Nothing Has Happened Yet

Back to Issue 13

They interrupted the commercial. I looked up and saw a pearl of sweat glistening over the lips of our beleaguered president. After a series of successful tests, he said, __________ have announced they can reach Seattle with a ballistic missile. In response came a flurry of forewarning, a swarm of startled threats. Threats of retribution, reckoning of biblical proportions. Our leaders insulted one another through an interpreter daily—two distracted old men bantering across the void. 

The intermission included an extravagant military parade in D.C. 

A tense summit with the two leaders generated a simmering calm. The missile tests stopped. Months passed. The public allowed itself to think of other things. 

Unexpectedly, our president announced a series of sanctions against the other country. An election year had arrived—a show of strength was emphasized. Their tests abruptly resumed. Their launch was announced and our city fell apart from within. Hysteria. Bodies climbing over one another to escape the impending shower of light, white light from the mouth of infinity. 

And now it is early dusk. 

As I turn the corner, bodies fill the sidewalks, walking, running, shouting, tearing into the street, barely dodging cars. Speeding cars. Electric horns shake the trees and birds fill the sky, slicing the air in every hopeless direction. One throws herself into my windshield with a flattening thump, wet grey wings sticking to my wipers. A shrill sustained note behind me gets louder as it passes and fades. A family—two parents, two little girls, two little boys—skitters through the intersection, holding hands. The littlest one tries in vain to keep a thumb in her mouth.

65th Street is always full of traffic. In lieu of stoplights or speed bumps, tin cylinders decorate the telephone poles and yield signs at the intersections. Inside these cylinders, stapled to wooden dowels, are mildewed strips of orange burlap. Flags for waving and warding away cars as you cross the street. Last weekend, I saw this same family—on my way to yoga. About to make my turn onto 65th. I remember the oldest boy—maybe he’s nine—smiling and waving his orange flag. The others followed, beaming behind their mother in a chain of little brown hands. Protecting his family, the boy assumed the place of his father, jaw clenched, smiling with his eyes, surveying the busy street, waiting for the moment to hurry everyone across to safety. When they cross in front of my car now, his flag is gone. Tears and snot replace his smile.

I turn in the opposite direction today. One after another, stoplights blink red. People shout from somewhere behind me, around me. I roll up my window. There is a man sitting beside me.

The man sitting beside me is coughing, rummaging in his pockets, pushing an inhaler into his mouth, closing his eyes. I squeeze through another intersection. Three disheveled men sit at the curb. One holds a skinny black dog—a precarious knotted rope around its neck. The men don’t appear to care about the rest of us and our jagged voices. Our jagged movements. Our desperate honking. Fleeing the city without them.

The radio blares.

Orson Welles, my passenger says, is scratching at the inside of his coffin. At long last: War of the Worlds, the sequel.

Turn it off, I say, my first words since he begged me for a ride.

Don’t you want to wait for the just kidding? he asks.

Turn it off, I say, raising my voice, looking away from the road and into his eyes.

My car rolls over a share bike. We rock a bit in our seats.

I ride those sometimes, my passenger says.

A bright green tangle of spokes and handlebars lies, abandoned in the road like a bent paperclip, fading from my rearview.

My passenger is my neighbor. His name is Tim. He knows nothing about me.

I know this about him: a white plastic ID badge hangs from Tim’s belt-loop every morning. From my window, I watch Tim pat the pockets of his jeans as he emerges from a tall, shiny townhouse, with his daily rotation of designer t-shirts, his stylish stubble, his wet black hair combed backward. Parted. He might be thirty. Tim’s occupation demands an inordinate amount of his time. It compensates him with a life of state-of-the-art bachelor opulence.

Next door to me.

I occupy one-third of a rickety triplex, overlain with corrugated sheet metal—an oddity in my rapidly-evolving neighborhood. My apartment lists as a one-bedroom; it feels like a studio. In the summer it’s hotter. In the winter it’s colder. Last February, my wall heater died. Until they fixed it, I could see my breath.

I keep my blinds raised though my passenger probably sees in sometimes.

On his days off, he might even see me checking my purse before I shut my warped front door to walk to work. My unexceptional apartment is an anomaly, a glitch, a future exhibit in the gallery of Seattle’s past.

How would I describe my apartment? I have a total of five electrical outlets, four windows, a three-foot closet, two feet of countertop space, one haunted stove, and zero studs in the wall. But it’s reasonable—and my landlady lives elsewhere. We’ve never met.

I snooped my passenger’s place. Once. With Nick. It was an Open House a few months after they’d built it. A few months before Tim moved in. For a year, Nick and I lived alongside a team of construction workers and the orchestra of bedlam their foreman composed for them. The foreman assembled his musicians in orange. Then he lifted his chin and raised a calloused hand. His team shattered the sidewalk beside my front door with a jackhammer while I drank tea and ate toast.

That same day, they dug up a thick wall of blackberry bushes dividing my apartment from the modest, off-white A-frame house standing empty, quietly rotting, fifty feet away. With the missing wall, I could see cardboard boxes stacked behind dirty windows. Rusted metal grating over the long-unopened front door. Cracked paint. Heavy weeds strangling yellow grass in the front yard.

Hours passed. I allowed myself to think of other things.

While I was reading, a roar of thunder interrupted the orchestra outside. A new musician had joined the stage. He knocked down that house with a monstrous, ungainly backhoe that read Komatsu along its yellow hull. That word follows me around now like a stray nightmare, reminding me of the sound of shattered glass. Pulverized wood. Tumbling bricks. Defeated chunks of riddled concrete. On the periphery of the rubble, I see a scattering of chewing tobacco tins, energy drinks, and soda pop containers—all of them leading to an outhouse with a broken door. The musician in the Komatsu eyes the debris, rolling over shattered beams. He thinks nothing of the decades of memory churned to dust, nor does he consider me or the expanded view from my window next door.

These days, while I sit and read on the weekends, I’m better positioned to appreciate the metallic clarity of electric saws and rotary hammers from the increasing number of construction sites in the distance—thanks to that Komatsu—and the trees wrenched from the ground, roots snapping like ropes. The missing trees reveal so much. Through my window, I behold a vista of scrambling construction workers tearing things down while their colleagues shape and assemble the new Seattle with nail guns, plywood, and wheelbarrows of wet cement.

I watch as the rest of my neighborhood falls, one old house at a time, new structures springing up like Black-Eyed Susans. On Sundays, I walk down to the farmer’s market. I make my way through the neighborhood, stepping under the lines of thick yellow tape. Like a crime scene:

CAUTION                   CAUTION                   CAUTION                   CAUTION

I am stupefied by visions of buildings that did not exist the week before. Komatsu, my mantra. Walking home from the market, I feel momentarily lost, and I pore over Google Maps, clicking my way through the streets of last year and the year before and as far back as I can go. Here’s the old barbershop beside the saloon on 24th. I never had my hair cut there, but I enjoyed knowing it was around. Same with the bar. Fast-forward three years, and you can make out a sculpted network of fresh concrete and the beginnings of a new foundation—the rows of orange pylons. The delicate scaffolding. The dusty tarps.

Fast-forward another eleven months, and a four-story building sits comfortably in its place. I stopped in one Saturday with my boyfriend for coffee. We sat talking about how different things were. Then we felt guilty giving our money to the people who displaced the places we never visited. We felt stupid. And we walked back to the apartment, glancing at the brand-new townhouse next door—at the row of brand-new townhouses standing behind it like a row of soldiers, staring straight ahead at nothing.

It was still a few months before Tim arrived. Nick decides, one sunny day, that we’ve more than paid the entry fee for a tour of the place next door. So, we appear, like potentials, pleasant. Smiling. Curious. I remember the real estate agent’s timid request that we take off our shoes as we stand in the doorway. Nick pretends not to hear.

Stepping inside, he sniffs the air. I follow. The agent leads us into an alcove visible from the front windows. The office, she calls it. There, a fold-out desk on scrawny legs stands alongside a tiny IKEA lamp. A replica laptop sits on the desk with a rubber keyboard, rubber screen tilted open. I look at the flyer in my hand. Promotional photos contribute an impression of vastness, expanse. Perhaps this is what they hope to convey to potential buyers. We are not potential buyers—this becomes obvious.

The realtor is pleasant. She cannot be mistaken for friendly, especially when she notices Nick’s scuffed combat boots as he stomps upstairs to the second floor. I follow him. Shoulder to shoulder, we wander the narrow spaces and find ourselves in a cubicle: the master bedroom. Nick points at the twin bed, taking up most of the room. Bumping into each other, we return to the narrow staircase. Nick wants me to ask the realtor if the rubber laptop comes with the lamp and bed.

See if she’ll throw it in, he says, nudging me.

I punch him and try to smile at the woman. She stares at me and checks her watch.

Returning from my thoughts to the road, I tap the brakes. Minutes ago, the narrow, curving avenue became a crowded heap of cars, both lanes moving in the same direction, like a river through a canyon. Like rushing water diverted between tiny gaps in the rocks, they jostle for control of the road.

I remembered telling Nick this city wasn’t built for so many cars.

It wasn’t built for so many anything, he replied.

Seattle feels like the small town everyone relocated to all at once, packed tight, like a linebacker in a medium t-shirt. A promising new industry and the many thousands of new residents arriving from all over the country to get a little piece of it for themselves.

Now, as I drive, an empty city bus rests in one lane of 15th Avenue. Hybrid SUVs in silver, electric blue sedans, and forest green Subarus swim around it like a school of sparkling fish. Cars braking, revving their engines, swishing their tails, flashing their lights, pressing their horns at the cluster of fish ahead.

What happens if we’re nearby? Tim asks me.

By what?

The blast.

You think I know? I’m just getting us out of here.

I hear you go blind if you see the light, he says.

I think of Ceremony—and the scene where Old Grandma passes through her kitchen early in the morning on her way back from the chamber pot. It’s still dark outside, and even though she’s half-blind, she still sees the light pouring through the kitchen window, like sunshine. It was the light of the very first atomic explosion in the desert of New Mexico. My, my, she says to her grandson, I never thought I would see anything so bright again.

Tim and I wait for that light to come. We wait. I drive.

I came to Seattle for school. Five years ago. I settled in, diligently paying my landlady and my student loans. I grew accustomed to my new home. All this new life around me: trees and trees, new faces, restaurants, shops, cafés. Breweries and bakeries. Outdoor markets. Parks and lakes. Statues. I felt the tingling exuberance of a transplant.

Why did it have to wear off?  

When it did, I realized I was alone. Making new friends was a challenge I never anticipated. Connections were elusive, rainchecks arriving like junk mail. Someone I knew but hadn’t seen in months excitedly made plans in the aisle of QFC, postponing them with a text message. I grew tired of trying. I started to feel the city changing me. Eyeshadow enhanced my new crow’s feet.

I had almost left, a year after UW, making tentative plans to return to Costa Mesa. What was there to keep me?

There was Nick. I met him in a bookshop. Nick was the guy in the black t-shirt who worked the front counter. I was the new regular, searching for Gertrude Stein and Joy Williams, asking Nick if he knew anything about Garielle Lutz or other artisans of the sentence. Nick didn’t. He eventually became my guy anyway, transplanted from Oregon by way of an early childhood in Southern California. He spent enough time down there in the deserts to give us a quiet, provincial understanding of one another. In a way, I knew Nick immediately. Nick never met Tim.

Where are we going? Tim asks, pulling me back.

Need to get out.

What? He sounds confused. Are you evicting me?

I mean us. Out of the city, I say.

Where do you think they’re going?  

He gestures at the other cars. The cars freakishly stuffed with people, people crammed against and hanging out of open windows, windows gaping with motion and noise, a noise so loud it blocks the senses and becomes a physical quiet, a quiet that rocks the streets and sky. Like an earthquake inside your skin. Like a seizure. A river of cars pooling in reflective clusters—a parade creeping slowly toward a cliff.

I shake my head.

Tim sighs. Well, how are we for gas? he asks leaning over to look beyond the steering wheel.

My stomach falls. Then a rush of relief comes as suddenly when I look. In my panic to get out of the apartment, I barely remembered my keys, much less to check the gas gauge. I smile at Tim and say: Filled it last week. I never drive.

A moment later, Tim attempts small talk.

Is it just you in the apartment?

Nick went out for cigarettes one night, and he never came back. I can’t remember any meaningful arguments leading up to that night. Just little things. Three years’ worth. 

We’d planned a trip to Vancouver. Nick wanted to pack his own suitcase: a carry-on reserved for family visits. For days it sat, a few feet from the front door. I never got the urge to open it. I never snooped through his phone either. I never worried over his social media, even though we used the same computer, and I knew he used the same password for everything. Suddenly, I realized his bag wasn’t there. A few hours went by. I called the hospitals. I walked to Olaf’s, around the corner, where Nick drank pilsner and played pinball while he waited for me to get home from work at night, always making an excuse for not having his keys. I called another hospital and got stuck in the sticky branches of their phone tree. I turned on the light that shines down on our stoop. I sat on the couch, rereading Edith Hamilton’s book on mythology, chewing my fingernails. Finally, I went to bed. But I couldn’t sleep, listening for his key in the deadbolt.

The next morning, I opened Nick’s Gmail. I read about a girl named Leslie, a sweetheart from his early days in Portland.

What began as two lanes—moving with shuddering synergy—becomes three. Cars pull onto the shoulder, rushing ahead, trying to force their way back into the lane, a few car-lengths in front of where they began. A fragile (imaginary?) spirit of collaboration deteriorates. Drivers scream hoarsely from their windows, pressing their horns, attempting to shove smaller cars. Inches from my side of the car, a renegade in a yellow truck rockets past, engine clicking, broken passenger-side mirror dangling. Driving at that speed in the opposite direction makes their desperation excruciating, as the rogue car navigates the periphery of the traffic jam. I don’t know why I suddenly feel sorrier for them than I do for us.

So, what—we just sit here? Tim asks.

You could get out and hitch a ride with them instead, I say, pointing at the taillights of the cars attempting to inch their way past the others. It reminded me of home.

Then I say: People used to drive like this where I grew up.

Oh yeah?

I nod. Only worse, I say. They were in a hurry to get to the beach or the mall. They tailgated me all the way to work, racing each other to red lights in their convertibles and BMWs. Sometimes, when I pulled up beside them, they’d roll their windows down really fast. I’d roll mine up.

You’re from the beach?

Not really, I say, shaking my head and feeling an earring bounce against my cheek. I reach up for the other one, but it’s gone…down in the crevice between my seat and the door. Or lying in the road as I sped away from my neighborhood with a man I hardly know.


Southern California. It wasn’t really the beach.

Which part?

I tell him and he laughs.


You don’t seem the type, he says.

Yeah? Maybe that’s why I’m not there anymore. What about you?

I grew up in Spokane, Tim says.

Never been.

Don’t bother.

I tell him that I’ve heard Spokane has its rough patches.

Yeah. You could say.

Family back there still?

Mom and Dad’re still there. Little brothers are gone. Like me. What about you? Everybody still hanging loose down in So Cal?

Not really. My mom’s dead.


It’s okay. Was a long time ago. Dad’s still there. Still keeps everything that ever belonged to her. Clothes, keys, old medicine bottles. He’s still got a calendar from the year she died with her handwriting all over it. Her closet’s still full. He told me the other day he found her hairbrush in a drawer.

I’ll bet he kept it.

I’m sure he did.

What was she like?

I shrug. Never really knew her. Dad used to tell me I reminded him of her.

We’re still sitting in the traffic jam, waiting to be incinerated. We pass a row of stalled cars and see a group stalking quickly away in the direction of the 5 freeway, toward Portland.

My name is Ivy, I say, offering my hand.

Felt stupid asking you, he laughs. I’m Tim. His hand is warm.

I remember.

One night, I came home to find that Amazon had delivered a package for a Tim Prescott II to my apartment by mistake. I knocked on his door. He wasn’t home. I left it.

In the car, I ask him what it was.

The package? Pair of hiking boots. A present for my girlfriend.

D’you know where she is right now?  

I guess back in Australia.

Are you guys still—


We continue to stare at the slow procession of cars. I glance at the gas gauge again as we inch forward and stop. Inch forward and stop. Tim tries the radio. Nothing. Now he’s tapping out a drum beat on his knee. After a few minutes, the cars surrounding us begin honking their horns, drivers incensed at their helplessness. This motorcade to nowhere. I roll my window back up, but it doesn’t help. Suddenly, Tim begins shouting at me over the commotion.

Holy shit, wait! Wait! Wait! I know another way! I know another way! Get us out of this!


Another way, another road. Nobody knows about it. There won’t be any traffic on it!

You don’t have a car, I remind him. You don’t even know how to drive a car—you said so. How do you know another way?

Tim says, A guy I work with knows a guy at the TimesJesus. I can’t fucking believe I forgot about this! He’s been working on a whole big story about it.

Tim describes a subway linking Seattle and Portland. He tells me workers paved an entire service road—stretching down to Portland—to get ahead of the project, to enable workers access to above-ground portions of the route.

You mean, like Bertha? I ask him.

“Bertha” is the nickname of a tunneling machine unleashed to great fanfare and used to drill underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a bridge running north and south along the waterfront, down to Federal Way. The plan was to replace the crumbling viaduct, aligning Seattle with her destiny as the city of the future. A few months into the job, Bertha struck a steel pipe, and the ambitious tunneling assignment ground to an abrupt and momentary, if embarrassing, standstill.

Tim explains that the city wants to make significant progress with its newest new project before announcing its existence to the public.

Did your friend tell you how to get to this secret route? If it exists, where is it?

A hundred feet behind us comes the sound of an enormous zipper being pulled open. I look in my mirror: a dark green sedan, moving quickly toward us, severing mirrors from other cars. Finding second gear the car reaches for third. Finding third, the engine’s pitch rises as the little car surges past. I catch myself staring at the hanging exhaust pipe. Like it wants to fall off and stay behind. Like it knows this is a bad idea. Looking ahead, I see the headlights of another car as it pulls out in the opposite direction. Tim must be seeing it, too, because he sucks in a quick breath. A dark vehicle slowly, sleepily drags itself onto the periphery of the traffic jam like a wounded possum. As it gets closer, I see it’s a van. The driver decided to break away from the safety of the pack and head home—in the direction of the sedan.

I close my eyes and I hear a sound that reminds me of the Komatsu driving through the side of that old house.

For minutes, our lane freezes in place. We all just wait, inching forward. Tim sucks on his inhaler. Pulling ahead, I can finally see.

I see a middle-aged woman and a little boy standing in the road, back-to-back. Cars sliding slowly past, tapping Morse code with their horns, flashing their headlights. The small green sedan had struck their van head-on. The sedan driver, a heavyset man in dark shorts and a dark sleeveless t-shirt, lays across the hood of the van, tennis shoe hanging in the shards of the sedan’s window frame. His eyes are open; blood is trickling from his nose.

When I look at the man’s face, frozen in stupid surprise, a memory flashes, cruel and swift. Me and Nick on a road trip down to San Luis Obispo last summer to see my brother and his girlfriend. Nick doesn’t want to stop. He complains when he isn’t staring at his phone. I take the exit off Highway 1 in San Simeon. It’s the end of June, and I remember a pack of elephant seals asleep on the sand, less than a hundred feet away from my car. Seeing the dead man’s thick torso, I think of the flabby hairless seals panting and groaning in their sleep, awakening to bark at one another or fan themselves with their flippers. The heavyset man seems to guard the van’s hood with his bulk, his left cheek pressing onto the warm surface. I wait for him to lift his chin and bark at the carloads of gawking faces.

We gotta get out of this, Tim says as we sit, breathing exhaust, a few yards ahead of the van and the demolished car. Tim says he thinks the tunnel route runs parallel to the road—on the other side of a dense barricade of vegetation. The vegetation resembles a wall—like the wall of blackberries between me and the old house next door in the days before. Tim says we should find an area that doesn’t appear too thick with brush.

Pull off the road and just drive into it, he says.

Working my way onto the edge of the traffic pile, I surveyed the dark green wall, feeling like a construction worker, peering over the steering wheel of my Komatsu. I stare at the wall, part of me wanting to see the nothingness on the other side, part of me wanting to drive through and find myself in the front yard of the old white A-frame house, wanting to be in another time—a time before all of this…progress. Then I think of the president on TV and his pale, quivering lips.

Are you— Tim starts to say.

Before he can finish, I stomp the gas pedal with my heel, lurching toward a break in the line of cars. Then I wrench the wheel, shoveling with the nose of my car through a barrier of blackberry bushes and small trees a few dozen feet from the edge of the road. Bushes and tree branches scrape the car on both sides, like a hand dragging the needle back and forth across a record. Tim braces himself, both hands on the dashboard, as we plow forward, darkness overtaking us.

Passing for nearly a minute through clusters of brush, I grip the wheel. It is many times thicker than the brush dividing my apartment and that rotting little house. Tim and I—we’re both screaming now—branches scraping across and over the roof of the car, large rocks vibrating the steering wheel as I pass over them. Something thick—a branch?—cracks the windshield, and I push down harder on the gas pedal. Finally, we burst through a curtain of green and purple, my car astride a strip of freshly paved asphalt. Reflected by the moonlight, a thin white lane divides the road.

Tim gasps, touching me for the first time, pointing. This road is slightly elevated. I see a row of headlights stretching to the horizon to my left. I can still hear the horns; I can still see them jockeying for a place on the road. And while nothing has happened yet, I wonder if anyone remembers why they’re all sitting there.

By Jason M. Thornberry


Jason M. Thornberry’s work appears in The Los Angeles Review of Books, JMWW, and elsewhere. Jason overcame a traumatic brain injury. Relearning to walk and speak, he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University. Jason lives in Seattle with his wife, where he is finishing his first novel.