The Siege

An indifferent freeway dissects Forlaine down the middle from east to west, embracing it at each end in its curving, tendril-like on and off ramps. Main Street intersects the freeway at forty-five degrees, spreading out on either side a gaudy leg tattooed with fast food franchises and chain stores standing out against the rustic remnants, some authentic, of the town’s logging past.
That past was truncated by the creation of the national park to the east, a ban on clear-cutting in the state and the ensuing contraction of the regional logging industry.

Sprawl saved Forlaine in the nineties. An hour and a half round-trip commute to the city became less onerous as real estate grew prohibitively expensive there. New housing developments went up along with the price of real estate and tax revenue. Two classes of newcomer arose, one working class primarily from the defense contractor in the city, the other, smaller group, yuppies. They stood out from each other as well as from the original Forlainers. These divisions were rarely mentioned out loud but always there, in the background.


Two new schools were built. One of the state’s main mountain passes, featuring a ski resort, was just as near to the east as the city was to the west. In the early twenty-first century things were looking up in Forlaine; five new developments were in some stage of planning/execution. Then the housing market fell apart in 2008.

Still, the city could have done worse. Most development made no longer feasible was left in the planning stage. One large development had gotten way out ahead of itself, leaving behind a ghost neighborhood of over a hundred houses, most of which had not yet sold. Among the rows of unsold  (or abandoned) homes were scattered homes occupied by the unfortunate few who bought just before the bubble burst. Here’s where the federal government stepped in to help, leasing entire blocks for the purpose of housing migrant refugees.

Misty Handringer considered her role in this with some pride as she rode her bicycle up Main Street. She resisted the creeping, familiar sense of dissatisfaction she always felt upon a project’s fruition. She fought but couldn’t help returning, like to a sore tooth, to the equally familiar sense of resentment that was forming.
Just for starters she had raised nearly half the funds (most of that her own money) for the welcome center, but she hadn’t been invited to speak at the opening, yet. She had envisioned giving an address to the newcomers. She determined that if she had to suggest it herself she would. 

Dare she attempt a phrase or two in Somali? She conjured what they would look like, the women in their colorful garb (as she imagined; she had no idea what they wore; she determined to look it up online), their faces weathered, wizened with what that ineffable African understanding of which westerners are not capable; she could see them looking up at her with awe. Was this racist of her? Was she only engaging in what her ex-husband had called vain condescension? Why had this, of his many complaints, stuck? Oh well, he had nothing to say now how she spent her money; he would have to complain to his new wife about how she put the small fortune of her divorce settlement to good use, she thought, with a slight rise at the corner of her mouth.

As she addressed the incline ahead her front wheel yawed violently back and forth reacting to each deliberate, labored pedal-stroke; each of these looked to be the last she could manage before gravity overtook her, but no, another followed just as she seemed about to topple, just as laborious but no weaker. And they followed one after the other dependably up the long slope.

A passing pickup gave her a wide berth. She scowled—as if she needed all that room!—but did not look up. She returned again to a less satisfying project, an off-ramp for Main Street. Businesses on the main drag could use the traffic–her bookstore could use the traffic, though she honestly didn’t care.
Losses had been halved with the addition of a barista; it hardly cost her anything to keep the store open now. Still, it would be nice to turn a profit, she decided, if only because of the unendurable condescension of other local business owners, and her ex.

 And thus she made her way, her front tire swinging steadily back and forth like an errant needle on a dial: north, south, north…

(to be continued)

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