The Tide Comes Up Pretty High

Tony Alfieri

“The tide comes up pretty high,” she said as we rambled across a jagged ocean
inlet littered with concrete slabs. “We need to keep track of time or we’ll have
to swim to get back.”

The soles of my Converses skated on the sea-smoothed rubble. One eye monitored
the algae lapping the muddy shore. The other was fixed on our destination a few
yards ahead: an abandoned cannery on the bay south of San Francisco.

Judging from the treacherous route and the building’s shuttered entries, this
was a place not meant for visitors. But we were here and, after skinning my hand
on a freshly pried suture of tin and wire, we were inside the slumbering
structure.

We landed in an anteroom. Toppled pipes and metal gadgets punctuated the soggy
landfill of plastic, paper, and cardboard that coated the floor. The scent of
brine and decay was inescapable.

The next room offered only darkness and the echo from a stubborn hatch snapping
shut behind us. I marshaled my imagination as our eyes adjusted. The ruffling
sound in the shadows was a flock of pigeons, not a homicidal beast. And the
prickly substance covering the walls, tickling my fingers, it was just. just.
well, it was just better not to think about that.

Finally, the outlines of two massive storage tanks appeared, then a corridor
leading to a tiny triangle of light across the blackness. Approaching the
triangle, we saw that it was a doorway, and through the doorway, our lids
blinking at the brilliance, we saw treasure.

Rusted machinery, twisted rebar, grids of toothless window panes clamoring in
the breeze; crumbling brick, brittle plastic, humungous gates on wheezing
casters; stairs that welcomed and stairs that forbade; what once was a thriving
factory – employing hundreds, I imagined – was now a marvelous maze of
desolation for two.

Our sprinting cheers bellowed in the chutes and ducts of vast, empty
stockrooms.

A lofty office, casually lacking an outside wall, was a perfect precipice to
launch debris onto abandoned cars in the weeds below.

A fireplace, sturdy as a temple, defied the ravaged surroundings in a penthouse
den.

And the graffiti! Layers of colorful paint, squiggling and slashing over more
paint and more paint, abstracted and conformed to nearly every surface. Even a
capsized toilet bore an inscription.

We vaulted to the roof via the rungs of a hollow spire and greeted the fields
of gravel and wilted chimneys with panting awe. Peering through a gutted
skylight, the cannery looked small and shallow below, almost artificial.

The wind lunged, rattling the frame (a good excuse to hold tight). We huddled
and watched the fogbanks tease the hilltops and trickle through encroaching
developments until the calm turned us shy.

“The water is probably high by now,” she said as she skirted the ledge
overlooking the shore. “We should go.”

While my companion scaled the rungs back down inside, I paused to inhale the
briny air and held it.