Mark pulled off exit 29A onto Rt. 169. He gazed toward the river with a smile. Yes, it still flows eastward. The car ascended the bridge. He was crossing the river, coming home.
The interchange had been built far from the city because environmentalists squawked about construction damaging the Ice Age formations—potholes—on Moss Island.
Because of their squawking, Moss Island stood without an interchange running through it, Mark reminded himself—if you could call that stack of rocks and trees sticking out of the river an island. He reminisced about sneaking off with Jake, Arnie, Pete, and Mike for a hike and a beer or three to the island back in the day.
Christamighty, it’s a wonder we didn’t kill ourselves.
He descended the bridge onto Old River Road. Place hadn’t changed much in—what, twenty-five years now? Pete had gone into investment banking. Arnie was an artist living with a boyfriend somewhere in Hawaii—or maybe San Francisco? Mike had joined the Navy, and no one had heard from him since. And Jake. Well, that was why he was here today, wasn’t it?
Mark passed the sign reading “Business District” and snickered. The “business district” ran along a single street, beginning at city hall in the east and ending with the post office several blocks to the west, with a covered mall and a handful of mom’n’pops like the old Dugout squeezed in between.
The Dugout had to be long gone. The little bar they drank at when they turned legal gave them a place to drink out of the rain and snow. It was within walking distance of Mark’s place. No one had to worry about driving home loaded.
Running early, Mark drove to Eastern Park, got out, and stretched his legs. The Civil War statue still stood leaning too far back. The green paint on the band gazebo flaked and peeled. The white paint of its arches was nearly gone and gave the appearance of neglected teeth. An ankle-high stump was all that remained of the huge maple tree where he and the boys had passed around surreptitious joints.
The city should pull out that stump.
He checked his watch—a reflex. So much simpler than pulling out a phone. He’d better pick up something for Jake’s kids. Time to go. He walked back to the car, noting the years hadn’t been kind to the pavement either.
He parked downtown by the storefront that used to be the Dugout. The place now sold cupcakes. He glanced at the flowers in the back seat. His own kids always liked cupcakes. May as well bring some for Jake’s when he visited his widow.