Like a number sequence--one,
two, one, two, one, two--her footfalls echoed on the bare,
refinished floor of the empty parlor. A parlor--this was, after
all, the Arts and Crafts bungalow, for which Marsha Ngo had
moments before written a personal check. Earnest money. One
thousand dollars. Check in hand, Kyla, the pert, but businesslike,
real estate agent who had shown Ngo the place this second time,
went out to her yellow Saab curbside.
One, two, one, two. Ngo
toyed with the ballpoint pen held crosswise at her lips. Have I
signed my life away? Now I write check every month for thirty
years, three hundred sixty times?
In a way, she had no choice
about this serious purchase. Last year, newly hired by Oxford Life
downtown, Ngo was looking at more bankable wealth than anyone in
her family--nearly fifteen years in Oregon--dreamed possible.
And at five-seven--only
teenage Jeff was taller in the family--she now had the checking
account balance, she now had the credit limits to go with her
commanding stature. And with no one for her to support, no
dependents--young, old, or otherwise--Duc Van Le, the family
accountant in Rose City, earlier in the year had said, "Buy a
house. You must, for goodness's sake. Taxes, they eat you
alive." Not one to drop sound advice, Ngo got busy on a plan
The trunk lid of the Saab
levered up and Kyla bent over as if on a search. Ngo thumb-clicked
the ballpoint pen and--one, two--studied the heavy cove moldings
around the cream, nubbly plaster ceiling. Yes, she had found the
place like any number-hungry actuary would. In awry, curling
photocopies of the last U.S. Census she made at the main library.
Census tract 1.01 through census tract 33.07, the whole city of
Portland--all of it, she boiled down to a time-well-spent
spreadsheet in Excel.
For that was how the
Irvington neighborhood, and then this place on NE 28th, came up:
strong educational levels, good incomes, and big plus, high
homeownership rates. Ngo stopped the deliberate pacing, took a
deep breath. After the numbers were crunched and especially after
Kyla said, "Irvington, good choice. Definitely the hot market
right now," Ngo knew she was on the right path.
Kyla's frothy ash-blond
locks, so unlike her own dark, lank hair, passed in the
beveled-glass panes of the front door that now eased open.
"Normally, this is something I do in the office with
everything in front of me." Kyla waved a blue slip of paper.
"Here, your receipt for the earnest money."
"I had to see it one
last time, you understand?" Ngo tucked away receipt and pen
in her purse.
"Big decision, Marsha.
You're not some couple, can't blame the other guy, you change your
"So next is what?"
"I have a three o'clock
with the sellers, their agent. I present your offer." In her
light tweed suit with ruffled blouse, Kyla was the All-American
matron, successful, professional. Ngo knew if anyone could make
the case for the offer, twelve-percent off asking price, it was
this woman. "We cross our fingers."
They left and a ways down
the walk, Ngo turned. Two tapered, panelled columns framed the
front door. The Thirty-ish front stoop exuded real character.
Matching columns, two eyebrow dormers pushed up from the roofline.
Ngo brought forefinger to cheekbone. Logic. Symmetry. Descartes,
the Great Rationalist himself, would like this.
"You ready to move
in?" Kyla said.
"Yes, but I won't sleep
until I know it happened."
* * *
A few hectic weeks later,
Ngo was, indeed, moved, the spacious bungalow housing what now
seemed her meager belongings. A futon-style single bed. A
refrigerator. A threadbare sofa needing a Salvation Army call for
pickup soon. The affordable dining set from Hotel/Motel
Liquidators. Three folding director's chairs. Countless boxes of
stuff. Two wall-shelving units accompanied by too many boxed
books. A new Dell laptop.
One weekday night, Ngo was
reading, with difficulty, the latest morbidity reports from the
office. She was also dozing off. The morbidity stats would have to
keep. She sighed and headed up to the bedroom with the futon.
She swung open the dormer
window that suggested an ellipse halved, then climbed in bed.
Something like an urban lullaby, traffic hummed on distant
streets. October breezes played across her face. The night air was
good, like a draft of heady liquor. Her eyes, the smooth Asian
lids, closed. She was fast asleep.
Then suddenly, sitting up,
eyes open. Where am I? Doorbell ringing, red, blurred clock digits
on window sill, 3:19. 3:19! What is this?
They break in--they think
I'm not here.
Ngo, back bolt-erect, knew
something had to be done, slid off the futon, rushed down to the
parlor, the front door.
The other side, in windowed
gauzy porchlight, a black man she had no reason to meet loomed.
Large enough to break the door down leaning on it. Her back went
shivery, her legs, concrete. Could she say anything? Was he ready
to kick in? The black man's head lurched back on his thick neck.
it?" she said.
"Is John here?"
The eyes, so yellowed and bloodshot, blinked in the overhead
"No." Right of the
door windows, she held to the cold doorknob. Would mere words stop
this tank of a man from crashing in? She was about to say, I call
the police, when he turned and left and out on the sidewalk,
leaves whished and the bulky figure shuffled away into a relief
that was darkness.
Ngo went to go upstairs,
then stopped, sat down at the first landing, her heart caught up
in palpitation. Really, she was by herself. In the new place for
what? Second week, third day? Her back shivered again.
* * *
Next Sunday evening Ngo
visited, a few miles away, her parents for the weekly family
dinner. Grilled meatballs, Saigon-style, thit nuong cha
with fish sauce, a culinary favorite of the Ngos and many other
Vietnamese families in the Rose City neighborhood.
Dad's jokes, their laughter,
the feasting stretched out until Dad and Jeff, the young Ngo still
at home, excused themselves for Blazers on cable. Ngo and Mom got
busy on their own shared ritual, the dishes.
"So, Marsha," she
said above the watery hiss of the faucet. "Now you in a big
house, bigger than house here, you all by yourself, yeah?"
"It'll be fine, plenty
of room, yes." Ngo opened the dishwasher, ready for her mom's
washings. Washed, coincidentally, in the same order they were to
be stacked. Bowls on top.
"You, small apartment,
one-room, okay, but you, big house, too many rooms, all that
space, empty, make you feel more lonely, I'm afraid."
"No, mother, I'll be
fine." Her mother sudsed and scrubbed the mot cai bat,
the big serving bowl and Ngo waited for more to load. "Maybe
at first it was different," Ngo continued. "But I'm now
used to the extra space."
"You busy with your
job, yeah. I know you not like talk about it, but you meet good
man, the two of you in that house, just right start a family,
yeah." Her mom rushed the last words like water, as if the
sentiment was not new.
glowered. A mosquito. She will never quit. Nothing's enough for
her. Means nothing I'm an actuary. She would talk all the time
marriage, she only knew about that burglar.
"I know before we talk
about this. You now twenty-eight, older than I first bring it up.
I have Chinh I only eighteen, okay, ten years younger from you. I
think about house, big, empty, and Marsha, little, alone, there. I
think she not put off family business much longer, yeah--"
Ngo had to change the
"Mother, listen, I'll
buy a dog."
"You do that why?"
lonely." Lonely little Marsha, big house: It was what her mom
wanted to hear. In truth, a dog was better than a burglar alarm in
"Dog okay. Just
remember, another mouth to feed. Buy one small, you not go
Tomorrow was Monday. The
pointed words were said, not really answered, if they ever would
be. Only a few more dishes for the dishwasher that would gurgle,
filling with hot water. Ngo could soon check off her Sunday duty
* * *
"Hey, what we got here
is a fourth-down software punt." Nelse, programmer contact
out from Conifer Logic, was in Ngo's office. On her PC, he was
demo'ing some new features of the beta software that would do
everything, he said, including dice and chop mortality experience.
"But I expected that--"
Ngo did not know what to
make of irreverent Nelse. Not unhandsome Western features, blond,
chestnut eyes, some style--for a supposed geek--and he moved with
a single guy's strut. And talk about American-hustle enthusiastic.
He probably got up early every morning and jogged, worked up a
sweat. Then on to a fast, but tasty breakfast of raisin muffin and
"This you expected?
Haven't you finished the software?"
Nelse said, pointing to the screen with its mere one-line message.
"Got it error-trapped, sends you right back to the parameter
"You guys, are you
giving us buggy code? We depend on you--"
"No, no way. But beta
is beta. We gotta keep dreaming up the crazy stuff, shake and
break that code. You know, like the other day, Duncan, our FSA,
says change mortality decrements to increments, see what
You mean negative deaths?"
"Yeah, raising the dead
from their graves. Can you see it? Night of the Living Dead.
Population goes up because the lonesome departed get to climb out
of their graves and walk around."
"You guys are so
strange--" The round spaniel eyes brightened, like he had
relaxed and they could just keep talking.
"Nah, we just wanna
make sure the program's robust. Here, this will just take a min,
reconfigures your parameter file. So what's new with you? Moved
"Oh, yes, last
"You like the
change?" Nelse seemed about her age, she guessed, not
"I love it, but being
by myself, I decide I need a dog--"
"Wait, I remember the
name right. Staffordshire bull terrier."
"Whoa, you're talking
"Why not? Good dog for
protection, no? Some guy already rung my doorbell, three in the
"Your choice. But if I
were you, I'd reconsider. You wanna talk unusual mortality
phenomena, check out incidents with those li'l shark dogs."
"But they're lovable,
so ugly and prehistoric like they walk around with
"It's what they do,
Marsha. Listen, call your insurance guy, ask about deductibles.
Could be ten, twenty thou, cute puppy wants a sample of kiddie
* * *
Ngo had to clear up this
needling uncertainty about living with a pit bull, made worse by
Nelse. Before noon, the next day, Ngo got her agent for the
homeowner's policy, Vinh Pham, on the phone.
"Marsha, you call me
why? You want to talk?" Vinh was not above joshing. He, a
long-time family friend, went back to Saigon days.
Ngo said she wanted a pit
bull for protection and . . .
"Buy the puppy, go
ahead, we cover you. You in good hands. Ha, ha, ha." When
visiting her parents, Vinh, more than once, would say the same
thing, and turn his cupped palms over and down at the expense of
his company's sloganeering.
Buy the puppy . . . No song
by Enya ever affirmed more than Vinh's words. Ngo leaned forward.
Her arm aloft, she pulled the fall of lank hair away the phone
receiver cradled at her ear. She had to be sure, catch every word.
"No deductible, no exclusions? I skip around the Web, see
somewhere one company puts deductibles, huge, on pit bulls,
Dobermans, rottweilers to cover them at all--"
"I know, one company
they do that, but could be for publicity more than saving any
claims dollar. I never hear of a dog bite claim and I do this
insurance business more than a dozen years. No, Marsha, you
"That's why I called.
You know, I buy a puppy I get attached."
"Yeah, you okay. You
collect baseball cards, different story--"
* * *
The new software needed real
scrutiny. Ngo pushed back in the desk chair. It yielded a lone
squeak. By being lead actuary for software evaluation, she was in
no position to let the beta report slide.
Darty pixels traced
ghostlike across the PC screen. The fireworks screensaver on the
Conifer ActLife insurance module seemed generic, even hokey. She
hoped that irreverent Nelse had not likewise cut corners when it
came to writing the code.
With steadiness, she sipped
hot, puckery green tea from a white ceramic demitasse. Nelse.
Maybe Nelse was only enthused, trying to make an impression, all
this talk about dangerous dogs. Vinh Pham thinks otherwise and he
knows liability, casualty cold. Now I do what?
I don't want a harmless dog
toy, a skittery Chihuahua that runs from its shadow. Who takes
them seriously? But I know anything about risk, that's what it
should be. No dog-bite lawsuit ever.
Pit bull, however, it'll be
sword cuts both ways. Risk of dog-bite lawsuit, but also
protection perfect for me. And the lovable, ugly dog will be fun.
Risk, fun. Often hard to separate.
First time I rode a moped
was just like that.
A steamy afternoon, Sunday
many years ago, cauliflower clouds bunch in the sky, ready for
soaking downpour, will wash dusty streets of my Saigon. Even after
the take-charge Communists, we never name it Ho Chi Minh.
I am ten years old, am
playing "l'enfant perdu," hide-and-seek, with kids
outside our apartment building on Bach Nghi, down the street from
Thai Sinh Market, always busy.
And up rides older cousin,
Hien, the carpenter, on a brand new moped. He beams, sitting on
Honda, all shiny red and chrome. "Hoon-da, Hoon-da," he
I run up stairs, to get Mom,
to tell her Hien has moped. All we have is one bicycle, too big
for me, to ride, when we not walk or take crowded buses.
"Mommy, Hien has a Hoon-da, a moped. He wants to take me for
a ride. Can I go, Mommy?"
I run back down to street,
Mom follows. This event is big. First time any of our relatives
with a gasoline-powered vehicle, even two wheels.
I've never been on a moped
before. I am so excited. Wrap my eager arms around Hien,
put my feet just right on back pegs, and hold on. Then tiny motor
buzzes away below and we go fast through the street. I am almost
dizzy with buildings blurring into each other before I can even
see them. Bump, bump, bump. We hit the uneven cobbles with the
street asphalt worn away before the corner and then wait for the
cross-traffic to stop.
We go again. Fast. I pull my
arms tighter around Hien and his loose shirt flaps noisy in the
wind, hits my face and stings. I don't care, I'm too happy. He
goes to a corner. Tick, tick, tick, turn signal blinks orange. We
don't slow at all, just lean over. I scream, I don't mean to, I
just think we'll fall over, but we don't. Tiny motor buzzes away,
high exhaust noise echoes off buildings, we fly past duck-seller, pho
shop on Nguyen Hekou and then another corner, we dive at a turn.
Up steep, steep hill. The
one when I walk it, I'm always out of breath. The Hoon-da slows
down, not too much, and I feel like we float through air without
weight, like we sit on back of Most Powerful Long himself,
the Great Dragon. I gasp and no sooner I see waters sparkling and
boats like tiny toys in Saigon River far, far below, we go down.
I hold on so, I feel Hien's
ribs under his shirt. I yell. All the way I yell because Hien
pulls me forward when he leans over the handlebars to cheat the
wind. I have great fear we might have bad accident. Then we are at
bottom of hill. I catch my breath and we make only a few more
turns on streets that are ways I don't usually walk.
Then in front of my home, we
stop. The Hoon-da motor burbles away and someone else wants a
ride. I get off the back of the seat and my legs are rubbery when
I try to walk and I am too happy to properly answer Mom's
question, "It was exciting, no?"
The revery of old times had
to end. Ngo tapped the keyboard to kill the screensaver, to get
back to work. A smile of distraction snuck over her face. Yes,
seeing me happy even made Mom happy then. Risk and fun. So often,
Ngo swiveled sideways in her
desk chair, faced away from the computer monitor, let her eyelids
close. Okay, I calc odds for dog bites, check out facts on
insurance exclusions. Oh, I see it now. Spotty neighborhood in
Southeast. Many-headed dandelions in mangy lawns, every other
driveway, dead, broken-window car rests on cement blocks and
bricks. I push doorbell lit up beside the aluminum screen door.
I'm here to talk business with the occupant, a commercial breeder
of Staffordshire bull terriers.
* * *
Ngo was not convinced this
aerobic morning jog with puppy Spike would work.
He was the pit bull Ngo
bought, abandoning all reservation. Squinty, piggy eyes, and white
all but for a large black ink spot on his rump, he was Ngo's dog.
Also the playful one in the litter, so his breeder said, and
probably game for any distraction. So the question, Could Spike
The bungalow's front door
closed to, Ngo key-locked one-handed, her other hand away with the
dog leash. The morning air was cool, not chilly.
"Spike, you ready? I'm
But first, the tryout walk
through weepy, gray light and muffled traffic sounds. Overhead, an
insistent crow cawed.
"That's good, you're a
Spike got it, knew how to
amble, and flat-footed along, ten feet or so of the retractable
At the next block, however,
Ngo left the sidewalk and they mashed through wet leaves for the
curbless street. Her legs felt limber and she jogged not that many
steps before the short-legged puppy took off--at his other speed.
Out to the end of his nylon tether. Swapped himself head for tail.
No embarrassment. He started over.
"You go slower now,
With the galosh-sized puppy
feet, Spike once again showed smarts and padded along. Sticking to
a slow warmup pace, Ngo's Sauconys scuffed the wet street, empty,
save for cars docked curbside. A vault of yellowing maples, a few
scattered porch lights, and they turned right at NE 25th.
Crossing on Siskiyou ahead,
another woman, thin as a rail, blue-and-black Spandex. Her blonde
pony tail bobbed about. Beside her, a Doberman pinscher, also
lithe and--Ngo stared in disbelief--unrestrained. The edgy Dobie
caught sight of Ngo, Spike, and launched their way
"Oh, this very
bad," Ngo said.
"Addy, come here. Now
stop." the insouciant woman said. Words that escaped the
Short and stocky, yet every
bit as lean as the Dobie, muscular Spike was ready and growled.
Ngo tiptoed backwards,
clutched the leash.
"This okay, Spike, this
okay . . ."
Her heart raced.
Arms akimbo, the woman gave
it another, if not more enthused, try: "Addy, over here, now.
Don't worry," she said. She raised her head as if her
assurance would sail over the dog to Ngo. "She won't harm
Breathing hard with lips
flared, teeth bared, Spike strained to get at the menacing Doberman
busy sniffing from a few feet away.
"Lady, will you get
your dog?!" Ngo's arm swung with the lunges of Spike.
the woman said with an inflection of familiarity on the dog's
name. The woman squeezed a small device in her hand. Loud clicks.
The intrusive Dobie turned,
left Ngo unblinking, amazed--Where could she get one of
those?--and ran to Ms. Spandex. "Good girl, Addy, come
here." She releashed the errant dog.
The tension building toward
the woman crumbled. Ready to say something, Ngo let her arm with
the leash relax. And her grip. And Spike knew.
He surged forward, broke
free. The red plastic leash handle rattled down the street and
this white stocky puppy, black mark on his rump, booked to the
Ngo gaped. This is
happening? Then she ran, her brow clenched in worry. He bites that
half-wit dog, hurts that stupid woman, it's all over.
She needed to catch him, to
save him, to save her.
Then the stupidest thing
happened. The woman and Dobie, sure, of course, they could outrun
the puppy bearing down on them, sprinted as if lives were really
on the line.
Like one heat-seeking
missile, short-legged Spike turned, no hesitations, up the next
street. The red plastic leash handle bopped away down the asphalt,
soggy leaves given flight, and Ngo pressed on with her lung-aching
best to stop the speedster.
The woman, her Dobie, both
long-legged, gained a half-block lead. Then they turned right.
At Knott, the quick pair got
an opening between cars almost without slowing and disappeared.
Then trains of cars both ways.
Ngo bit her lip. Spike! He
doesn't know about cars.
The worst happened. He kept
running--no pause--between cars on Knott. One little brown car
slammed on its brakes, skidded sideways, and stopped, engine-dead.
The plastic leash handle banged away the other side of the street.
More cars kept Ngo from
crossing. Where did Spike go?
At last, after a gray
monolithic Suburban, enough of an opening to race across. She
squinted. Nothing. That sound of the leash gone too. What
happened? He did get hit! He's dying somewhere up there next to
the gutter. Ngo's head hung down. Every step she now took was a
* * *
Ready for the heart-breaking
news, Ngo stood bristle tense in the examining room, its
claustrophobic white walls stencilled everywhere with paw prints.
Dr. Benoit, lanky figure in a bluish lab coat, seemed an okay
choice as the closest vet listed in the Yellow Pages.
He palmed the steel
stethoscope disk against the broad chest of Spike and listened.
Spike squirmed. "Airways are a bit raspy. Doesn't seem to be
any distress, though. Again, what happened exactly?"
"He got away from me
this morning, goes after another dog. He nearly gets hit by a car,
then disappears." Ngo flailed her arm in emphasis. "I
find him lying on ground, wheezing away, foam on his lips like he
has trouble breathing--"
"What did you do?"
"I don't do anything. I
don't know what to do. So I just stay with him. Maybe fifteen
minutes. He starts breathing okay and finally stands up. So I
thought it okay to take him home. I carried him, he liked that,
then I called you."
"Okay, mornings, pollen
is usually not the problem." He had to stay firm with Spike.
The determined dog wanted out; he clawed the countertop. Benoit
defeated that. He buckled under Spike's front legs. Ngo smiled at
the doctor's confident way. "I think we're looking at an
asthma episode brought on by exercise--"
"You mean Spike can't
"No, by no means. He's
simply one of those dogs that can't take hard exercise, emphasis
on hard, like running."
Benoit smoothed Spike's large head and floppy, unpricked ears,
then patted his husky withers. "Gotta keep his weight
"So that's it. He can't
run anymore with me."
"Not unless he outgrows
the asthma. Fifty percent of puppies do."
"I'd hoped for a
okay?" Benoit grinned like Ngo might give up jogging for
* * *
Boomba, boomba, boomba
came the heavy sounds sneaking up behind Ngo out for a leafy walk
with Spike. A red Honda Civic hatchback, aggressively lowered,
sporting flashy chromed wheels, stopped.
a male voice, passenger side, called out. Young, hoody-looking,
black hair, long on top, slicked back, some of that Vietnamese
gangster style. Ngo shuddered: The bad apples of her own people.
They had forgotten too much about what it meant to be Vietnamese.
They wanted to be American in the wrong ways. The greeter, the
driver both slumped in the car seats like they were off to a
drive-by shooting. She had to ignore them.
Ngo furrowed her brow,
turned away. Okay, so they guess right I'm Vietnamese, speak the
language. I don't need to talk to them.
the guy said once more, persistent. Politely ignoring them would
only provoke. She glanced their way to acknowledge them. The showy
car crept along and matched her steps.
Vietnamese?" the passenger asked in a thin voice. Ngo shook
her head. Not to you. Good. They think I'm white-bread
Vietnamese, only speak English. She kept walking, so did Spike.
"Excuse me, Miss, you get that dog where? We like one."
Ngo arched an eyebrow at the
boomba, boomba, boomba hip-hop duo. This is silly stuff.
Spike doesn't keep bad guys away, he attracts them. Like snakes in
this pocket-rocket gangster car, nothing else to do, they follow
me home, I don't get rid of them.
"You sure you want pit
bull, this dog very dangerous."
"Yes, pit bull, big
bites--" Boomba, boomba, boomba. The driver fussed
with dash buttons for the sound system. She missed something the
passenger said. "--That's what we want, protect our
She flashed a wry smile.
Business, what business? Shake down the Asian store owners,
protection money? Maybe car thieves. "You have to find dog
breeder, " she said louder. "Don't remember name, but
you can do what I did--"
She clenched Spike's leash.
The dog pulled away, ready to move on. Had Spike tired of sniffing
for dog dirt in the grass? "Just buy Nickel Ads, see
under dogs. You know Nickel Ads?"
"Yeah, Nickel Ads,
I know," the thin, clear voice--the driver had cut off the
hip-hop--said. "People sell stuff they steal at night . .
." The black-haired slickster laughed, something he must have
known nothing about.
"Get a copy, call those
places that sell pit bulls."
"You pay how
held fast to Spike's leash, out like a tightwire. The puppy wanted
to walk and now a price on his head too? Would he understand, her
needing to make this demeaning admission to lose these guys?
"Bites like bear
trap." Ngo laughed. To look at Spike's squinty, triangular
eyes, his monster mouth, how could that not be true?
"Miss, we no try
him," he said, conceding, yes, Ngo had one killer dog
guarding her. Spike's looks really would repel these boomba,
boomba, boomba pests. "Gotta go to our business, do
"Chao," the driver
said, speaking at last.
Boomba, boomba, boomba. They
drove off, the red Civic's oversized exhaust pipe blatting away.
* * *
"So how's he
doing?" Dr. Benoit asked Ngo. Once more he managed a Spike
struggle at the examining table.
"Great. Every day, we
walk. But he sees another dog, he's tugging on the leash." As
if in sympathy, Ngo waggled her right hand. "I worry when he
gets bigger, he'll break loose and run."
always work." An idea that had already hit Ngo. "So no
more asthmatic attacks?"
"Not a one."
"Good. Keep walking him
outside. I'll go ahead and write a prescription, something for
asthma you can have just in case."
"It's funny, Spike was
supposed to solve problems in my life: burglar alarm, protection
when I jog--now he's the big challenge--"
"Or one of life's
"I know, like buying
this house. Before I worried about too much debt. Now, once a
month, I write check, no big deal--" Ngo brought hand to
mouth. What am I saying? She had caught her words, she did not
say, It will be the same with Spike.
Benoit's right cheek
tightened, a suggestion of a dimple. "Anyway, just
keep," he said, "taking Spike for walks, good tonic for
the heart and everything else. He'll be fine."
* * *
"So, tell me, despite
my good advice, you had to go get a shark dog, didn't you?"
Nelse said. At Ngo's desk with more of the beta software
enhancements, he loaded the CD-ROM drive and eyed the puppy in the
new framed snapshot.
"Yes, nice puppy, looks
very mean, he keeps bad guys away."
"Oh, sure, bad guys in
a neighborhood like Irvington?" Ngo brought forefinger to
cheekbone, contemplated the thick blondness, the back of Nelse's
head. What a surprise he still remembers where I live.
"Well, sometimes. They
drive through--" Ngo said, reluctant to admit, Even my own
"You still like your
"Oh, of course. Loads
of room, for the furniture I don't have." Ngo chuckled. She
wanted Nelse to think that even in a house, she, like him, did not
have every material comfort yet.
"Did I tell you, have
this friend, he's in the market for a home, says Irvington prices
are up two percent a month now."
"I hear those figures
too, makes me feel like every day I live in more of a
Nelse turned away from the
monitor busy with a nonstop stream of messages about hardware
initializations, fixed Ngo with a look of confession. "Say,
I've gotta get my finances together, stop this living out of an
apartment and get in a house before it's too late."
"Rising prices make
people move, that's for sure," she said, repeating what Kyla
said, the words real estate agents must live by.
"Yeah, Irvington's one
place I wanna to check out."
Ngo flicked a dangly lock of
hair out of her face. Nelse, he's more than a programmer, might be
a friend, might be fun, go ahead, do it. "You know, you're
ever in the neighborhood--" She studied the chestnut eyes for
a reaction. "Stop by."
His face relaxed, could not
stifle a fresh smile. "I will," he said, an upbeat,
confident tone. "You'll have me looking at houses in no
time." The beam of enthusiasm stayed in his face.
"I'll show you where I
For no reason at all, or for
all the reasons, Ngo, associate actuary, remembered that first
thrilling moped ride in Saigon many years before.
Charlie Dickinson's work appears online at Blue
Moon Review, Eclectica, Savoy and elsewhere. He
lives in the Irvington Neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, the
setting for "Steps" and nine other Irvington stories to
date, all available at his website, http://www.efn.org/~charlesd.