We’re pleased to present the second part of an excerpt from “Acacia,” one of the stories featured in Dan DeWeese’s collection Disorder, out now on Propeller Books.
While Jansen was in the bathroom, our waiter, a boy with deliberately mussed hair and a tattoo of Gothic lettering rising from beneath the side of his shirt collar, came to take away our empty glasses. “You just have to stand up and leave,” he said. “Or he’ll keep talking all day.”
“You’ve had problems?” I said.
“No, but he doesn’t tip. And he can be a real asshole if you say the wrong thing. No offense.” He took the glasses and disappeared into the kitchen.
When Jansen came back and sat down, he looked at the empty white tablecloth between us. “Do you mind if we have one more round?” he asked.
After that round, I paid for lunch, tipped ten percent, and at Jansen’s suggestion we went for a walk in the direction of the apartment building. He told me that though we were still too far from the building to tell, the cornices and a decorative line of trim were granite, there were two carved limestone corner braces in the shape of sirens, and a granite bust of Odysseus occupied a recessed spot over the entryway. I told him it sounded pretty ornate for an apartment building.
“It was originally a hotel,” he said. “There was a time when there were plans to put a convention center in this neighborhood. One of the property owners wanted to get a jump on the business, so he built a hotel right away. But then the depression hit, and the convention center project was suspended.”
“And the code must have been changed,” I said. “None of the other buildings are the same height.”
“It’s a landmark to defeat at the hands of circumstance,” Jansen said. “And now the convention center is on the other side of the river, with two hideous functionless towers that look like abandoned scaffolding.”
We walked upon a slick surface of wet leaves that littered the sidewalk. Jansen’s steps were slow and deliberate, and I found myself watching our feet, the ponderous, halting rhythm of our shoes moving over the riotous colors and shapes beneath them: the spectacular yellow, copper, and ochre leaves, some like fallen stars, others like outspread hands, many torn, crushed, or otherwise destroyed as they lay there clogging the streets’ gutters and drains.
I was tired by the time we reached the apartment building, and ready to be done with Jansen. I dutifully looked up at the corner braces on either side of the small entry courtyard, however, and studied the bust over the door, admitting that they were skillfully done.
“The sculptor was classically trained,” Jansen said.
“The sirens’ mouths are open,” I said.
“Singing. Pretentious, no?”
“Out of context, at least.”
“They thought people from all over the country would walk these streets,” he said. “Maybe people from across the world. There were going to be restaurants and clubs and banks and shopping.”
“Odysseus has ropes across his chest.”
“Tied to the mast. So he can hear the song without chasing them.”
“The building is the ship,” I realized.
Jansen nodded. “Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic. The world’s fairs had huge exhibitions of technology and art. It’s a shame,” he said, raising his arm in a gesture that encompassed the entirety of the building. Many of the windows were cracked or broken and had been patched with tape or newspapers. The shrubs along the base were in need of trimming—castoff fast-food bags were impaled in some of the branches, and paper cups and cigarettes littered the ground.
“It’s not being maintained,” I said.
“There’s no need,” Jansen said. “Because three months from now, it won’t be here. They’re tearing it down, along with these smaller buildings on either side. They want to put in glassy little boxes with stores at the street level and overpriced condos above.”
The misting rain had grown thicker as we stood there—it dripped from the brim of Jansen’s hat and darkened the shoulders of his raincoat as I remarked that though the loss of the building was unfortunate, the new development might be an improvement for the neighborhood as a whole.
“Do you see the siren to the right, the one closest to us?” he asked.
I looked up—the woman’s face was framed in garlands of long, wavy hair. The surface of the stone was pitted in a way common to weathered sandstone, and the point beneath the chin where rain dripped was stained a greenish-yellow. Though her eyes were the smooth, pupil-less crescents that so many statues possess and which always strike me as indicating blindness, the face was slightly upturned, as if she were singing to the sky. “The more attractive of the two,” I said.
“I’ve always thought so,” Jansen said. “Because that’s my mother.”
I looked at Jansen, and then back at the figure. There was no resemblance between the old man and the young woman.
“She was the model,” he said. “I was just a small child, but I can still remember it, the excitement my family felt when we came to see the building when it was done. We used to have a photo from that day, of my mother standing in front of the building, smiling. But that’s been lost a long time ago.”
I didn’t know what to say. Water fell from the siren’s chin in small drops that disappeared in the mist.
“So I was glad when you called and asked about lunch,” Jansen said. “I thought maybe you could help me.”
“I don’t know anything about the way things are done here,” I told him.
“But you know how it works in general,” he said. “I don’t expect you to be an expert or a savior—just someone to help me understand.”
I told Jansen I would help him however I could—to offer anything less at that point would have been impossibly callous. Over the next half hour, he told me more about the city’s plans: the entire neighborhood had been targeted for reclamation, it seemed, and the city was eager to start its process of “enhancing livability.” In my experience that usually involves getting rid of minorities, and I noted that while Jansen and I stood there talking, the only people I saw entering or exiting the apartment building were black or Hispanic women, many with small children. Most eyed us warily as they passed.