My wife and I just moved
from Gary, Indiana, to Tacoma, Washington. Moving has provided us clarity,
everything is new. But the cities are alike, with industrial waterfronts,
so we haven't escaped. My wife is a teacher, I'm a mechanic's assistant,
mostly I change oil. Mt. Ranier and the Cascades are visible from town,
looming above the factory landscape. It's kind of pretty. At least it
doesn't get cold.
Since I haven't found work
yet, my role is the domestic. I straighten up the living room, do the
dishes, walk the dog. If we walk four blocks, we can see Puget Sound
from our hill. Ships and smokestacks. Or at night, the harbor lights,
tranquil. In the morning there are plumes of steam hiding the mountain
and they bring the paper mill smell, a pungent underaroma. When I walk
Buster there is one square of sidewalk, where, if the sky is clear,
I can see the peak of Mt. Ranier between houses. I encourage Buster
to lay his eggs on that lawn. It's an excuse for me to loiter in front
of the framed yet majestic view of the volcano. Mt. Ranier could blow
like Mt. St. Helens did without much warning. I saw on a TV show this
guy who had been warned about Mt. St. Helens but he refused to leave.
I've also seen shows about Pompeii.
Pompeii is all there, they
dug it out with spoons: amphitheater, indoor theater, gymnasium, stone-paved
house-lined roads with gutters for run-off, a stadium, restaurants,
a cemetery. The houses are small but with all four walls intact, some
walls with frescoes still. They made plaster casts from cavities left
in the ash by the people buried alive. I don't have to tell you how
they looked, their hands in claws, mouths gaping, bodies bent, staring
into the abyss, a final grimace. I think about them when I walk Buster,
not really upset about it, or even sympathetic, those people were and
are, their pain is gone. But the thought of them itches at the back
of my brain.
Or I think about the seals
I sometimes hear barking in Puget Sound. What brings them here? Why
don't they go where the coast is free? There are hundreds of miles of
undeveloped Pacific Coast in Washington and Canada, and stretches of
the Sound that are quiet. Still they come here. I guess they were first,
and they're not afraid of us, they're even curious. My wife and I saw
on the news how a gray whale had wandered up to one of the docks. There
was a worker there, taking his break, smoking a cigarette, and one of
the talking heads from the channel in Seattle, a blond athletic looking
man with expensive clothes and perfect teeth, had asked, "Why is
he here?" The worker said he didn't know, food maybe, that was
his guess. "There's food down there?" the reporter said. The
man wore a hard-hat and coveralls. He took a toke from his cigarette
and said, "Hadn't been down to check," and this made us laugh
but it was unsettling. Why was this guy able to joke about it? Whenever
Bigfoot came down out of the mountains the Ho Indians saw it as a sign.
I told my wife I was tired.
I was walking Buster then going to bed. I was thinking if the newsman
wanted to get the real scoop he should consult one of the Ho spiritual
leaders, not some paper mill worker. But the moment had passed, the
whale had disappeared, maybe dying or dead, or he was just fine--in
other waters. I looked into the night, locating the international space
station, the new brightest star. There was a smog halo around the moon--silent,
poisonous, and so damn beautiful. I stopped at our favorite square of
sidewalk and contemplated the dark space between houses where I knew
the volcano stood. I talked to Buster as I sometimes do. He squatted
and did his business.
"I remember houses
more spread out," I said. "There used to be more stars. I've
witnessed the sickening of the earth in my life, Buster, and I'm not
old. We could move again. To the country or somewhere. But what good
would that do?" There's a pooper scooper law in our new town but
at night I leave it. What's a small pile compared to all this?
John Minichillo has an MFA from Western Michigan University and a Ph.D.
from The University of Southern Mississippi. He lives in Tacoma, Washington,
where he teaches at Pacific Lutheran University. Every time he moves
he ends up writing a story about it. This is one of those stories.