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The water                                                   

the water brown and oily sunlight-frothed, sluiced into the bucket by a current slow and strong. Twang of the rope as she pulls it hand over hand up through the pulley, wobbling, sloshing, white plastic striated with hard use. Wrapping the rope about one hand, letting go with the other, leaning out over the drop to grasp the bucket’s handle, balancing rope, pulley, bucket, herself, she shifts, hauls, releases a screech of the pulley the bucket slopping in through the window.

Leaned against the weight of it she makes her way past a wall of silent grandfather clocks out into a broad dim showroom broken up in niches and nooks by arrangements of furniture, settees and love seats, end tables, coffee tables, rugs laid showily atop the dull grey carpet, a phalanx of loungers, a couple chaises longues. Her red shoes, black jeans, dark hoodie. A row of freestanding fireplaces, red brick and white and yellow and grey stone, white tile, smoked glass, gleaming chrome, but every hearth is cold. At the end a wide white plaster mantel, elaborately molded, and four or five mounds of blankets and pillows laid out before it.

Long windows at the front of the showroom glazed with sunlight, and another line of fireplaces there, faced out toward the empty street. She sets the bucket down before a pot-bellied stove at the end, with a ramshackle sheet-metal chimney run up and back to a hole punched in the wall. Dry wood stacked beside it, split and neatly trimmed. Protecting her hand with the cuff of her hoodie she levers the door open, eyes the glowing embers, stuffs in a log, and another.

The water in the bucket brown, but slicked with hints of rainbow.

On the mantel off to one side a tall stainless steel pot, a couple of skillets, a plate of something, draped in crinkled plastic wrap, a misshapen loaf of stuff the color of old ice that quivers as she digs her fingers into it, scooping off a goodly corner, rolling it into a fatty ball with her fingertips. Holds it over the bucket, lets it drop. It floats a moment before with a sizzling plop it sinks, scarring the muddy water with white bubbles. She leans back against the mantel, stretches out her arms, grimacing, shaking out her hands. The bucket gurgles, spits up more bubbles that pop with a smokey haze. The stove sighs, the chimney tocks, once. An ethereally slender man shuffles up, quilt about his narrow shoulders, blinking behind thick spectacles. “Bout done?” he says, looking over the bucket.

“Give it a minute,” she says.

A girl approaches, long dark hair and a cropped white tank, “Where’s the coffee?” she moans.

“In the jar,” she says, snagging a tin cup from among the pots and pans.

“You ain’t even made it yet?” says the girl, rolling her eyes. “Water’s not done,” says the slender man. The girl stalks off. She scoops a cupful up from the bucket, sips, then gulps it down, clear water trickling from the corner of her mouth. “It’s done,” she says, dropping the cup.

“You want some coffee?” he says, as she steps away.

“Can’t stand instant,” she says.

“But it’s all that’s left,” he says, gaze mournfully rounded by those spectacles.

Brown water sucks at the pole as he shoves the raft along. Greenery draping the banks of the gulch to either side, buildings stood up beyond, the blankly grey warehouse looming behind them, red letters unlit say Gordon’s Fireplace Shop. His loose white shirt, his cargo shorts, his spectacles blanked in the light. She’s up toward the front, dark hoodie, black jeans, by someone bundled in blankets, stringy iron-colored hair spread thinly from the scalp, and a bald man, brown-shouldered, pin-striped vest and trousers. The girl laid on her belly on a towel in the middle of the raft, and rainbow-colored ponies cavort across her underwear. She’s writing something in a fat little journal with a silver pen.

The water broadens as the gulch bends to the right, and an onramp lifts ponderously from the middle of it, pavement cracked and yellow grass sprung up. He pushes along from bent to bent until the ramp is high enough to slip beneath, out of the sun, and as the shadow falls the girl on the towel rolls over, looks back to him and his pole with a glare that unfolds in a wide-eyed smiling gasp. “Fairies!” she cries, pointing.

A dozen maybe, clustered about each other against the underside of the ramp, black bodies formless, clickery scratch of claws, humming of unseen wings as one and then another drops, snaps to, zigs and zags. He plants the pole, dragging the raft to a sloshing slowing stop, and the man in the vest gets to his feet, and she does, too, the both of them eyeing the buzzing, whirring mass. Something’s glistening in the middle of them all, a grey wet shimmer, “Think it’s a big one,” says the man in the vest. The girl laughs. “Look!” she cries. “Look!”

One of them hovers before her, bobbing as one of its waspish bodies curls under itself, jerking as wings strain to take up the slack, the one body grasping toward its opposite, legs extending up and down to meet with knitting clicks. “Oh, look,” says the girl. Something growing glistens there, too grey to shine in sunlight bounced off smooth brown water. The stuff’s flicked up to hang a moment as it unfolds itself, wheeling away as that ball drops neatly to her upheld hands, a greasy plop that quivers as she clutches it carefully to herself. “Wow,” she says.

The chainsaw rattle, the two-stroke growl, the rest of them kick off the underside flipping and falling in swarming whirling streams out into the sunlight up and gone. The stuff they’ve left behind distends, an egg, a teardrop stretching threads of itself still clinging to concrete, “Watch it” and “Don’t bump” and “Whoop!” as it drops thump to the middle of the raft, “Whoa” and “Got it!” and “Wait a minute, wait” as wavelets disturb the brown placidity about them, slopping over the boards of the raft to soak their feet, the blankets, the towel, “My journal!” cries to girl, but she holds it out to her, and the pen, rescued from the water. The girl beams, clutching them to her chest with her sloppy handful of stuff.

“This is plenty,” says the man in the vest, hunkered over the splattered bolus.

“So let’s go back,” says the girl, pressing her handful into it, arms streaked luminous grey.

“It’s too much,” says the hatless bundle hunched at the front of the raft.

“We said we’d all go,” says the man with the spectacles.

She says, “I want some damn strawberries.”

“And fish,” says the hatless bundled. “But it must be kept safe.”

“From what?” says the man in the vest with a snort, and “We can just cover it with the towel,” says the man with the spectacles.

“They’ll know. They’ll all know.”

She says, “So somebody takes it. We’ll just find more.”

“This is enough for days!” cries the girl. “We can just, go back, fuck off, who cares? Strawberries.” Stepping to the edge of the raft. “I mean,” she says, “I could fucking swim back – ”

“Lauren,” booms the hatless bundle. “You are not to dip one toe in that foul brew.”

“Yessul,” mutters the girl, skipping down the line of grandfather clocks, bare feet silent on the carpet, “check it from the inside,” she sings to herself, past the nooks and niches, “step up to play,” past the fireplaces dark and cold, “come on strong, hold on tight,” up to the front of the showroom where someone sits before those sunfilled windows, dark hoodie, black jeans, she patters up all in a rush, “that boy’s gonna make you scream tonight! Hey,” she hunkers in her cartooned underwear, “something I wanted to ask you.” Reaching for that hoodie. “What do you have on your – ”

“Don’t,” she says, knocking the hand aside.

“Okay,” says the girl, sitting back. Swinging her skinny legs around, wriggling bare feet filthy, catching them in her hands as she leans forward, “I used to have a pair of red shoes.”

“Did you,” she says, gripping the rough-hewn paddle, ragged red Chucks braced against the gunwales. Her broad straw hat, the broken stem jutting from her breast. Watchband gleaming about her fingers. To her left the dull pink tower rising, and the tether climbing higher, but to her right the river opens, stretched off in a side-channel, a steeply green-walled gulch, gated by a tangle of freeway overpasses and bridges risen and fallen from the dull brown endless water. They drift into her wake as she paddles past, even as that tower seems to stay fixed, turning only slightly, to follow her.

Twist the berry thumb and forefinger pinch the stem, pluck, a tiny thing in her palm, bright red peppered with black, a fade of pinkish green about the cap of it, but she’s swung her hand over the plastic bucket by her knee, maybe a third full already, she’s let it drop, her other hand already reaching for the next berry, the next plant. Lined across a gentle slope long low-mounded rows of low and dusty plants, and narrow dusty paths between each row, and just ahead a knee-high concrete wall. As she plucks the last berry from the last plant before it she hoists the bucket up to balance on its crumbling top, then sits herself beside it, swings her red-shoed feet over. The dusty ground beyond’s a foot or two lower, but lined with more rows of dusty red-dotted plants. In the shadows to the right there, neat piles of old brick, an even stack of whitely desiccated lumber, ruthless coils of wire, what’s left of the house the wall once supported. A couple people ahead, crouching, kneeling, making their way along their rows, reaching, plucking, filling buckets and boxes, a half dozen more, seven, eight, to either side of this foundation, through a similar space beside it where another house had been, now filled with strawberries. These fields bordered above and below by the broken pavements of empty streets yellowed with dust and old mud. Another block below of houses razed and dry soil tilled and low plants mounded in long interrupted rows, and yellow grass beyond, and then trees black and green below, falling away to the valley floor, houses down there and buildings, and brown water pooled in dendritic fronds along low streets. Far off away on the horizon an abruptly upthrust tooth of treeless grey-brown stone, a single mountain, utterly bereft of snow. She heads on down her row through the former crawlspace, turning leaves with care, plucking berries darkly red, leaving behind the pale ones white and greenly pink. Those ahead already climbing up and over the foundation wall, leaving her behind.

The man in the pin-striped vest steps heavily down the slope, one arm up to steady the laden flats balanced on his shoulder, his other slung low by the weight of a full bucket, a red bandana tied about his bald head. “Fujiwara-nota!” he calls, to the small crowd gathered by the rickety wagon at the bottom of the field, couple-three women in print dresses, a blouse, some broad-brimmed bonnets, the slender man in his cargo shorts and his loose white shirt, the girl’s there, too, sat tailor-fashion by the bundle of blankets, writing in her journal. The older guy who turned at the cry peers up, skin crinkled about his eyes. His brown jeans shiny with old grime, a yellow kerchief about his neck, black fedora tipped back on his head. “Arrie gato, gozeye mas!” calls the man in the vest, “Fujiwara-nota!” and the older guy rocks back with laughter. “Not bad!” he booms. “You’ll soon sound like a Yonsei!”

The man in the vest sets his bucket down by others clustered there, and then the flats he’s carried. She’s coming down after him, buckets heavy in either hand. “Want us to go back out?” he says, straightening, thumbing a trickle of sweat from his brow, but “Nah, no,” the older guy’s saying, “we already got more than we could ever eat. Somebody’s got to learn to make strawberry wine, eh, Baba?” The woman in the blouse waves a dismissive hand. “Brandy even,” says the older guy, taking one of the buckets from her hands. “That’ll use some up. Come on, Jonny Pulliam’s gonna be here by nightfall, and a metric buttload of seriously fat fish. Let’s get these berries loaded, run ’em down to the compound, and then do nothing at all except maybe keep an eye on the grill till he shows.”

She stumps over to sprawl on the curb by the girl and the bundle of blankets as they start heaving up buckets and flats onto the wagon. “Hey,” she says, pulling a wadded handkerchief from her hoodie. “Lauren.” The girl ends a sentence with a flourish and looks up, scowling, capping her pen. She’s unwrapped the handkerchief to reveal a half-dozen little berries, perfectly red, and the girl squeeps and grabs them up, pops one in her mouth, “Oh,” she says, rolling her eyes, “so good,” chewing, swallowing with a humming moan, “Pru,” she says, “Pru, they are so good,” holding one out to the bundle, the stringy-haired scalp tipping to free a spindle nose from a blanket-fold, chapped lips parting about sharp yellow teeth that take a berry, gingerly, from the girl’s hand. The wagon’s creaking, getting under way, the older guy and the man in the vest at the beam at the end of the tongue of it, bracing themselves as the slender man and the woman in the blouse push. The girl flings her arms about her, “You are the best!” and “Lauren,” she says, “hey, Lauren,” as the girl sits back, peering, pointing, “What’s that,” she says, curious, not at all unfriendly.

She looks down at her T-shirt under the unzipped hoodie, at the spot brightly there, the point of light that doesn’t shift or fall away as she turns about, that’s shining out from within her shirt.

“Jo?” says the girl, but she’s scrambled to her feet, stepped away, she’s yanking at the collar of her

A crack in the thumb-sized rainbowed slick that’s otherwise smooth against her skin and shining out from it a spark of golden yellow light and uncurling up from within a tender greenly yellow leaf, another

“Jo!” cries the girl as she falls to her knees, her hands and knees heaving once a hacking spitting cough of something slimily yellow, and a deep breath scrapes the back of her throat. “Are you,” footsteps behind her, rustle of clothing, blankets, “Oh” and “Is she” but she pushes herself to her stumbling feet, “Wait! Jo!” but she waves them away, heads off away, up the dusty street, faster and faster toward the dark trees and the sky so white above and the flaring brilliance of

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Curves,” written by Chloe Day, copyright holder unknown. Oregon Legislature marks 75 years since presidential executive order 9066 brought Japanese internment,” written by Diane Dietz, ©2017 www.statesmanjournal.com.

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