The Argument – Pandora
When her phone rang and her ex’s number came up she knew exactly why he was calling at 6:45 on Friday morning.
“What’s up Dan?” she said hurriedly as she stuffed their son’s lunch in his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack.
“Hey Chris, I know I’m supposed to pick Nate up from school today, but something came up at work. It’s a really big deal and I can’t miss this opportunity. You can pick him up no problem right? I’ll swing by tomorrow afternoon and take him to the skate-park like we planned.”
She left him hanging for a moment in silence as she angrily zipped up the backpack.
“Hello? Chris? Can you hear me?!” Dan’s voice had that panicked tone she knew so well from when he’d been caught in any one of his many lies. She wanted to hurt him. Emotionally, the way he’d hurt her and Nate.
“It’s your one day a week, Dan, to see your son, to be the father you said you wanted to be…”
“Look, I know,” Dan sighed pathetically, “But this is my one chance to meet with the largest grower in Western Washington. This could mean a huge contract. More money for you and Nate…”
Her guffaw broke him off. “Yeah, more money, right. Drug money. Whatever Dan.” She hung up before he could respond with more lies.
She knew driving back to West Seattle from North Seattle on Friday afternoon would be a tough commute, but today it was a disaster. They’d closed the Viaduct down to a single southbound lane and traffic snaked from the Viaduct, through the Battery street tunnel, along Queen Anne and reached all the way back along Hwy 99 to the zoo. She was screwed. The overhead reader board estimated 90 minutes to get from Queen Anne (where she was currently stuck in traffic) to West Seattle where her son would be done with school in 30 minutes. An hour and a half to go 7.7 miles. She’d be an hour late.
“Fuck!” She yelled at all the cars jammed around her. “Fuck!” she cursed Dan the deadbeat dad who her son still idolized. “Fuck!” for the stupid department of transportation who was ruining Seattle by closing down lanes during rush hour traffic. “Fuck!” for the $5 a minute the school would assess her for every minute she was late to pick up her son. That was $300 she didn’t have.
Suddenly, like the parting of the Red Sea, Chris saw an opening to escape the traffic jam nightmare by exiting to a side street at the base of Queen Ann. She slammed the car into gear and sped for the exit. Chris knew the city so well she was able to weave her way through downtown. Just having forward movement made her feel better, even though she knew she would still be a few minutes late, it was more in the $30 realm. She came to the jumbled intersection of streets under the West Seattle bridge that led to Harbor Island and felt like she was in the home stretch, she could see West Seattle!
She heard the bells on the drawbridge begin to chime.
“No.” She said to no one in particular.
The red lights on the drawbridge began blinking and the red and white arms swung down to stop cars from crossing. Chris didn’t know whether she was going to laugh or cry. The bridge was opening for a large ship passing from the Duwamish River into the bay. There was nothing she could do. She simply turned the car off and stared stonily at the slow machinations of the bridge opening and ship gliding through.
The area surrounding the bridges had become a haven for the homeless since the city had begun clearing out “the Jungle.” Those who had tents relocated to the relative dry areas under the bridges. Or they built elaborate tent compounds out of blue tarps and cardboard. Or they simple lay on the ground in sleeping bags zipped up over their heads.
Chris saw the man pushing the shopping cart, but didn’t really see him (the way we look at homeless people when we are numbed to their poverty and hardship by the sheer number of them and our inability to do anything to help them). But when the woman and child appeared trailing behind the man with the cart, Chris noticed. She recognized the boy to be around the same age as her son, 7 or 8 years old. Old enough that he should be in school.
The boy had kinky brown hair and light brown skin. Chris surmised the white woman might be his mother, but the man had light skin and a reddish beard, it was doubtful he was the father. The boy ran up to the cart and began trying to take a razor scooter off the top of the pile of belongings. The man in the cart swerved the cart into the boy, knocking him down hard onto the sidewalk. The boy began to cry. Chris was now paying attention and heard the woman screaming.
“What the fuck you do that for?!”
“Ain’t got time for his games right now”
Chris felt her hand on the door before she even knew what she was doing. The boy was crying harder and had his hands over his face. She was out of the car and kneeling by the boy while the woman and man screamed at each other over the cart.
“Are you ok?’ Chris quietly asked as she put her hands on the boys heaving shoulders.
“Get the hell away from my boy!” The homeless woman now screamed at Chris.
The boy pulled his hands away from his face and Chris could see he was bleeding from a cut on his cheekbone.
“He’s hurt!” Chris pointed out to the woman and man who were now both focused on her and the boy.
“This ain’t your business lady!” The man yelled at Chris.
The boy had stopped crying and was watching the adults with wide eyes.
Chris fumbled in her pockets for a tissue, or her cell phone, or anything that would make her feel powerful. Her hands were shaking. The man and woman looked like tweakers. She saw the dark gaps in their mouths, where teeth were missing, as they now both were screaming at her to “Get the fuck away from Tayshawn!”
Chris put her hands up to show she wasn’t touching the boy and backed away. She could still hear them screaming as she hurriedly started her car. The bridge re-opened and she glanced in her rearview mirror. The woman was helping the boy up and the man with the cart was still yelling at the both of them.
“Not my argument,” Chris said to herself.