Current mood: relaxed; currently listening to: Liz Phair by Liz Phair.
Editor’s note #1: This is something I started that now seems like a long, long time ago, written by a stranger. It is one my several attempts at story writing while I was still a teenager. I wrote this with an older writer who also blogs (via WordPress now). His name is Steven L Campbell (a wonderful artist and writer) and we used to pen stories together while we were members of a now defunct writers website. Some of this story belongs to him, and he has given me permission to post his parts of the story. He published some of his parts in his books at Amazon.com, so if you are acquainted with his work and see something familiar, that’s why. By the way, if you have never read him and end up liking his books (and I think you will), please tell him Lola sent you.
Editor’s note #2: As with all fiction, any name or place resembling real people and places is purely coincidental.
It was summer in southern California. A glaring July sun and a storm over the green Pacific had turned the morning air humid. Inside the air-conditioned U-Haul truck filled with our belongings, I rode with my mother away from our hometown. My heart felt uprooted from home and severed from friends. The thought of living in a new neighborhood filled with strangers pestered me. I didn’t want to make new friends; it had taken me fifteen years to make the best of the ones I was leaving.
I complained under my breath at an intersection next to a discolored brick tavern called Joe’s Pub. The pub’s grungy windows sported neon signs that advertised a variety of beer inside. In the window closest to me, a black sign with white letters announced fifty-cent wings on Friday nights. Next to that window, a steel door opened and an old, sickly man in a greasy Army jacket stepped out. He looked at me, spat brown tobacco juice on the gray and chipped sidewalk, and grinned a toothless smile before hitching his pants closer to his chest and staggering away toward a brown-green mass of crumbling earth and shabby looking stores and houses. Many of the places had FOR SALE signs on them or in their narrow front yards.
Clearfield was dying and I wanted to stay.
The traffic light gave my mother permission to continue our leave. Across five sets of bone jarring railroad tracks, we passed three blocks of defunct steel making factories with broken windows on both sides of us. We passed fanciful names and obscenities spray-painted on the factories’ outer walls. It was a flame-colored mess, similar to finger paintings I did when I was a child at Jefferson Elementary—an old and tired building with the same fate as the broken down factories we passed.
Clearfield was old and dying.
“Maybe moving won’t be a bad thing after all,” I said.
Mother looked happy that I had changed my mind. “It’s for the best,” she said.
I said no more and watched us take to the interstate. Along the way past beaches filled with sunbathers, my cell phone alerted me to a new goodbye message from my best friend Anna.
We text messaged each other the same farewells that we had already said in person. Then she was gone after a “GG” and a quick “ILU.”
“I love you too,” I whispered.
My heart tugged me into tears, which I turned from mother who had left the interstate and now drove through downtown Pinewood, a flat, short conglomeration of sand-colored brick and cement stores that nestled lovingly against each other, selling everything from fast food to used cars. Thrift shops and discount stores were busy with California shoppers wearing lots of white and khaki. And cars that looked freshly purchased from showrooms lined both sides of the street.
We crossed a cement bridge so perfectly made it looked like it came pressed from a mold. The wide, shallow fording we crossed was called Pine Creek. According to mother, the rosy homes and property on the other side was where teachers and storeowners and doctors and lawyers lived. We passed cars that looked more expensive than the ones downtown, and giant bric-a-brac houses that looked like Beverly Hills architects had designed them. Outside my window, an expensive looking single story brick and glass building came into view.
“My alma mater,” mother said, pointing to the tan colored high school where I would begin classes next month. She beamed and gushed how happy her life had been all those years ago, and I heard again how nervous and excited she was to be teaching there. She had campaigned long to become a teacher there, practically calling the Pinewood school board every month to update her curriculum vitae. And now, after ten years, she was moving to a place she could finally afford.
“This is what diligence and hard work can get you,” she said to me as she pulled into the paved driveway of 197 Franklin Street. The Victorian brownstone house was smaller than the older houses in the neighborhood, but it looked miles larger than the house we had left behind.
I stared and wondered for a moment if I were dreaming.
“Welcome to our new home,” mother said, grinning at the house.
Home. It was beautiful with its stone and ivy walls and its well-trimmed hedges and manicured lawn. One could easily fall in love with the place, if they wanted to.
And that was the problem. I didn’t want to fall in love with the house, or mother’s alma mater, or even Pinewood itself. I wanted to return to Clearfield and all its dying factories and neighborhoods. Because nestled within its decaying subdivisions, Clearfield felt safe.