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the Jingle of the Bell

The jingle of the bell over the door, and the whole crowd filling that front room turns, green work shirts and blue, brown coveralls, uniforms in black and taupe and white, breast-pocket insignia and badges and nameplates, here and there a plain white T-shirt, or dark blue, and styrofoam cups in every hand, and they’re staring at him in his grimy sweatshirt, the hood of it up, his hands in the pockets of it, the door propped open against his shoulder, and the street behind him filling with morning light.

“Come in if you’re coming,” says Gordon, stood behind the counter laden with almost-empty donut boxes and a couple of platters and a box of coffee. Christian steps inside, the door closing behind him, and shakes off his hood. “You already got the window fixed,” he says.

“You here to kick another hole in it?” And then, “Hold up, hold up,” as a muttering murmuring unrest sweeps through them, “let him be, let him be.”

Christian looks warily about them all, shifting and looking away from him, a sip here, a cough there, and then a woman in blue coveralls, her hair under a kerchief, lays a hand on the arm of the man beside her and steps back, gently urging him back with her, and across from her a burly little man in a boilersuit steps back, and yanks the elbow of the much taller man beside him, until an aisle is cleared through that small front room, and chest swelling with one great breath and both hands still in his pockets Christian steps along it up to the counter, and then with some effort tugs from the pockets a shoe that he sets down by a platter still holding a handful of pinwheel sandwiches. It’s a simple, well-made shoe, of shining oxblood leather, closed with a single monk strap.

“What’s that,” says Gordon.

“I figure,” says Christian, “you got a shoe shop.”

“Where’d you get it,” says Gordon.

“On the MAX. It was just, right there, on the seat. And I knew it, I figured, I better pick it up and, keep it.”

“Train,” says someone behind him, and “A road,” says someone else, and “What time was it?” and “Train station,” says somebody, “more like a crossroads,” and “What time of day?” says the tall man, again, looming over Christian’s shoulder.

“Dawn,” says Christian. “First train of the day. Well? This mean anything?” And then, looking about, “I got bad people coming after me. You know what I mean. So what does this do? What does it get?”

Gordon steps heavily back around the worktable mounded with shoes, back toward the beaded curtain there, and the wall lined with shelves, partitioned into cubbies, stuffed here and there with mismatched pairs of shoes. Runs his hand down a column, works a pair free, comes stumping back up to the counter. Sets them down: a wedge-heeled leather pump the color of a decent-enough cognac, and a shining oxblood monk-strap.

“That’s it?” says Christian, as Gordon lifts the pump away, tosses it to the pile behind him. “The other shoe? Man, they don’t even fit!”

“Welcome to Portland,” says Gordon, gruffly, and Christian starts back, “Fuck you,” he snarls, and then leaning in again, a fist on the counter, “welcome to Portland, I been living here most of my damn life!”

A snort then, behind him, a chuckle, a titter, a chortling guffaw, an outright hoot, all of them now, shaking heads, a stomp of a foot, slap at a knee, laughing, laughing at him.

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