Burnside

It’s Tuesday, mid-morning in late January, and Maisie clutches a Powell’s book bag to her chest while she walks along the pedestrian path on the Burnside bridge. They said it wasn’t supposed to snow today, yet here it was. It was as if somebody had been up in the sky, cranking a massive shaved ice machine across the Pacific Northwest. She wished she had worn boots today instead of flats because her feet were damp and numb from the cold. She longed for the fireplace, her thrift store chair, and overweight cat in her lap while she read her new Palahniuk novel.

A group of young homeless people huddle for warmth underneath the Burnside bridge. During spring and summer, this area is home to certain vendors at the Saturday Market, but for now it’s home. They pass around a joint and bottle of Old Crow; the only way they know how to deal with the sting and rejection of a below-freezing winter’s day in a metropolitan area. In the background, a pair of lovers can be heard from inside a makeshift tent made from a tattered blue tarp. A puppy shivers from inside a worn-out pet bed.

Traffic on the Burnside bridge is at a stand-still, as is usually the case during even the smallest amount of snowfall. Mr. Sanders takes in his surroundings and fixes his gaze down at the Willamette River. He recalls proposing to his wife along that river, then going back to their house on Lombard St for rib eyes and pinot noir. Their dreams gave way under the weight of his job, the spare bedrooms became an office and a study. The only little feet that would scurry across the hardwood belonged to three different dogs over the course of 25 years. If he were to step out of his Mercedes and hurl himself from the bridge, would she even notice?

The clouds have parted, and a yellow moon decorates the sky that overlooks the Burnside bridge. Ice and snow cling to the ground like a pile of gems. Cars have been abandoned along city streets and freeways. Workers have gone home early for the evening. The entire Portland metro looks like a ghost town, save for a few people taking photographs or children making snowmen.

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