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a Running shoe, blue & brown

A running shoe in one hand, blue and brown, a square-toed Oxford black in the other, he stands there, looking from one to the other, “Where was I,” he says. Setting them both on the counter, he pushes the running shoe over to the woman on the other side, holding the mate, brown and blue. Her jacket and her long brown hair dark with rain. She puts hers by the one he’s given her, “So, now what?” she says. “Do I put them on?” and he shrugs. “You can, if you like,” he says. “They’re shoes.” He drops the lone black Oxford onto the jumbled pile of shoes at his feet. “Welcome to Portland,” he says.

Patter of rain against plastic tarps, blue and green, garbage bags stretched over flattened cardboard boxes, a lean-to strapped to the high wire fence along the sidewalk. A curl of freeway overhead, a shadowed mass above the streetlight, and the blank black sky beyond. His grimy hoodie blotched with rain, he kneels at one end of it, lifting a flap, “Hey,” he says. “I’m with the XO. Jefe’s here?” Three or four figures lying under the shelter, on old blankets, a sleeping bag, more flattened cardboard. One of them maybe nods. “So who are you,” says another one, but the fence rings as he curls up against it, sitting himself as much under the shelter as he can get. His eyes narrowed over cheekbones hunched. “I’ll tell you tomorrow,” he says.

Spitting toothpaste into the sink, rinsing his brush, running it about his mouth, leaning over to spit once more. Stays there, hanging there, bent over the sink. A hand on his shoulder, firm, knuckles yellowed, nails cut short, “Don’t forget your medicine,” hale, good-humored, and he nods. He lifts himself as the hand’s lifted away, opens the medicine cabinet, plucks a blue plastic pillbox from among the bottles of cologne, the shaving bowl and brushes, the pomade-tin. Unsnapping the lid, the light changes about him, warming his face as he lifts it away. Within, clear gel caps each a pinch of glimmering gold. He plucks one up, lifts it to his lips, gingerly between his teeth. A moment, over the sink, hands braced to either side. He closes his mouth. He swallows.

Muttering, open shirt billowing as he moves about the cavernous room, feet bare on the unfinished wood floor. Undoing his white cuffs. The shadowy suggestion of columns about him, glints from the glass of the windows beyond. Throwing back his arms he lets the shirt slip down and off, “architectonically,” a word that can be made out of his glossolaly, and then, undoing the buttons of his fly, hopping awkwardly as he kicks one leg free, then the other, “environmentally,” and he leaves his pants behind him. Naked but for his heavy gold watch he moves to the middle of the irregular polygon he’s paced off in the dust, and kneels, undoing the latch on his watchband, slipping his hand free. “Syzygonomical,” he says, letting go of the watch, left hung in the air before him. He lets out a breath of relief. “All right,” he says. “Let’s see where you’ve gone.”

“Good God damn about anything happening,” she says, “in,” looking about the grubby, empty little room. “Yellowknife,” she says, perplexed. Neon shining on and off through the one lone window. Crimpled plastic, some discarded dry cleaning bags, splayed over the foot of the neatly made bed. “Phil?” she says. Turning about. There, by the door left ajar, splinters of black plastic on the stained carpet. She picks up a pair of sunglasses, one arm dangled awry, and the left lens cracked, gone smokey blank and grey.

Those blazing candles along the sills and counters juddering, flickering, something’s shaking the trailer. Under the tiny sink a cabinet door pops open, a worn black orthopædic shoe wiggling out of the narrow space, followed by another, legs in blue coveralls kicking, twisting to one side to allow the hips to fit, fingers wriggling around the edges of the cabinet gripping, pulling, a grunt and a gasp and she’s sitting on the floor, coughing once, lightly, tucking a long loose strand of black hair under the kerchief about her head. Grimacing she gets her feet under herself, pushes upright, working her head side to side, careful of the curl of the ceiling above. Looking about, sucking her teeth, clucking her tongue. Leaning over the bed in its alcove, there in the back, tugging the heavy umber comforter up over bare arms, smoothing over twined legs. Looking over them both a moment, the black-haired head on the pillows, the bright red hair spread over the shoulder, the broad chest. Then she licks her thumb and forefinger and sets to snuffing candles, one by one.

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