Where I Was From
The publication of 'The Toilers' enables Presley to dine at the table of "the Railroad King" (Blue Point oysters, puree a la Derby, ortolan patties, grenadins of bass and stuffed salmon, Londonderry pheasants, escalopes of duck, rissolettes a la pompadour; asparagus rushed to the kitchen of the Railroad King by special train within hours of its cutting), even as, outside in the fog, the dispossessed widow of one of the evicted and killed San Joaquin wheat growers is literally starving to death, falling into her terminal coma on a vacant lot at the top of the Clay Street hill, her small daughter at her side, her older daughter already descended into prostitution.
Presley knows nothing of the fate of the widow, but had by fortuitous narrative design run into the older daughter, her degradation apparent, that very afternoon, rendering this dinner an occasion for him of considerable clarity. He sits at the opulent table of the Railroad King as the Chateau Latour is poured and imagines the clink of the glasses 'drowned in the explosion of revolvers' in the house sacked to its foundations, the tables overturned, the pictures torn, the hangings blazing, and Liberty, the red-handed Man in the Street, grimed with powder smoke, foul with the gutter, rush telling, torch in hand, through every door.' The intercutting from the dinner table inside to the dying widow and child outside is insistently allegorical, operatic, outsized, as is the subsequent death of the railroad's agent in the hold of a cargo ship taking on wheat destined for Asia, consigned there by the blind force of the market even as widows and orphans starve for want of a heel of bread on the streets of San Francisco.
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