Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:
“Portland, Oregon has everything, but we can’t live there because of the North Korean nukes,” Adam said. As usual, he was running through a list of places we were moving to, even though I’m never leaving Portland, Maine.
“How long before the nukes can reach us here in Maine?”
Ethan looked up from his computer. “We have half an hour. Plenty of time for another espresso.”
Tim drank one too, despite already having the jitters from other things. We’d run into Milagros at Hilltop Coffee.
“Montreal has to be deleted because you’re too old to start over as Canadians,” he said, looking over the list. “If you were 17 and 13 instead of 50 and 46, you could live in Montreal.”
Not that we wouldn’t have other issues under those circumstances, considering our youth.
But Tim wasn’t really talking about Adam and me. He was talking to Milagros, hoping she’d say you’re never too old to start over. Meanwhile, she sat slumped in her chair with her eyes cast down at her coffee.
“What about Vancouver?” Adam said, oblivious. “That would be a fun place to go.” He pointed to the 36 Hours article in the Sunday Times.
I glanced at it absently while thinking about Milagros.
“Thank you for your momentary attention,” Adam said, snatching the paper back from me.
But I barely heard him.
“What are our other options?” Adam said, looking over Tim’s list. “How did you decide on these 10?”
“These are just the locations you have to delete to get down to Portland, Maine. There’s a lot of others that don’t rise to the level of deletions. Technically you could say that’s every place in the world that’s not on the list, but I don’t have that kind of time.”
Among other places, he’d excluded any place with no coastline. Not that we lived on the water ourselves.
“You never know,” he said. “Someday maybe we could get a place on the water. Maybe someplace near Two Lights.” He was still talking to Milagros, trying to get her to look up from her coffee and smile.
Ethan snorted. “Right, because that would not be expensive.”
“It’s not by New York standards,” I said, pointedly at Adam, who ran off to New York to escape Portland.
“By New York standards everything in Portland is free.”
In the old days, Milagros would have laughed at that but she was still just staring listlessly into her coffee. She didn’t even seem to have the strength to drink it.
Tim got up and examined the food selection.
“These donuts look really good,” he said to her. She’d lost weight since we’d last seen her, even in her smile, once so big, now almost nonexistent. Her eyes had skinnied down into tiny pinpoints.
“Although the problem with donuts is you take a few bites and then you don’t really want anymore, you have to eat the whole thing anyway so you don’t waste it,” Tim said nervously.
Ethan rolled his eyes. “Such a good time. You make it sound so fun.”
I tried to interject.
“How was the egg sandwich?”
“I don’t know,” Tim said. “I only ate part of it.”
“But was it good?”
“I didn’t eat enough to tell if it tastes good.”
He was very freaked out by Milagros’ silence.
“How’s work going?” he asked her finally. It wasn’t an easy question to get out, considering she’d left him for her boss at the tattoo shop.
She didn’t answer.
“Things are going well at the blog,” he said, filling the space. “This is a great time for craft beer even if you can’t make money. There are so many new ones constantly launching.”
He looked at Ethan.
“In fact, I had a long talk with a new brewer this morning before we came over here.”
“I know, I heard the call,” Ethan said.
Of course, Tim was still really talking to Milagros.
“Oh, I wasn’t sure whether you listen to my calls or not.”
“I hear every word. And not only that, but I edit them and critique the contents.”
Milagros still didn’t look up.
“Maybe we should start our own brew,” Tim said. “We could make it in the tool shed.”
The main thing was the word we.
Ethan shook his head. “It’ll smell too much.”
“We could start on a small scale and see,” I said, just trying to be positive.
Tim looked at Milagros. “Instead of starting on a small scale and seeing, let’s start on a large scale and assume.”
He was talking about Milagros coming back.
But instead of responding, she suddenly seemed to doze off, her face hovering inches over the coffee cup like she was trying to breathe it in to wake herself up.
Only Adam failed to notice something was very wrong.
“You shouldn’t rule out Portland, Oregon,” he said. “Kim’s not going to nuke us and there’s not going to be a war. They’ll work it out somehow.”
“If there is a war, would you guys fight?” Ethan asked. He’s still got a lot of red meat in him, despite everything.
Tim shook his head. “I’d probably go to Canada.”
He looked at Milagros for her opinion on that.
“Then I’m going to seek a prosecution of you under the Alien and Sedition Act,” Ethan said. “And, by the way, you could be prosecuted both for being seditious and for being an alien. Even though you were born here.”
That finally woke Milagros. She never could stand it when Ethan picked on Tim.
“Actually, I’m the alien,” she said. “And in fact I’m being deported.” She’d apparently been picked up by Immigration at a treatment center for heroin after getting hooked through her new boyfriend. They told her as a Cuban she could be deported despite her short-lived marriage to Tim.
We all looked at her in shock.
Finally, Tim broke the silence.
“I guess we really are moving to Canada,” he said.
Adam was very excited.