doesn’t have to hold on quite so tightly, until sometime later his sodden clothing no longer floats but drags at him plastered against him shivering, relaxing, half-falling from his perch to find the muddy ground not even a foot below. All about the gentle patter of dripping trees, the particular crackle and lick of water seeping into earth.

An old road paved some time ago, trees grown up where none had been, and not a splinter or shard, not a crumble of brick or rusted curl of iron, no pickup truck, no water tower somehow lofted high. A slender stretch of water glimpsed through the trees, mikily brown, and there on the raggedly overgrown bank of it, he blinks, one last lone bit of flotsam, tipped heavily back against the mud a statue of stone, perhaps, or molded concrete, an eagle’s head much too large for an eagle, blank-eyed, starkly beaked, the rounded shoulders of its folded mighty wings.

Squelching he heads down the road toward the bend, blocked by a stretch of cyclone fence. A sign’s hung high, Heron Lakes Golf Course, it says, and an arrow points right, North Gate Entrance. Beyond, hillocks and hummocks cloaked in shaved green grass roll away with politely shady copses. Christian dripping wipes mud from his forehead, plap, fingers curled through the links of the fence. Faint laughter, thirty-three, can you believe it? Two men in brightly shirts, lemon yellow, salmon-belly orange, crest a not too-distant ridge, chatting companionably until one of them stoops to press a tee into serenely evened grass, and carefully sets a small white ball atop it.


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You’re Just an Old Antidisestablishmentarianismist,” written by Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, copyright holder unknown.