Monday, July 22, 2013
River (Pt. VII)
The sun approaches its apogee. The heat, unseen but growing in presence, seems to take form above the white concrete. Traffic sounds from the ramps of the Marquam Bridge overhead.
In the shade of the trailer, la abuelita worries her beads. Her lips respond to the sensations in her fingers, silently forming each word of the five decades. Eyes closed; face bent skyward. The path of her devotions --Padre Nuestro, Ave Maria, Gloria --is so familiar that there is no stone upon it which she does not know. Her mind wanders through gray dusty labyrinths. Her thoughts hold a candle to the void. "Gloria al Padre, al Hijo y al Espíritu Santo. Como era en el principio, ahora y siempre, por los siglos de los siglos."
Flo pauses at the edge of the shaded space. The ghosts have returned --the man and the child. Away under the Hawthorne Bridge, they stand and watch. The man holds the child to his side with an arm around the shoulders. She is afraid, but she believes they will not approach in the heat of the day. She remembers the sack of food in her hand. She considers, then walks to the car and takes one burrito from the sack. She opens the driver side door and drops the sack on the seat behind the wheel. She turns and walks back toward the bench where Eddie is sitting.
Driftwood is farther up, standing in shadow behind a filthy green dumpster. He has returned to retrieve the gas can and siphon hose from the trunk of the car. He watches Flo wander away from the car toward the riverbank. People are gathered at the picnic tables and milling about on the esplanade. Driftwood waits.
Eddie is on the bench in the blazing sun. He thinks about finding a phone. Perhaps he can borrow one from a stranger. So that he might call his father. To announce his presence. I am your son. Eddie. From California. Would it be alright if I stopped by?
Flo approaches and sits beside him and he is distracted by her presence and the smell of food. She sits, takes a bite from the burrito, then offers it to him. Wordlessly, they share. Although famished, they eat slowly and calmly, thinking their thoughts. The river flows beneath the line of their visions.
Jonah prepares for the show. He dabs makeup on his face. He pencils a moustache on his upper lip. He rummages in the trunk of the rickshaw for a pirate's eye-patch and a blousy white shirt. He will begin his performance shortly.
Jonah is confident of success because he knows he is the kind of person who can enter a room and have everyone eating out of his hand. Jonah is a practiced and confident performer and he has never failed at a performance.
Except for the one time.
That day the crowd was big. Fifty or more people sat at the tables and stood on the pavement watching as he went through his verbal and physical contortions. He worked his audience with skill and confidence. He developed his story carefully, emphasizing what was important. As he spoke, the story unfolded like a map. And then, just as he was arriving at the moral of his story, the audience in the palm of his hand, he had looked out and seen the tall, stoop-shouldered figure standing at the back of the crowd. The figure who, despite the sunglasses and the floppy shade hat and the deliberately inconspicuous posture, Jonah knew to be Elihu Rosenkwit. Jonah's father. Scornful, iron-willed Elihu standing at the back; silent, but undeniably present.
His father's stance, the set of his jaw --these told Jonah all he needed to know. His father had come down from Seattle, unannounced, to see the show. To indulge Jonah. To let Jonah know that he viewed Jonah's chosen path as foolishness. An indulgence to be granted. A bothersome petulance that a father must endure in order that his son might see the error of his ways.
The discovery of his father caused Jonah to become flustered and lose his concentration. At the crucial point in his story, his delivery faltered. His power-packed ending was robbed of its effect. When he finished, he saw the confused looks and uncertain smiles and knew that he had lost his audience. And although he did not look at Elihu, he sensed that his father was smirking. Smirking behind his sunglasses and the hard set of the jaw. As the crowd dispersed, Jonah did not pass his hat, but turned away in shame. He did not engage them. He did not solicit them to put money in the basket that he had placed on the concrete before him. He turned away and busied himself at the rickshaw. But no one approached him. When he sensed that everyone had gone he went to retrieve the basket knowing it would be empty. But it was not empty. In the bottom was a white, business-sized envelope. Jonah picked it up and glanced inside to see the thick stack of bills within. He did not count the money, but he knew it was more than he could expect to make for the entire summer. His father was gone, dispersed with the rest of the disappointed crowd.
Since then, Jonah has never failed at a performance. He is confident that today's show will be well received. The people eating at the food cart, the people strolling along the esplanade are mostly tourists and tourists appreciate entertainers.
The kid, Eddie, and the young woman and the square-shouldered man who arrived that morning in the car have inspired Jonah. Desperation, lunacy, fear --these are the elements of a good story. Jonah is driven to match the story that is unfolding beside him with a story of his own.
These thoughts riff in his head as he finishes applying makeup and dons his costume. When he is done, he draws a deep breath, sets his mind to right, and steps up onto the plastic pedestal he has placed on the walkway.
Driftwood, from his hiding place behind the dumpster, sees Jonah step forward, sees how he draws all the attention to himself. Driftwood slips out from his hiding place, makes his way to the car, takes the food from the front seat, springs the trunk, and quietly takes the gas can and the siphon hose and steals away, back into the shade.
To be continued...
Read Part I here.Read Part II here.
Read Part III here.
Read Part IV here.
Read Part V here.
Read Part VI here.
Read Part VII here.
Read Part VIII here.
Read Part IX here.
Read Part X here.
Read Part XI here.
Read Part XII here.
Read Part XIII here.
Read Part XIV here.
Read Part XV here.
Read Part XVI here.
Read Part XVII here.
Read Part XVIII here.