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The sun                                                 

the sun shining down through concrete pillars that support a tangle of onramps and offramps knitted against the white sky above scoring the brownly dappled water with shadowed maps. Quick chopping strokes of the rough-hewn paddle scoot the stern of the canoe about a curl of a turn to the right under a low bridge, skidding through shadow and back out into dazzling bright. She keeps her head down, shaded by the brim of her broad straw hat. Another bridge ahead, even lower, anchored to a grassy ridge just breaking the water’s surface, and she ducks forward as the canoe slips under and past with the last of its momentum.

A lapped lagoon beyond, pavement rising up from under her to crest that grassy yellow slope, a sudden shore crowned by dark trees, and splashing and peals of laughter echoing. She swings the paddle out and around, suddenly wary. Past a skeletal stand of drowned trees, the rusted tops of a couple of sunken fence poles, there’s a fold in the shoreline, a shallow pool snug against the sudden loft of the ridge, and a half-dozen kids splashing and laughing, dark against the bright water, the yellow grass. Falling silent as her canoe drifts up crunching snagged to a stop on the shore. Red shoes splashing she drags the canoe higher onto the grass, drops the paddle clattering into the belly of it. “Need to keep your ears open,” she calls down to them. “Eyes peeled. Moody’ll come down and get you.”

They laugh, all of them, the boys with black hair closely clipped, the girl with her curls tied up in beaded twists, even the toddler, clapping pudgy hands and kicking up water, “He ain’t come down in years,” says one of the boys, shading his eyes to peer up at her, and “Everybody knows that,” says another.

She looks down at the watch about her fingers, then up, to the bridge above, winding together with all the others to flow toward the swooping arch of the freeway gathering itself to leap across the water. “Years,” she says.

“Reverend Turner keeps the calendar,” says the woman leading them down the dim hall, “oh, my, yes. Fifty years since the flood, and almost fifty years again, it will be soon,” her head wrapped about in brightly colored scarves, and more bright cloth swathing her shoulders, drapes of shimmering yellow, orange, red, “when the waters recede, and Vanport stands once more.” Doors open on spacious rooms, unlit to the left, but those to the right have windows, filmy curtains, sunlight, beds neatly made with white sheets and brown blankets and about each bed more curtains that might be drawn, or left pulled back, and this room has five or six cardboard boxes filled with books, and the next a small table overwhelmed with framed photographs, the next’s awash in plastic and wooden toys in strong primary colors, and conversations still as they approach, and folks look out at them as they pass, his footsteps loudly clattering, those stovepipes clamped about his shins. “We’ll know for certain when we see it all come back, of course, but by then it’ll be too late. A time, and the times, and the dividing of time.” The hall opens out in a sharp corner, turning, sunlit rooms continuing around to the right, walls falling away to the left, a counter instead, a chrome rack hung with soft suits in singly rich colors, magenta, pale green, luminous blue, a man sat in a desk chair, another man in a faded blue smock stood beside him, scissors in one hand, a comb the other, a third man looking over the intricate game of solitaire laid out on the counter before him, behind jars and vials and little pots of powders, salves, creams and oils, and a small sign propped by a dead computer monitor: Lew’s Man Shop, say white plastic letters neatly pinned to black felt. “He’s usually here in the afternoons,” she says.

“Brady?” says the barber. “He’s off in the courtyard, seeing to Ike and that rabbit of his.”

“Thought he was up with George and Howard today,” says the man in the chair.

“Ain’t no rabbit,” says the man laying a card down with a snap. He frowns almost immediately.

“A busy man, our reverend,” says the woman in headscarves, turning back to the two of them, waving them on, him skinny, dark hair tucked under the colander on his head, the plastic bin in his hockey-gloved hands cloudily greasily filled with something heavy, the color of old ice, much like the bin in her bare hands, her dark hoodie half unzipped to leave room for the flower grown there, delicately pink, at the end of a stubby green stem poked up from the ripped collar of her T-shirt. “But, oh, yes, my dear,” the woman in headscarves is saying, “decades since He moored His castle in the skies above, and sent His cherubs to us with their manna, but only months remain until Vanport returns, and He steps down to begin His glorious reign.”

“Decades,” she says, mostly to herself. Down the next hall, the sunlight less direct here, cooler, but still the stilling conversations, the wary, watchful eyes, not glaring, not quite staring, the women in a circle with a quilt upon their laps, the man poised on a credenza with a hammer and his lips about a couple tiny silver nails, the old woman peering out from behind the plastic curtain drawn about her bed, sparsely curls rinsed blue, the toddler goggling as they clanking pass. The hall opens out in a wide foyer, walled and doored with smokey glass, and slow dust a-drift through lowly desultory light. A quiet bank of elevators there, and a long rack that holds perhaps a half-dozen bicycles before a row of dark and empty vending machines, and a small sign of black felt on a stand at one end, Thos. Shine Parlor & Bicycle Shop, say neatly pinned letters of white plastic. “Through here,” the woman’s saying, “through here,” scarves and wraps still bright in the dimly amber, but there’s a squeak and a patter of running feet, “Randy!” someone’s calling, “Randy!” and there’s the toddler running out into the foyer, a man hustling behind, “Sir Bob!” cries the toddler, arms out wide to crash into a hug about the skinny guy’s pipe-clamped leg.

“Hey, little mister,” says the skinny guy with a smile, looking down past his heavy bin. She sets her own bin on the floor, then takes his, and stiffly he drops to one clanking knee, clink of the glass bottles in his canvas rucksack. She’s set his bin on hers, straightens, leaning annoyed away from the flower that brushes her chin. “Sorry,” the man’s saying back there, “sorry, Randy, you come on back now,” but from off that way here comes striding a short man regal in pastoral lavender, a couple three people behind him, “Pearlie Mae!” his voice large and rich, his thick spectacles gleaming. “Is everything all right?”

“Of course,” says the woman in headscarves, “it’s all fine, Bob’s just brought us more,” but those spectacles’ve turned to her, they’re all looking at her now, sunbleached, sweatlogged, the only spot of color about her that pale pink flower, the bright green stem.

Clank and scrape the skinny guy pushes himself to his feet beside her. “Since when is your name Bob,” she says, quietly sidelong, and “Later,” he says, with a warning lilt. “Who’s your friend then, Bob?” says the man in the lavender suit, that rich voice filling the foyer without being raised. The skinny guy turns to her, but it’s then the toddler lifts a hand and says, much too loudly, “She has a flower!”

Hand over her heart, clenching the flaps of the half-zipped hoodie, pushing the flower back, away, stepping back from the hockey-gloved hand held out to her, but the woman in headscarves kneels, an arm about the toddler, “Isn’t it a wonder?” she says, smiling.

Clattering spokes, whizz of chains, bicycles soar up the empty street, houses to either side giving way to low buildings, a yellow warehouse with a sign that might once have said Rebuilding Center, a giant guitar hung in the window of a pale blue building says Black Book Guitars, the windows of the next shop walled up with books, Reading Frenzy, says the sign over the door. Unlit neon in a dark window once spelled out Bridge City Comics, faded signs say The Meadow and Mississippi Chiropractic and Laughing Planet. A chittering flock of songbirds erupts as they wheel past a line of trees before a looming block of apartments, a tipped-over sandwich sign on the sidewalk, an arrow pointed uselessly off toward a Rental Office. A blackly four-lobed shape floats up against the white sky laboring under the sheen of its wings as those songbirds settle, chirruping, in their wake. He’s pumping, pushing heavily, the clank of the stovepipes clamped about his shins, the enormous pot lid strapped to his chest, the rattle of empty bins and clink of glass in the panniers behind him. She drives ahead, coasts behind, churns her pedals to catch up once more, the flower laid back against a shoulder, fluttering with speed. A lone car slumped in the next intersection, a van that says We Deliver For You by an abstract eagle-shape in blue on its side. She slows as he grinds on, she circles the van in a swoop of a turn, stood up on her pedals, looking it over. The tires long since gone, and the glass of its windows, the front of it crumpled, scorched. “Hey!” she calls, flatly loud, pumping her pedals, flower bobbing as she pulls away. “Hey!” Catching up halfway along the next block, more low buildings, a storefront painted bright sky blue, dotted with cartoon clouds. “Why were they calling you Bob?”

“Well,” he says, opening the door, and the jingle of a bell, “I used to work with Gordon. So.”

The floor’s covered with mismatched shoes set left by right, brogue by sneaker, clog by chukka, cracked and grimy boat shoe by gleaming patent mule, creamy slipper by ankle-strapped stiletto, weather-beaten boot next to a peep-toed alligator wedge. He hops clang and crash from this gap to that cleared spot, toward the counter, she takes long, teeteringly awkward steps after, empty bins in her hands. “He’s not here now, is he?”

“No,” he says, shaking off a hockey glove. “Everybody was gone when I, uh,” he pulls a crumpled running shoe from his rucksack, “the boxes, they don’t show up anymore, either,” tosses it to the mound of undifferentiated footwear on the worktable behind him. “I still see a shoe here and there out there, though, just, sitting on the sidewalk, or whatever? So. Figure I’ll keep my hand in,” but there, on the green-cushioned pew, an older woman sits, hunched in a puffy winter coat, her hair the color of iron, cut short.

“But you’re out here by yourself,” she says. A half-empty glass on the teal formica before her, a hand up by her shoulder, the flower safe behind it.

“So, what,” he says, “I should, move in with them, at Emanuel?” In his hand a glass half-full of something thinly pink. “I don’t know. I mean, we help each other out, sure, but. Different worlds, you know?”

She shrugs. “There’s other folks out there.”

“Yeah? Anybody bother you, when you were up on Tabor?” he says. “Down the Gulch?” She shrugs again. “Because,” he says, “you know, it’s really pretty quiet,” setting his glass on the table by the open bottle, the small plate piled with wobbling grey. “Moody aside.”

“That’s a pretty big aside,” she says.

“Yeah, but, even he’s calmed down? These days. And besides,” sitting heavily on the edge of the bed, all that makeshift armor scrape and squeak, “it’s not like I’m by myself, now. Right?”

In her torn T-shirt she sits up on her knees behind him, peeling away at the grubby tape that straps a pot lid to his shoulder. “Been a while since you’ve had this off, huh.”

“Sorry,” he says, looking down, “for, uh, the reek?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “Sweat, hot metal, plastic – better than rancid river mud.”

“Yeah?” Looking over his shoulder. “Well, you’ve got that flower, making everything smell sweet,” turning creak and clunk, “Frankie, wait,” she says, but “Jo,” he says, his bare hand gently on hers, and smiling just enough to bring out a dimple, there and there.

“Months, decades,” she says, lying back on rumpled blankets, “whatever,” T-shirt gone now, too, black jeans on the floor there, bare feet grimy, grime and old dirt streaking the skin of her, shins and thighs, limning creases, her knees and hips, elbows paler than forearms, shoulders, throat and face burnt ruddy, sunbleached hair sweat-salted spread over pillows as she turns on her side to face him, “I’d still kill for a cigarette.”

“Not what I thought you were gonna say,” arms up folded beneath his head, still mostly strapped and crimped in his suit of junk. “Know what I miss the most about it?”

“Frankie,” she says, with a warning edge.

“When you’re waiting for it to kick in,” he says, “when it’s too late not to do it, and just any minute now it’s gonna come on like a movie, you know? All smooth and cool and every move you make, just like you meant it, and everything in the world’s gonna do just what it’s supposed to, the way it’s supposed to, and even if you fuck it up it’s clear you did that for the kick, you know? It’s,” she’s pushed up on an elbow, leans over flower pulsing, “it’s all lubricated,” he says, and she kisses his mouth. “That’s what I miss,” he murmurs.

She kisses him again. “Does it still hurt?” Her hand on the pot lid strapped to his chest, but the woman on the green-cushioned pew lifts her head, “He didn’t have to end up like this!” she croaks. “It was you. It was all your fault!”

Cages hang from chains bolted to the beams above, nine of them in rows of three set close together across the width of the sleeping porch, bottoms about at shoulder-height. She crouches to pass beneath them, careful with her flower, red shoes scuffing scattered dried seeds, tiny packets of needled bones and matted rotten fur twisted in weird sigils. She’s pulled on her underwear, her dark hoodie. Low table at the end of the porch, sleeping bag neatly rolled, she bumps a cage as she stands upright, clank and groan of chain set slowly a-sway. Something within the cage, a crumpled sack once perhaps as long as her arm propped up by twig-like bones, shriveled talons whitely grey at one end, and feathers broken and fallen away from it, and only the beak still cruel and sharp.

“I couldn’t, I didn’t know,” he says, at the other end of the porch. “There’s no doors, on the cages, see?” Pot lids gone from his chest, his shoulders, shirt unbuttoned, ducting still crimped about his forearms, legs clanking as he steps close to the cages between them. “I tried, I did. I, I made sure there was water, and I, when I could, I brought him mice? And a dead bird, like, a robin or something? And I talked to him, I did, but I don’t, I don’t know why he stayed. I don’t know why Gordon left him behind. I don’t,” he’s in shadow, indirect sunlight behind him hazed by floating dust, but still a glint on his bare chest, darkly wet, a line, she blurts out, “You slept up here,” and a glance for the sleeping bag at her feet. “Didn’t you.” Looking back through the cages to him.

“Yeah,” with a rising lilt, not quite a question.

“That was his room,” she says. “That was his bed, where we.”

“Jo,” he says, “I don’t,” she’s pushing between the cages groan and popping clang, they crash together behind her, she shoves through the next row, scattering seed and straw, “Shit!” he yells, those massive cages striking dully sour peals that far too huge and squeal of links and straining beams she’s through, he reaches after her, she’s out the door. “This isn’t yours!” she yells, over the clamor, “None of this!” too quickly almost falling down the steeply switchbacked stairs, bouncing out splash through the beaded curtain into the front room, and silence. He turns about, there in the middle of those neatly lined shoes, chinos faded, fleece of his beige pullover worn thin about the elbows, frayed along his upturned collar. “That got loud,” he says. She stands there, blinking, pink flower brushing her chin. He checks his watch.

“How long,” she says.

“Since the last time you took off?” he says. “Couple of days.”


“Whichever. Listen – ”

“You’re dead.”

His brow cocks at that. “No,” he says, “I’m just not there. Here. Listen – ”

“I wrapped you in a tarp! I took you to – I’m going to – it’s, I don’t,” she says.

“You’re seeing what you see,” he says. “You haven’t even asked about my foot.”

“It happens sometime after this damn thing is gone,” she says, a hand lifted to cup that flower. He claps his hands soundlessly, once, “Jo!” he says, sharply. “I’m about to lose the connection. Pay attention.” His shoes aren’t there, among those other shoes. His chinos are fading away. “Come back,” he says, faintly. “Come back as soon as you can.” The sunlight shining through him now, “I figured out how to,” and then there’s nothing left of him but the glint of his watch, left hanging in

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Jumptown, 1956—a Portland, Or. Gentrification Map,” compiled by Lisa Loving, ©2016 The Skanner News.

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