Sunday, September 10, 2006

Severance Pay

On to more substantial things: fiction. I've been working on a short story (or something) that my friends know all too well. Okay, I haven't been working on it, therein lies the problem. I'm hoping if I post a little of it here I will pressure myself into actually really working on it and not just avoiding it, playing with it... The idea is extreme guilt or something along those lines. Stop playing with your food and just eat it. Of course, inspiration would be good, too.

This is the beginning of Severance Pay.

Zeke crouched beside the creek and waited for the train. It was braying in the distance, compelling him to pause in the shadows beneath the trestle where the damp vapors of moss and mud saturated the air. He took a deep breath and pulled pieces of the heavy atmosphere into his lungs. Nothing made sense to him, but he knew the essence of Marlaina was here, underneath the trestle, waiting for him to breathe her in. He wanted to pull her right out of the mud. But everything was jumbled together, confusing him. He couldn’t quite tell what was real. He remembered laying here with her, on other dripping summer days, while the trains rumbled overhead, their bodies flowing together, mingling with the mud, but he couldn’t remember what she smelled like anymore.

As the train drew nearer he raised the machete hanging at his side and slowly ran his fingers along the blade, sweeping off the flecks of organic matter and flinging them to the ground. These flecks, he was almost positive, were not Marlaina. They could be cast aside. But a wave of uncertainty passed through him. He lifted the machete to his lips and ran his tongue along it, just to be sure. His tongue did not detect anything familiar, but he didn’t trust it, either. How could he know that it was really his tongue? Maybe if he stopped thinking about it, it would fall out of his mouth, like the machete sometimes fell out of his hand.

Overhead, the trestle shook as it proclaimed in uncertain graffiti letters: THE OC BOYS WHERE HERE. The train rumbled louder as it churned toward him. Suddenly the engine was overhead and the whistle was vibrating its notes into every crevice of his body, permeating his skin. This is what he had been waiting for. Marlaina’s presence engulfed him.

But the engine passed too quickly and pulled Marlaina across the creek and into the woods, away from him. Zeke backed out of the cool shadow of the trestle far enough into the shattered daylight to read the words on the train cars as they clacked by, a long banner of blocky instructions, just for him.

“N-S, C-O-N, Yang Ming, Maersk, Santa Fe, Hyundai, Hanjin, J.B. Hunt, Hub, N-A-C-S, China Shipping, TTX, Burlington Northern Railway, O-O-C-L, Coil Shield.”

The train was picking up speed and Zeke struggled to keep pace with the words. The last car spewed forth fat, unintelligible graffiti and then it was gone, carrying all that remained of Marlaina with it. But Zeke knew what to do. Despite its speed and the last pieces that he didn’t understand, he had captured the rhythm of the train and pulled it, pulsing, inside him. As he stood up the machete started swinging up and down. His lips began to repeat the train’s message in rhythm with the blade.

“N-S, C-O-N, Yang Ming…” And then his legs started to run. He could feel Marlaina growing closer as he became the train.

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