we ride the coast starlight down to portland, down the western edge of the country, through washington state and into oregon.
we laugh together and admire the view: the rolling hills and the lumber yards, the towering trees, autumn leaves of every color, the flatlands and eighteen-wheelers, the water towers and piles of dirt, the large estates and secret hideaways, the back-bending bridges stretching over murky bodies of water, empty coffee stands, bikini baristas stuck in the middle of nowhere.
she sizes me up from behind the lens of her camera. she’s luminous but it’s subtle: casually attractive in a comfy red sweater & a modest black skirt. her long, sensuous legs are footed by low-top sneakers with scuffs on the shell-toe. She’s looking up at me with her almost almond-shaped eyes, green and gleaming, smirking and smiling every time i embarrass myself (which is plenty, and often).
her body feels good in my arms, her hands feel soft in mine.
we crack jokes about the Amtrak menu, comically debating whether to order the steamed mussels or the Mexican lasagna (and who cooks it? there’s a chef? on the train? steaming mussels?). somehow it’s hilarious.
i take a picture on my phone of her taking a picture on her phone of the the st. john’s bridge.
we arrive in portland.
our rental is nestled behind a large suburban house in a small neighborhood off Hawthorne, dubbed as a garden studio in the airbnb listing.
Inside, it’s cozy and small, with a tall wooden ladder leading to a tiny loft designated for storage space or spare luggage. in the corner of the room is a full-size bed with a plushy white comforter pushed beneath posters of Mohammed Ali and The Beatles and Dr. King and a quote about endurance from Enzo Ferrari. i find two white robes, all shoulders, hanging large and stiff in a closet, slowly swaying from momentum.
we stroll along the streets of downtown, passing some of the local landmarks, twice sometimes, giddily admiring the scenery – and each other – while snapping photographs and constantly kissing. we purchase notebooks at Powell’s. we explore thrift stores along Hawthorne. we admire the retro furniture at Lounge Lizard. we slip into the photo booth at Ace Hotel and pay for two strips of photos. we stroll through O’Bryant Square. we visit the Chinese Garden but we don’t go in. we talk about sex at waterfront park, overlooking the Williamette River. we enjoy tofu rolls together at Sushi Land. we eat tacos at Sanataria. she buys me breakfast at Jam on Hawthorne where she orders a tofu scramble but can’t finish the hash browns. we visit Voodoo Doughnuts (twice) and order enough vegan doughnuts to make us resent ourselves later. i buy an Italian sub from Charlie’s but don’t eat it. she devours a lettuce-wrapped veggie burger and some french fries tossed in salt and white truffle oil from Little Big Burger.
on the train ride back to Seattle, somebody was already sitting in our assigned seats so we chose new ones on the ocean-side, so we could see the water. she’s revisiting photos from Facebook, Instagram.
my stomach hurts and i can’t stop peeing. i shift in my seat irritably. “Are you done looking through photos from your past?”
she performs a series of thumb swipes. “I’m sorry that I don’t regret my life’s decisions.” the screen of her phone blackens.
“I don’t either,” I lie, too quickly. “I just leave the past where it is.”
she falls asleep on my thigh, her body small in her raincoat, and i run my fingers through her sandy brown hair, massaging and scratching her scalp. a voice mumbles over the loudspeaker, delivering a crackling monologue that awakens her.
later I crane my neck to inspect the setting sun, the melting colors, reddish-orange and yellow and baby blue, slowly dipping behind the trees and mountain. I twist my head back around, readjusting my seat, turning away from the sunset without really appreciating it.