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Dockside Soliloquy

By Michael Stephens

They were not whiskey-breathed men, my father and his friends, they came home sodden from work, and with the sweet-sour scent of draught beer. Before the sun rose, they were off to work a long shift on the docks, then hanging in there late for overtime. On vacations, we were allowed to come along, usually when an oceanliner was in port, get a free lunch, tour the ship, then come home tired, and bickering. The longshoremen would come over, slapping you with a big, friendly hand, and of me, "Hey, he looksatalian!" Most of the waterfront is gone now, and the wharf rats have swum to Jersey, the longshoremen, Customs inspectors, shipping company people, they've retired to Florida or work at the airport. The rough dockside bars are gay hangouts now, the Westside Highway scrapped, the piers empty. I say this with the sweet-sour scent of beer on my breath, and cigarettes, my daughter at my side, holding my hand. I say it with the memory of the sweet-sour scent of beer on my breath and on his and on the air, and my daughter grown up and the docks empty. I say it without cigarettes now, without the sweet-sour breath, my father in a nursing home in Florida, retired and sundowning at night in the ward for demented old men who drank themselves out of a mind.

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