Bartlett House by Patricia J. McLean and Duane Poncy ©2004, 2010

A splash of cold water brought Will back to consciousness. His head was on the table and a tender spot on his forehead. He could smell antiseptic, was aware of someone leaning close to him. He opened his eyes and sat up, slowly.
     It was a nurse sitting next to him waiting patiently. She wore a protective mask over her face. Her deep brown eyes regarded him impartially as she swabbed his forehead and applied a butterfly bandaid.
     “You better sit for a while,” she said, gathering her tools into a small kit. At the door she stripped off her latex gloves and dropped them in the wastebasket. Then she left him alone.
     He surveyed the interrogation room. A fly buzzed around him in slow motion. The fluorescent lights, excessively bright, hummed like a chainsaw cutting through a dark thicket. He thought he could see the officers behind the two-way glass, watching him twist. Watching him try to escape his mental torture chamber. Like the wheel that tightens the screw, his thoughts about Emmy kept circling back. Why hadn’t they just put him on a medieval rack? Or extracted his fingernails? Anything but this.
     He agonized for what seemed like hours; about Emmy’s unborn baby, his baby; about leather and fire and those last moments of her life. Did she die in torment? Had she been unconscious? Why hadn’t she told him she was pregnant?
     When they finally let him go, he realized he had only been at the station for a couple of hours. It seemed to Will that Detective Morris was not convinced of his guilt. DeChris was another matter. But why would someone want to kill Emmy? The question pressed against Will, occupying the part of his brain that wasn’t too numb to function. A numbness that he couldn’t count on. Not enough, he knew, to protect him if he went back to his apartment where he would be alone. He wasn’t prepared to be that vulnerable just now, so he stood on the street outside of the precinct trying to decide where to go.
     The police station was in the Justice Center, a euphemism for county jail. It was situated near the Multnomah County Courthouse, and the Federal Courthouse. Will tried to estimate the number of courtrooms that surrounded him. And for every courtroom, he thought, there are entire floors of lawyers. Since location is everything, almost every building in a ten-block radius contained at least one law office. If he needed a lawyer, one wouldn’t be hard to find. Not that he could afford it. Maybe that was something his ex-wife, Barbara, would be willing to pay for. Or Sondra, his first wife, might pay for a lawyer in order to keep the father of her child out of prison. On second thought, the way Zoe felt about him, her mother might not part with a dime on his behalf.
     That was probably unfair. Zoe didn’t hate her dad, after all. It was just that the divorce had been so painful for all of them. Will and his daughter couldn’t seem to find solid ground between them. And now thousands of miles separated them.
     Emmy’s child. Why hadn’t she told him? His hands felt empty. Something, the most important thing, had been snatched out of them.
     Will pushed the thought away, concentrating instead on deciding where to go instead of the apartment. If it weren’t for Rose Festival, he would have chosen the riverfront. Not that the crowds would be too heavy in this rain. Will began walking across Third. He angled north up the sidewalk that ran diagonally through one of two park blocks situated between Third and Fourth streets. On either side of him, a long row of new steel park benches had recently replaced the old wood and iron benches. The old benches had been deficient in that they allowed vagrants to stretch out and sleep in full view of the magnificent courts that had so far been unable to reform them. A particularly disturbing sight for the mayor, whose newly renovated corner office, in the newly renovated city building, had an unobstructed view of the parks.
     Rush hour had begun. Cars moved in dense schools. Pedestrians holding tattered, end of the season umbrellas flowed around Will, their faces intense, gray. Within four blocks of the police station, Will was soaked. His shirt clung to his torso and his jeans were tight and heavy. The rain slacked and stopped as he reached the square. Ahead of him, two cops were inviting several young panhandlers to move along. Will didn’t recognize any of them, but he stopped when he came near enough for the cops to notice him. He knew it wasn’t a big deal, the kids would come back in half an hour or so and settle like birds in their roosting place until the cops set them to flight again. It was the same every year during Rose Festival. Mustn’t let the tourists know that the postcard had another viewpoint. It wasn’t a big deal, but they could have been Emmy’s waifs, so he watched the cops with his arms crossed.
“This isn’t your business,” one of the cops said.
     Will didn’t move or respond. The cop shrugged. The kids moved on.
     Pioneer Square in the sunlight, still wet from the rain. He recalled that morning at the end of Spring Term. The demonstration. Emmy, waving him into her life. Since he was already soaked, Will gave no thought to the wet concrete and perched on the wide wall lining the square, the amphitheater to his left, westbound light rail on his right. The sun lingered on the edge of a cloud, threatening to expose his horrible pain. He closed his eyes and whispered, “I was on my way to class, Emmy.”

     It had been a rare day in early March. Rain had fallen all night, but the clouds were nearly empty by morning and only a spattering, a kind of mist, remained and that was gone by nine. What made the day rare was that the clouds were also gone and the sun was brilliant. A little steam was rising off the asphalt of unshadowed streets. Everything that could gleam did. On a day like this, selective amnesia becomes epidemic among Portlanders. Will had caught it. Spring is here. He believed it. He was wearing his raincoat, but he was thinking he wouldn’t have to replace the last umbrella he’d lost. A ridiculous joy came over him.
There was something in the air, a rhythmic chanting. Sounds like a protest, he thought.
     Interesting. He saw them when he turned the corner onto Broadway. Too far away to make out the signs. His step quickened. They were protesting against HUD conversions. Ah yes, Will thought, inflated real estate and profiteering – telltale signs of a successful economy.
     Will was standing on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Morrison, content to watch the protest pass instead of detouring around it, when he saw a familiar face. A former student. She’d taken a couple of classes from him. He remembered when she got fired up it was like a veil dropping away, and her soul, fierce and beautiful, radiated. That was how she looked now, impassioned and powerful. He kept his eyes on her as the column advanced. She looked in his direction, grinned and waved. He was tempted to look around him to see if she was waving at someone else, instead he waved back, accepting her remembering him as a kind of gift. The moment was over, a mounted policeman blocked her from view, the line of protestors ended and Will crossed Morrison, falling in behind the last of the marchers as they crossed Sixth.
     His usual path was to cut through Pioneer Square if it wasn’t hosting one of the frequent events that made an obstacle course out of the block. But that day, the protest was the event and he didn’t mind getting somewhat lost in the midst of it as the protestors fanned out over the bricks of what promoters like to call “Portland’s Living Room”.
     Will didn’t want to be delayed too long so he pushed his way through the throng and up the broad stairs designed to serve as amphitheater seating. At the top, Will paused and looked back. Protestors filled the center of the square and flowed up the sides. Someone was tapping on a microphone. Light reflected from the terra cotta tiled surfaces and gold paint of the Corinthian columns placed artfully along the perimeter of the square. One was arranged as if fallen, broken into perfectly smooth, round segments, so that the total effect was one of manufactured ruin. It was all out of context amid the towers and the traffic. A couple thousand years had been placed in a blender and out came the corporate banners, the food carts, the umbrella man and counterfeit remains of ancient Greece. He turned away and continued toward the university.
     Will strode along the park blocks, under trees still bare, black limbs against blue sky patterned the grass in geometric shadow. His raincoat felt almost too warm as he entered the university campus. Will was a part time, adjunct professor of political history and had been for twelve years. But this was only one of his campuses. Will actually did teach full time. It was just that he spread it out over three colleges. Oh yes, he thought as he reached his small, closet-sized office, times have never been better. Look at me, I have three jobs and the judge felt so sorry for me that he said I didn’t have to pay spousal support.
     “Will, do you have a minute?” Henry Schuyler, History Chair. Will’s boss.
“Only a minute. I’m on my way to lecture.”
     “Missed you at the department meeting, yesterday.”
     “Give me fulltime and I’ll be here everyday.”
     Henry threw him a withering look. “In any event, we discussed the need for a higher profile. History just isn’t sexy like science and mathematics.”
     “Mathematics is sexy?” Will asked.
     Schuyler ignored him; “You need to do your part. It would help your career, and give the department a boost as well. I know you’re working on a new manuscript, Will. It wouldn’t take much extra to pump out an article now and then for a respectable publication.”
     Respectable. What was that about? Will felt a small fury building inside. By the time he got to his classroom, it was fully formed and already starting to recede, but not enough to go by without comment. He flipped open his briefcase, pulled out his lecture notes and fanned them out on the podium. The students were quiet, expectant. He looked down at his notes, pulled a handkerchief from his pants pocket and wiped his forehead. A line of protestors marched between his eyes and the first page of his notes.
     “What does respectable mean? Does anyone have a thought on that they’d like to share,” Will looked up at his students, most of them sophomores. It was a hard question. There were no takers. He plunged on, “Isn’t “˜respectable’ culturally, contextually anchored?” He saw it in their faces. They were confused. It was dead week. They didn’t expect Professor Adelhardt to bring new material into his lecture today. Maybe an anecdote from some forgotten soldier to bring the civil war down to a personal perspective. But this sounded like the beginning of a lecture on semiotics – was that the word? It stretched the limits of their newly acquired vocabulary. Respectability – what did it have to do with history? “What would you choose if someone asked you to name a respectable magazine or newspaper? Or journal? Are there some mediums so fundamentally corrupted, or tainted by association with readership or commercialism that they are unrespectable? Is there a media source that isn’t?
     “But that’s not really the problem. The problem,” Will took off his jacket, felt the sun hit his shirtsleeve. “The problem,” he began again, turning toward the wall of windows on his right, “Is that you’re all absent. You’re thinking about finals. You’d rather know what will be on the exam than what respectable means.” It wasn’t a complaint. He started to walk over to the window. “I don’t know why you’re in here,” he said, “when you could be out there.”
     Will walked back to the podium and began gathering up the lecture notes. “Go on. Get out of here.”
     “Aren’t you going to”¦?” The question, coming from the back of the room was immediately drowned by other students ready for a break, some of them happy to have the extra study time.
     “Pick one of these up on your way out.” Will tossed the handouts he had prepared for this last spring lecture on a desk near the door. Then he left ahead of them, more eager than his students to get out of the building and into the sun.
     He headed back over to his office to retrieve messages. After that, he thought, I’ll take a walk along the waterfront or hike up to the Japanese Garden. A day like today held so much potentiality. It was too much for the coffee shop to contain. It was too sudden and too brilliant to cling to petty frustrations or to think about mundane interdepartmental tugs of war over miserable funds.
     Will was even whistling under his breath as he approached his office. The phone rang through the door as he arrived. He was able to catch it before it went into voicemail. “Adelhardt.”
     “Hi. This is Emmy D’Angelo.”
     “Emmy. Hello. Good to hear from you. I saw you this morning.” That was astute. Former students made him uneasy, especially former female students. What did they want from him? “What can I do for you?” That was stiff. He winced.
     She was all business. “I’m hoping you can point me toward some resource materials on Louise Bryant and John Reed. I remember you have some interest in radical politics.”
     “So you’re researching the local reds? I thought you were done with academia?”
     “This is for myself. My great-grandmother knew Louise Bryant. I want to know about her life, so I thought I should get to know something about the local reds as you say,” Emmy replied.
     He sat on the edge of his desk, remembering her intense face in the front row of his class. Or the times when she joined the informal discussion group that met at noon on Wednesdays. “I’ve got some books I’d be glad to loan you. I’ll dig them out of the debris in my apartment. I can give them to you later today.”
     “Today’s not good. How about tomorrow?”
     “It’ll have to be after two, I teach at the community college on Thursdays. How about four o’clock at the Stumptown Café? I’ll buy you a cappuccino.” Will winced. Did I really say cappuccino?
     “That’ll work for me. And thanks, Professor.”
     “No problem, Emmy.” Is that a date? It was good to feel foolish, even if she was under thirty. Still he had to rein it in. She called him Professor. It is not a date. It’s a cup of coffee and a book loan. I’m a library with a gray beard.

     The arrival of a train and the sudden rush of passengers to and fro disturbed Will’s reverie of that day. Laughter and bits of conversation swirled around him. Will kept his eyes closed. He knew that if he opened them it would be June again, and he would have come back from Eugene and there would be a message on his machine. And he didn’t want to have heard that message. Not yet.
     “The doors are closing. The doors are closing.” And the train moved on, leaving the sidewalk nearly empty and Will, still sitting on the damp wall, fell back into the past.

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