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 You Don't Have to Call Me Darlin' 
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Joined: Wed Mar 17, 2004 11:21 pm
Posts: 230
Location: West Bay, Grand Cayman
Post You Don't Have to Call Me Darlin'
So here's a short story I've been working on for the past few months... comments, critiques, showerings of praise and flinging of poo welcome.

“You Don’t Have To Call Me Darlin”

A train cuts the town in half every thirty-two minutes.

Everything in the living room wobbles and quivers on the shelves lining the walls. No one living in this town for any length of time pays any mind to the comings and goings of the trains. Zooey is no exception and simply turns the volume up on the television. She isn’t really watching it so much as she is waiting. The 4:32 train has just passed and Isaac will return from work soon. She gives it nine minutes—he probably got stuck waiting to cross the tracks at Harkrider, putting him about five minutes from the apartments plus four minutes for the train to pass. The clock changes. 4:41 and the front door grunts open. Isaac, in all of his dough-covered glory, kicks the door shut behind him and sheds clothing in a bizarre sort of trail leading to the bathroom.

“How was work?” Zooey calls, turning the television down.

“Work-like.” Is the disembodied reply from within the bathroom.

He doesn’t live there. In fact, he lives in the apartment upstairs. But the bathroom in number four hasn’t worked in six months and no one can be bothered to find the landlord so the boys just use hers. She hears the toilet flush and switches the channel from the weather to Headline News. Isaac, now no longer in his pizza marinated work clothes, sinks into the couch next to her, picks up the broom next to the couch and butts it against the ceiling three times. The rest of the boys will be down in two minutes. She hears them on the stairs just before they bang through the door and arrange themselves on the furniture. Isaac pulls out his pipe and begins separating seeds from stems. The bowl goes around three times before it is cashed. Its ashes are emptied into the tray pilfered from a local coffee shop before the pipe itself is tucked away into a hole in the arm of the couch. By now it is just past five and, right on time, the train rolls by. The boys pay no attention but Zooey closes her eyes and listens to the rumbling and clanking of the freighter passing only feet from the window.
When she first arrived in this town Zooey hated the trains. They kept her up at night and annoyed her during the day. One was always passing through and if you had to be anywhere on the other side of town at all, you were sure to be stopped. Gradually though, like everyone else in the town, she grew used to the trains. The noise of the engines clattering by lulled her to sleep on nights when she couldn’t slow her thoughts enough to drift off on her own. Even her first house had backed up to the tracks and she moved into the Clifton Street Apartments shortly after being politely asked to vacate the premises on the grounds that her rent was six months past due. She had taken it in stride and moved in here.
The Clifton Apartments aren’t the nicest in town, but they aren’t the worst either. Though the fact that the apartment complex is only about two feet to the left of the train tracks doesn’t win many points with anyone. Mostly inhabited by college students and the crack-heads, the atmosphere makes up for the lack of amenities. The paint is chipping away slowly from the sun and is either a dirty pale blue, or something may have once been white thirty years ago. The grass is almost never mown, the porches are littered with mismatched patio furniture, and there were, at one time, seven darts stuck into the side of the building opposite Zooey’s. Isaac used to launch them out the window from time to time.

This was where she had met the boys upstairs. There were four of them. Isaac was her age and worked as a delivery driver for the local pizza joint. He has curly brown hair and all the other boys call him Jolly – as in the Jolly Green Giant. His pants are nearly always falling down but he refuses to do anything about it and tells everyone, “Not looking at my ass will solve all of your problems.” Lucas is a year younger than Zooey and drives a beat up old Harley with stolen saddlebags. The two became fast friends on account of their common disdain for any sort of footwear. He is tall and lanky with long hair and a thick black moustache. Zooey thinks he looks quite like a pirate… or Jesus when he’s wearing a sarong. As he is right now.

“Jesus, Lucas. Close yer legs up, man. We don’t wanna see yer junk!” Ben groans, tossing a towel at Lucas as he appears from the back room.

Ben is the only one of the boys that actually lives with Zooey. He will graduate in a few months and move to Chicago. The bastard. He’s all knees and elbows – excessively tall and thinner than a runway model. The boy has the uncanny ability to eat so ravenously that spaghetti sauce ends up on the back of his head. No one is quite sure how. Lastly, there’s Conner, currently hanging upside down off of the couch, his curly hair sweeping back and forth on the floor. He’s the baby of the group, having only just turned nineteen, and works at the closest thing to a head shop in the town, which is located only two doors down from where Zooey herself works at a coffee shop called The Mud Hut. The owner thinks it is quite clever. No one else is much impressed by it.

“Hey Dan, ‘s Tuesday. Did you bring home the pizza?” Lucas waggles his eyebrows in a rather more suggestive manner than is required for pizza. Isaac waves vaguely at the fridge and grunts, focused on the television where a very tan man is telling the group about how hot it is going to be in the mid-west for the next week. Matt pops up from his seat and returns very shortly with the now slightly chilled pizza.

“What’re we doin’ tanaght?” Asks Lucas around a mouthful of pizza.

“Goin’ down to tha tracks, I think.” Isaac replies.

When someone says “going down to the tracks”, they don’t mean the ones right outside. The county Zooey lives in is dry – no alcohol for forty miles. Going down to the tracks means going to the liquor store just the other side of the county line, which is right next to the tracks. The lot of them generally spend evenings out by the tracks, drinking and smoking, which Zooey mostly likes. Or is used to. Hard to tell which is which sometimes in a place like this.
Folks in this town live and die by the trains. The old saying about death and taxes has nothing on the train schedule. It is somewhat comforting, actually, for Zooey. The trains are rarely late and because of this, most people in town set their watches by them. Zooey herself has recently begun telling time by the whistle of the engine as it chugs past her window. But the thing about the trains is that they go somewhere. They only pass through the town… like Zooey herself tells people she is doing. Tells herself. But she never goes. She often fantasizes about just jumping on one of the slower moving freighters and leaving for good. The whole county feels like a black hole sometimes – sucking you in and in and in and you can’t escape but because you don’t know you’re being sucked in, so you don’t even have a chance. Zooey feels the pull at times, but people tell her to get over it and she does. She always does.

By the time they get motivated to head out, everyone decides they need food that is not pizza and Zooey runs up to the corner store. The old man behind the counter smiles toothlessly at her as he rings up the assortment of prepackaged burgers and water bottles littering the counter. A breeze wafts through the open door, rustling the papers tacked to a makeshift bulletin board. The old man sniffs, looking for all the world like a disgruntled bloodhound. He makes a face and Zooey cocks her head to the side.

“Smells like rain.” He says offhandedly. “The trains’ll be off today. Best not to be out n’ about.” His head nods slowly, punctuating each word with a smack of his lips. Zooey mumbles a response and rushes out with her food, looking back over her shoulder at the old man, still nodding at nothing.

She begins walking back to the apartment, ignoring the looks of passers by upon seeing her bare feet on the pavement. She crosses herself distantly as she passes the only Catholic Church in town, more out of habit than anything else, and sighs when she hears the distant moan of a train. She checks her watch. 6:10… it’s running late. She shrugs and quickens her pace to beat it to the crossing. She rounds the corner of her street just as the train rolls by, moving rather slower than usual. Dark clouds rumble and inch towards town somewhere around the bend in the tracks. Just as she reaches her door, a light drizzle starts. Typical.

“I come bearing gifts.” Zooey announces to the room, holding her canvas shopping bag aloft before it is taken from her. Ben tosses the food to the appropriate parties before rushing to the microwave to heat up his Landshire chicken sandwich. He plants a quick kiss on the top of Zooey’s head and bounces back and forth on the balls of his feet, staring at the appliance until it dings. He discards the wrapper in the wastebasket atop countless others like it. The rest of the group follows in turn.

They do this nearly every night. Someone brings food, they all eat, and then they pile into the one vehicle owned between them aside from John’s bike: Ben’s rusting, cornflower blue Volvo station wagon. There is no back seat, just a pile of old blankets so whoever isn’t driving or sitting shotgun can arrange themselves comfortably. This is, of course, very illegal. But the police never patrol the area by the tracks and usually occupy themselves with pulling over high school kids driving up and down the main strip or congregating in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly.

Around his food, Ben regales them with stories from his recent trip to Chicago, where he will be moving in two months time to start work as an editor for a local magazine. The fact that Ben has managed to graduate and find a way out of this town gives Zooey hope that she will be able to accomplish this someday as well. It also makes her incredibly angry. Not because she is in love with him. Because she most definitely isn’t. He’s just… comfortable. Safe. He calls it an “open relationship”… but neither of them really take advantage of the situation. It’s easier than dating, really, and less complicated than having a fuck buddy. She wants to move with him but knows that she won’t. There are jobs there, of course, but she’s decided that the town sucks dry all of the initiative and drive promising up and comers like herself have when they start out. Leaving them hollow and listless, sitting on a couch procured from the dumpster behind Furniture Warehouse and pondering how they make prepackaged burgers taste so very delicious. She knows she’s stuck, but lacks the will to do anything about it. It’s her own damn fault really, but it’s always easier to be angry with Ben or the town or the times or her mother or some kind of god than to actually do something or anything at all. So she sits, staring at the ceiling and paying no attention to the familiar weight of Ben’s hand on her thigh, his thumb absently tracing patterns on her jeans.
She is pulled from her thoughts by Ben slapping her thigh once, decisively.

“Well, what say we head out?” A low rumble interrupts him. The 6:40 is five minutes late. Somewhere outside, a car alarm sounds. “I’m severely sober and it’s starting to piss me off.” He stands and holds out a hand for Zooey to take. She blinks at it owlishly before being hauled off the couch. She giggles at this and Ben pokes her in the ribs. “Tard.”

The other boys sigh or make retching sounds in the background. Zooey ignores them. She always does. The boys, once done with their mimed vomiting, stand and begin pulling on their jackets - the rain having cooled the air significantly. “We’re off then?” Conner says, arching an eyebrow toward the door. Varying noises of agreement float through the room and the group heads to the Volvo.

“Shotgun!” Lucas shouts and sprints to the passenger side door, flip-flops in hand rather than on his feet. Everyone else groans halfheartedly and piles into the back of the wagon where Isaac pulls several beers out of the abyss that is his jacket pocket and hands them around to the group. Ben cranes his neck as he pulls out of the drive to catch a beer tossed at him.

“Redneck?” he asks, cracking the beer open.

“Redneck.” The group choruses.

Redneck is a game that Zooey had never heard of until she moved to the town. Apparently, it’s sort of a pastime around here. The point of the game is simple: as you’re driving, you shout out “redneck” whenever you pass something particularly country or white trash and everyone drinks. A rebel flag, cars on cinder blocks, trailers too far off the ground…Very safe.

“Redneck!” Zooey shrieks, bouncing around in the back, pointing to an old trailer on a tiny lot with a flag pole not bearing the American or even state flag. This particular flag pole sports a rebel flag with Hank Williams Junior’s face in the middle. Everyone nods in agreement and takes a swig. A train thunders by sluggishly, splashing rainwater onto the shoulder of the road. Ben crumples his beer can and tosses it out the window.

“We’re almost there.”

He points offhandedly toward the reddish light seeping around the corner just ahead. A neon sign flickers in the distance spelling out the words “PALARM LIQUOR” in red and gold. The 7:44 (twelve minutes late) disappears around the corner, leaving them behind. Zooey watches it go as she clambers alongside the others out the back of the vehicle. They all run inside, coats, arms and crumpled newspapers held over their heads to shield them from the rain. Once inside, the boys move immediately for the freezer to the far right, stacked high with cases and cases of beer. They pull a thirty pack of Bud Light out of the case – going for the expensive beer tonight – and set them on the counter. The beer is soon joined by a fifth of cheap whiskey and a jug of nine-dollar sangria. The antique cash register makes a rusty dinging sound and displays the faded numbers 35.56. Everyone empties their pockets onto the counter and shuffles the change around until they come up with the right amount of cash. The man behind the counter (his shirt says Bud) smiles good-naturedly and sweeps the change into his hand.

“Ya’ll need any cups? Ice?” He waves the aforementioned objects before them and waits for them to come to a decision. They nod and take the proffered items. “Be careful out there tonight. Bit wet to be driving on these roads in the dark.”

“Thanks man, we’ll be safe.” Lucas loosely salutes the man and hoists a pack of beer and the wine into his arms. Everyone else follows closely, Ben running ahead with the keys to open the back. They shove the booze into the back of the Volvo and jump in after, just as Ben starts the car and begins to back out of the parking lot. The tires squeal a bit on the wet asphalt and they are off. The drive for approximately two minutes before taking a sharp left into a car park situated around a gazebo facing the train tracks. No one is really sure why this place is here but they’ve never bothered to ask. Ben pulls the car right up to the little structure and everyone piles out. They situate themselves in a circle and open the wine first. The jug goes around a few times, no one drinking heavily. Just enough to warm themselves from the rain. Ben begins pelting pennies at Lucas, who ignores it for exactly ten minutes before he begins to retaliate. Zooey is paying no attention to either of them, but watching the way the rain falls off of the leaves and into the ditch running next to the tracks. A whistle sounds distantly and Zooey wonders what time it is. No one else is paying attention to the quarrelling boys anyone. Lucas has stolen Ben’s shoe and is beating him about the head with it.

“Those are my best shoes you fucker. STOP it.”

“I’m Ben. I looove my shooooes. Mee mee mee mee mee.” Lucas mocks in a voice that sounds nothing like Ben’s and chucks the shoe into the ditch. Isaac runs over to the car and switches on the stereo.

“Do we want oldies or country?”

“Music.” Is the only reply. He turns the volume up loud enough not to disturb anyone that might be in the area. David Allen Coe croons the perfect country and western song through the static that only comes from radios in the middle of nowhere.

“I was drunk, the day my mamma got outta prison… and I went to pick her up in raaaaaaain.” Ben sings breathlessly as he struggles up the side of the ditch. He is covered in mud. Lucas laughs and chucks a penny at him.

Ben slips and slides back down into the ditch, snaking a hand out to grab any sort of handhold in the rainy mess. His fingers wrap around the side of the train tracks and he hauls himself up, breathing heavily.

“I got it!” He crows, and plops down next to the tracks to replace his sopping wet shoe.
Zooey notices that the light on her watch has stopped working and squints at it until she can make out most of the numbers. She moves to go help Ben back across the ditch when she hears the familiar rumble. Ben doesn’t seem to have heard it, nor does anyone else. She assures herself she’s imagining things. Just as she reaches the edge of the ditch, the 10:24 chugs around the corner. Fifteen minutes late. Ben scrambles to get back into the ditch but slips and falls.

The sound is something akin to a pumpkin being smashed on the pavement. Zooey hears someone screaming. She realizes, after a moment, that it is coming from her. The train and the music and the rain drown out most of the noise. But the sickening slurp and the meaty crunch replay over and over and over in her ears until she thinks she might explode. She is vaguely aware of being pulled back from the ditch and that her front is spattered with blood and mess. She is reminded for some reason of a Jackson Pollock painting she once saw and giggles. Voices sound in her ears, but they are far away. She wishes they would be quite. Her vision blurs a bit and she wonders if she has really had that much to drink. No, she decides. She is just so very tired.

The other boys pull Zooey’s sagging form up from the grass and into the gazebo. She is still giggling. Her eyes wide and unseeing. She mumbles something none of them can hear. The radio has turned to static, and for once, nobody can ignore the train as it clatters on unperturbed.

"There’s nothing more attractive than loss of control to someone who stays in control all of the time..."

Sun Feb 03, 2008 11:26 pm
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Joined: Wed Mar 10, 2004 7:56 pm
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Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Post Re: You Don't Have to Call Me Darlin'
Oh wow. O_O Very very nice.

Edit: I'm in love with the "Dramatic Snapshot" style. You build up a single perfect moment throughout the story, then bring it to a quick, defined peek that really lingers. LOVE the way the trains are such a subtle force of nature, they almost come off as the rain when you describe them, as if they just are supposed to be there, and nothing anyone can do can influence them.

Zooey going into shock at the end is very well written, though it leaves a lot of questions open, one being why she reacted so immediately and strongly. She seems like a generally well-put-together mind, and I wonder if the shock is due to some kind of additional force at work (ie, other trauma, etc). Depending if you wanted to turn this into a longer story or not, I'd be careful to ensure that the ending's punch isn't lost.


Christopher Fiss
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Mon Feb 04, 2008 1:22 am
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Joined: Wed Mar 17, 2004 11:21 pm
Posts: 230
Location: West Bay, Grand Cayman
Post Re: You Don't Have to Call Me Darlin'

I'm not quite sure if I'll turn it into anything longer... I'm always afraid to screw up a good short story by adding to it. My editing disease only allows for removing things. I wrote this for a class this summer and my teacher was more worried about bringing us afternoon tea every day than actually critiquing work, so yeah. I've tweeked it a bit and sent it in with my grad school apps *fingers crossed*.

Who knows. The hippies upstairs provide constant fuel for stories, I may add all over the place. haha.

"There’s nothing more attractive than loss of control to someone who stays in control all of the time..."

Wed Feb 06, 2008 11:45 am
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