Mortal Men
Victoria Lewis

His stubble moved across my cheek, along my jawline, down my neck. His hand brushed my thigh. I wrapped my fingers around his warm biceps. He found the top button of my jeans.

He logged in the summer, setting chokers on massive Doug Firs and he had the wiry, agile body to prove it. He’d never said two words to me before he offered me a ride home from the party that night. He didn’t say much to me after.

When I wouldn’t put out on the bench seat of his mud-crusted red pickup, parked on the old road down by the swamp, he reached down the back of my hip-hugger jeans, yanked my underwear up into my butt crack, and said, “Get out.”

I jerked the door open and jumped down from the running board, my legs shaking, my anus burning, and my heart pumping. I didn’t reach down the back of my jeans to unwedge my white cotton underpants until I heard him gun his engine as he pulled out onto Highway 101 heading south.

I stood under a cloud-softened night sky as the wind off the Umpqua River carried the smell of damp wood chips from the sawmill through top-heavy cattails and wetland reeds where frogs revved in unison. At the crest of the hill I looked down at the rusty cone of the wigwam burner and the raw-ended rectangles of two by fours, stacked and ready for the Monday morning forklift, and finally caught my breath.

That year, Oregon loggers fell eight billion board feet of timber and I left for college. Later, after years of teaching school, I finally landed my dream job, writing computer code, fixing bugs, and updating databases.

It was a fifteen-minute drive from my house, they paid for my parking, and there were food carts within walking distance. I stole five-minute breaks on a balcony lined with marigolds, impatiens, and geraniums shaded by the leafy canopy of a park in the heart of downtown.

I scooted to the edge of my rolling chair. My query had pulled all the right files from the development database and the code ran perfectly on the server, but I just couldn’t write to the database. I needed the current key, but it was tucked away into a file somewhere, and for the life of me I couldn’t find it.

Two desks over, Steve, our subject matter expert, cloud authority, senior coder, and the last to update the key, would know.

“Steve, do you have a minute to look at this with me?” He usually answered questions with a terse ‘look it up,’ but I didn’t know where to find it. Ten minutes later he stood behind me and said, “If you’re working here we expect you to be proficient with this.” The message was clear. You knew what you were getting into when you came here.

I felt like a shoddy piece of bug-riddled software. My blood pounded in my ears. I needed a bunch more air, but deep breaths didn’t help. Guilt twisted my stomach. I should know this. I’m wasting his time. What if he gets mad at me?

Then I remembered the night I jumped out of a dirt-spattered pickup and stood on the side of the road, shaking, just like now. I tightened my fists, turned my hot, red face toward him and said, “OK. If you don’t help me, I won’t finish my ticket, and the team won’t meet our sprint goals, again.”

Instead of the balcony, I took my break outside. Acorns cracked under my shoes on a sidewalk splotched with crow droppings. The sharp, sweet fragrance of grilled onions drifted from the open window of a food cart. Under a massive oak, in a bed of damp wood chips, the green and white striped leaves of a hosta still held crystal beads of morning dew.

I occurred to me, as I looked at the hulking concrete parking structure squatting like a bunker across the street, that if they kicked me out, this time I wouldn’t have to walk home.