The Days Before the War
The south waterfront rises from an old brown field, perched on the river’s edge, separated from the rest of town by both the Ross Island Bridge and the Marquam bridge; bridges that stretch a hundred feet or more above the seventeen hundred foot wide Willamette River below; more than five and a half football fields. That and an eight thousand square foot ship repair facility, built for a world war, built in a time when the whole of the south waterfront was a flurry of ship building but not so much since the end of that first world war. When the second came around, they built the shipyards farther north, where there was ample room to build housing for the predominantly black population that built those ships, farther away from town, between four and ten ships launched every month for two years. Up north and closer to the mighty Columbia, where the channel is a little deeper and where the ships don’t have to contend with the five other bridges that cross the river downtown. Where the proper citizens don’t have to see everyday what goes on. And so this area was used for steel work and still a little bit of ship repairs for seventy years, mostly barges, till the town became a city and decided that steel operations would be best off somewhere farther down river and so the brown fields sat for another twenty years, till it became economically feasible to build and then they came like locusts, giant silver locusts, clambering over the hills to the west, as if in a Miyazaki film, steel and glass and shining in the light as the sun peered over Mt. Hood one morning and found them standing there on the river’s edge.
Eight shiny, polymer-coated, rust-proofed behemoths, standing shoulder to shoulder, standing at the river’s edge after marching over the hill behind them and now come unto this uncrossable river, come to a stop, watching the final touches now being put on the cities latest bridge, wondering if it would support their weight. Larson stood with these buildings at his back, a general standing in front of his troops in flying-V formation, a coach leading his players into battle, looking out over the murky waters flowing slowly north. He imagined the clash of his team against the trees on the opposing bank, envisioned the gleaming sun off the giants as they clambered up the ridge and headed east towards Mt. Hood, decimating everything in their path, cutting a wide swath through the eastside and Gresham and Rhododendron and Government Camp; marching upon Timberline lodge which shudders at the sight of these modern marvels.
Mr Potts barks and brings Larson back to the green lawn that caps a hundred years of PCB’s and asbestos. He turns and starts to take a step towards his phalanx before realizing, too late, that Mr. Potts has ensnared him with the thin black cord that Larson holds the other end of.
From four floors above, Stephen watches the large man go down, the little brown Chihuahua dodges the falling giant, just in time, simultaneously freeing itself from the black cord and running ten feet off before turning back around and barking at the fallen body. Larson scrambles to release himself from the leash now, yelling at the dog, or barking; Stephen can’t be sure. An older couple walking past, stop a moment as Stephen clearly hears Larson yell, “shut the fuck up you worthless piece of shit!” which works to quite the dog but only momentarily. Larson sees the couple staring at him and he pushes himself up off the ground, a giant of a man, a linebacker, a leader, a really ball breaker, pulling himself up to his full six foot five and the older couple walks off as he tips his hat to them before putting it back on his head, his comb over askew, mud upon his Russel trench coat that he bought on his last trip to England which matches the hat, and he realizes he’s lost one of his flip flops. Stephen watches as three hundred plus pounds of man chases two pounds of dog, fighting to drag an orange flip flop along with it. He raises his eyes back to the horizon where the sun comes in from behind Mt. Hood, peaking in underneath the cloud cover that stretches over the city and off over the west hills behind him. “It will rain again today,” Stephen thinks and wonders if he’s said this aloud. He realizes now that his feet are cold and glances back down to watch for another moment as the giant chases the imp around the shrubbery at the buildings base. “You get him Larson!” He calls down.
Larson looks up at him now, craning his neck to see the figure leaning over the railing above him. “And when I do, Stephen… when I do…” He lets the words trail off, possibly trying to sound ominous, or simply at a loss to finish what he knows to be an empty threat.
Stephen turns and walks into his apartment. At some point later in the day he’ll remember looking at the throw pillow on his couch and thinking that it’s the same color as Larson’s flip flops, but it doesn’t register in the moment; it’s too early on a Friday morning. He goes about to the kitchen area and pulls the tea pot off the burner, at a full scream, too hot for coffee. It’s important that the water not be too hot, the bitter oils pulled from the bean and all that blah blah blah, he thinks. And there’s a van he sees around town, “Monday’s not bad, it’s your job that sucks.” But today is Friday and he likes his job. Monday’s are fine, the promise of good things to come (the sound of the hand cranked coffee grinder, the release of the coffee scent; peaberry) but Friday’s are filled with people not really wanting to be there or better yet not being there, working remotely. “Don’t bother leaving a voice mail. Your best bet is to send a text or an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
In college. In college there was a red head. He had gone on one date with her, but without words they had agreed it hadn’t gone so well and she crept out of his bed, sometime after the sun had started to rise, and said she had to meet somebody for breakfast, “go back to sleep. We’ll talk later.” After he had done his laundry he folded her underwear and placed it in a small brown bag, the type used at coffee shops for scones and bagels ordered to go, placing it on his front hall table where it sat for two weeks before being returned to her in class. “You forgot this,” he had said as she took it from him, flashing half a smile, placing the bag into her back pack without looking inside it or looking back at him and she thanked him. Friday was one more shot at getting a date with that red head that sat at the end of the second row in his poly-sci class, or the blonde the following semester in his business ethics class or any number of others that he couldn’t recall as clearly. Friday used to mean something to him and when it didn’t anymore, there was always next semester. Friday’s not so bad, it’s your life that sucks.