The Wrong Side of the River
I must be gone and live, or stay and die

When we got to the hall the room was cold and damp. The lights flickered as Dad paced back and forth. We were early, of course, nearly two hours early this time. But we didn’t wait long for seats to fill.
Parry’s family came first. They sat on the other side of the room and huddled together, not even looking at Mom and I. Several Southsiders came next, filling in the seats around us in the first and second rows. Then a few more Northsiders came, including Romy’s friend, Charlotte, and her parents. She actually looked over at us, but just to give us the evil eye.
The Madisons came in next. Romy waved and even started walking toward us, but her mom cut her off and herded her and her little sister into the third row on the other side of the aisle.
I wanted all of this to be over, but I wondered if a vote one way or another would be enough to satisfy the town, or if it would just make people mad again. No one seemed willing to accept that their side might lose. They couldn’t both win, of course, so the only way this could end was with one side winning and the other going home angry and ready for another fight.
Dad was different this time—somber almost. Instead of shaking hands with everyone and doing his normal politician shmoozing, he hung back, watching the crowd, his forehead creasing more with each new group entering the hall.
Every seat was taken forty minutes before the meeting was supposed to start. People began filing in along the aisles and the back, filling in every foot of space until I was pretty certain every fire code rule had been broken.
By the time the meeting started there must have been at least double the number of people in the room as there had been last time. It was hot and humid, despite the freezing air outside.
The twelve councilmen and women sat at a long table in the front of the room.
Dad walked up to the microphone. “On behalf of our city counsel, we’d like to welcome you to this special session. As you know, we are here today to once again discuss the location of the new city park. I am sorry it’s come to this and I hope we can come to an amicable solution. We’ll now open the floor for one hour of testimony before we take the vote. If you would like your voice to be heard please line up behind the microphone in the center aisle. Keep your remarks brief so we can accommodate as many people as possible.
There was a rush toward the microphone. The line that resulted stretched all the way down the aisle to the back doors and then around the corner and back up the aisle on the side.
The testimonies were pretty much what I expected—lots of people saying the park would raise property values for the people who lived around it and each insisting it ought to be closer to themselves. There was a lady with an infant son who said the Southside park would be too far for her to get to, which was silly considering the entire to town was less than two miles across. There were people from both sides who said they wouldn’t feel safe letting their children play in the park if it was on the side of town where they didn’t live. And several people complained that money had already been spent buying land and beginning construction Southside and it would be a waste of resources changing the location at this point.
Dad didn’t close off the microphone after an hour. He let people speak, probably realizing that half would go home angry and some would blame it on him for not letting them say what they wanted to say.
After the last person from the crowd spoke, Dad stepped to the front of the counsel and called for a final vote.
“Those of you who would like to move the park Northside, please raise your hand.” Six hands went up, including Mrs. Madison’s.
“And those who would prefer to keep the park Southside, please raise you hand.” The other six hands went up.
Dad smiled. “Since it is a tie, I, as mayor, will have the deciding vote.”
“Unfair!” Someone yelled from the other side of the aisle.
“It was rigged!” Another person yelled.
Dad waved his hands in front of him, urging the crowd to calm down. But Mrs. Madison stood up, her mouth pressed into an angry line and her fists clinched. “Mr. Goodwin would have wanted the park Northside. He was FROM Northside. That is where he would have wanted his legacy to be. We all know that. This has been an exercise in stupidity and I for one am not going to stand for it any longer. She marched all the way to the back of the room and threw open the doors.
The other Northsiders stood up, yelling and raising their hands in disgust.
“Please!” Dad shouted trying to be heard above the roar of angry voices. “Please, let’s just be reasonable. We can work something out. Please!”
The whole left side of the room filed out hurling obscenities at their Southern neighbors. Our side was just as bad. People raised their fists and yelled “good riddance!” as the Northersiders left.
Finally, the room was half empty. The only people left in the Northside aisle were an older couple, who’d probably hung back just so they wouldn’t be trampled by the mob, and Romy, whose arm was being tugged by her little sister.
She looked at me.
I looked at her.
“We have to do something,” I mouthed.
She nodded and stood up, holding her little sister by the hand and leading her out of the hall.
I stood up too.
“Listen,” I yelled, struggling to be heard over the chaos. I stepped up on the bench, turned toward the crowd, and cupped my hands around my mouth. “LISTEN!!!”
The noise level fell to a soft murmur.
“We can’t let this park tear our town apart. Mr. Goodwin gave his entire life savings so we could have a place for people to come together. This was the last thing in the world he would have wanted. We should feel ashamed.”
The murmur died down to silence.
A few of the faces around me did look a little ashamed, but most just looked angry.
“It’s not our fault,” one man yelled. “It’s those Northerners. They weren’t willing to compromise.”
“Maybe,” I shouted. “That’s because we didn’t offer them any compromise.”
“What sort of compromise could we make?” A woman in the back shouted. “The park has to go somewhere.”
I stood there, frowning. She was right. There wasn’t an easy solution.
“Julian is right.”
I turned to see my Dad, standing at the front of the room. “We can’t let this ruin our town—if it hasn’t already.”
He walked toward the back doors and opened them.
I followed.

Keep Reading

Chapter 32

Is the news good or bad, answer to that. Romy

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