Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Guest Writer: Callan

Fade to Black

In the oppressive heat and darkness of my apartment I lay naked listening to hot summer rain fall. I struggle to put my thoughts in order. I am out of food and drugs. I fish around in the cushions of my sagging orange velveteen couch and locate my cell phone pressing the buttons slowly, my fingers stiff from lack of use, how long have I been lying here? Time is an abstract concept.

"Chuck, I need to see you."
"Whattaya need, mama,"
“I am out of food and money.” I state flatly. My own voice sounds far off, the voice of a stranger.

Chuck is 500 pounds and bleeds money out his ass. He gets a limitless supply of hydrocodone, which he sells, and what he doesn't sell he takes in massive doses. There is some sort of fissure, a tear caused by his fat. Once you know how he gets the stuff you don't ask any questions.

"Look, I just need to get out of here and my car is out of gas. I am sober and depressed, can you lend me money and some pills till payday?" I am confused and desperate, no time for small talk.
For a moment I hear nothing but heavy breathing and chewing.
"All right, Mama, but you’re gonna have to ride with me. I have errands to run."
"Fantastic. Perfect. How soon can you get here? I’ll wait outside.”
I’m thinking to myself, what errands could Chuck possibly have to run?

Later at the food bank, I sit in a hard plastic chair trying to calculate how many children Chuck has fathered. He stands patiently in line. I do not resent Chuck’s many children, nor his abuse of the system. What bothers me is that at the food bank they only give you milk if you’re over sixty-five or have children ten and younger in the house. Chuck gets so much milk, it totally pisses me off.
I love milk. I thirst for it constantly.

Sitting at the food bank for the second time that day got me to thinking about abortion. The nineteen abortions I had were undoubtedly nineteen of the best decisions I ever made, I never regretted them till that moment. If I had kept even one kid, I could get free milk.

Time collapses folds, then stops as I sit there waiting for Chuck to get through the line. I inspect people face by face; not a looker in the bunch. Even the young girls, whose bodies snapped back after childbirth, have tired, worn faces. Their children are dirty; destined to stand in the same line with their own children. They will have an endless supply of milk, and one another.

“What are you reading?” The voice startles me as an ancient woman sits next to me.
“Oh, its an examination booklet. It’s for a test I have to take at the university, an exit exam. It’s the history assessment test. My major is in...”
She cuts me off. “What part of history are you assessing? I mean, how do go about assessing history?”
I open the book to show her the 20,000 multiple choice questions, and the answers I am supposed to memorize. I carry the booklet with me almost everywhere. Sometimes, I open it and do something similar to studying.
“I don’t have to assess history. The test is assessing me and my knowledge of history.”
“What are you majoring in, history or something?”
“Yes ma'm I am majoring in history.”
“History is boring it’s already happened. What are you going to do with a history degree?”
The eternal question, I am so sick of being asked. History has always been my favorite subject, but the question makes my heart race. Where will I go? What will I do next?
“I don't know what I’m going to do, ma'm.”
“You’re not a bright girl,” she tells me.
“Yeah, well you’re a horrible conversationalist. I am majoring in history because I fucking want to, because I find the rise and fall of civilizations, of governments, of man’s remarkable ability to keep going interesting. That is why. Is that okay? Is it okay with you, bitch, if I major in history?”
I feel splendid. The rush of saying exactly what I want is wonderful.
The satisfaction is short lived. Her face crumbles, dissolving into tears. She is very old, she probably has no idea how irritating her questions are, none.
“Look,” I say to her, “I’m really sorry. You didn’t deserve that. I just like history, and it took me so long to finish my degree, and everyone asks me the same thing. “What kind of job are you going to get with a history degree?
“Teach, people suggest to me, but that’s more school, more loans.”
She pats my leg, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” Now she is soothing me. I am crying now and on the verge of hysteria. The old woman’s voice fades,
“It’s okay. You have your whole life ahead of you.”
I am inconsolable, “But the economy!” I wail, “Unemployment is up. I have no health insurance. When are things going to get better?”
I throw my head back and grip my hair at the roots, pulling slightly. I like the way the pain feels. I draw a sharp intake of breath, and try to regain composure. People are staring over at us, except Chuck. He is texting the mama of one of his many babies.

Than the misery contest begins. All the seated people begin telling their woes, trying to outdo one another in tragedy. I will not be able to compete, but am happy to have been forgotten.
“My daughter has diabetes. The medication has driven us into poverty. We lost our house. My husband lost his job, so we didn't have prescription coverage.”
A tiny woman in ill fitting boxy clothing, probably from St. Vincent de Paul’s, one-ups her, “My daughter has diabetes. My son is tri-polar, and my husband is dead. I have ADHA and diabetes, and lupus, my autistic daughter was raped and became pregnant by her second cousin. My husband knocked up my step-mom. Then, they ran off, and left me with the kid.”
And we have a winner, I think. She absolutely deserves her milk.
I stare at the floor glad to be forgotten. I leaf through the history assessment exam, but I can't focus. I start thinking about the leafy darkness of my front room. the perpetual twilight creates a slovenly paradise.

Inexplicably, Chuck has reached the head of the line. Time has started again. He calls “Annabelle. Hey, Annabelle!” I get up and go to the front of the line. He hands me the keys to his truck and tells me to pull it around to the warehouse where they distribute the food.
I can’t get out of the food bank fast enough.
I whip the truck around a corner, hitting the sidewalk with the tire and skidding into place behind the other waiting indigents.

Chuck gets in the truck to wait, “Hey, Annabelle, can you drive back? I swallowed a bunch of soma and Valium, and I didn’t think it was working, so I took more.” His speech is slurred. “I think they just kicked in.”
“Yeah, sounds like it, Chuck.”
“You’re okay to drive, right? I mean you have a license right, or didn’t you get a D.U.I?”
“Naw, for reckless indifference. I just got it back.”
We inch up a few spaces.
He looks perplexed, “Reckless indifference? What is that?”
“It’s when you are indifferently reckless.”
“Yeah? How do you catch some one being indifferent?”
Chuck is really wasted, so I tell him, “Well, I can’t say for sure, but I think it was my neighbor upstairs. He doesn’t like me. I think he called the cops on me and told them I was in my apartment with intent of being indifferent, dropped the dime on me so to speak.”
“Asshole.” He clearly has no idea what I’m talking about, but anyone anywhere calling the cops is always an asshole.

Finally, it’s our turn. I load the groceries in the back of the truck, and then we are off! We zip to his trailer set way back off highway 13.
I take the groceries out of his truck, leaving several gallons of milk. Chuck stumbles around his yard, which is littered with rusty engines, forsaken cars, a baby crib, pizza boxes, a plastic play house.
Oddly, the plastic house is pristine amongst the junk. Two of Chuck’s daughters are inside speaking conspiratorially. Their beautiful black eyes flash. They hold hands and do not smile. It is almost as if they are survivors of a war, and they sit alone in a bombed-out house that wasn't damaged. It begins to rain, not hard but steady and persistent.

A cousin of Chuck’s stumbles out of the trailer and down the steps clutching her swollen belly. She makes her way to one of the abandoned cars, lays down in the back seat and goes into labor. Her agonized screaming is indescribable, but it doesn’t seem to strike the family as odd. One of the black-eyed girls from the plastic play house puts on a tiny white lab coat and stereoscope and approaches the car, calling behind to her sister, who calmly walks towards the car carrying two buckets of water. Everything seems to be running smoothly. I turn to the matter of the milk.
“Listen Chuck, I’m gonna drive your truck back to my place. You’re too wasted to drive, and I’m taking a couple gallons of milk, okay?”
“Yeah, mama it’s all right. I’ll call you in a couple hours, I need to sleep this off.”

I drive back to my apartment in a hurry, I crave the darkness of my messy living room. I cannot wait to wrap myself in a sheet and drink milk, glorious milk! Over ice. straight from the gallon, out of a wine glass. Not to mention the six or seven soma Chuck palmed me as I left. There is pleasure in my immediate future. Which is about as good as it gets.
The rain continues. In the evening, there is timid knocking at my door. I come to on the couch, an empty gallon of milk on its side, pills scattered on the end tables, my vision is blurry. While I was high I opened the windows of the front room, and the mixture of rain and well-nourished plants fills the room with an exhilarating freshness. The knocking comes again, more assertive this time. I pull on an oversized shirt and open the door.
Chuck's dark-eyed daughters stand there, the newborn is swathed tightly in yellow bunting, squirming within its fresh new flesh. They step inside my apartment. They are soaked through to the skin. It’s miraculous how dry the newborn is.
They do not speak. They lay the baby on the couch and begin to scrub one another roughly with a towel they’ve retrieved from my hall closest. I feel proud of myself that I have a clean towel. I go to the closet and retrieve another towel. Then, I assist them, twisting their long black hair and ringing out the water. It pools on my cheap floor.
Once they are dry, they collect the baby and inventory their clothing. The taller of the two extends her hand to me. I hand her the key to Chuck's truck. If they can deliver a baby and walk several miles in the rain, I find no compelling reason not to. Wordlessly, they take the keys from me and head towards the door, where they turn and flash their eyes at me.
After they leave I flop on the couch and listen to the rain, swallow some pills, breathe the fresh rain-scented air, and wonder what they named the baby…
fade to Black

© Callan 2010

Callan left Orange County, Ca. in 2007 and moved to the country to focus full time on her writing. Her work is featured at Six Sentences and her blog www.theworksofjanecallan.blogspot.com

11 comments:

  1. This is scary & funny & sad all at once. The scene at the food bank with the people trying to out-misery one another is priceless. This is without a doubt the best thing I've read from you, and I hope you keep developing at this pace.

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  2. You always convey a vivid sense of desperation, of people living on the edge. I really like this, it is dark and atmospheric, and reminds me of 'Hunger' by Knut Hamsun.

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  3. Wow! This is an amazing accomplishment. I love the way you write. Unfortuantely, too many people live like this.

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  4. You write as easily as most people breathe, a natural movement of plot! I enjoyed it!

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  5. Callan, you have the courage to make a joke out of 19 very good decisions. My hat is way off to you. I think your style has such lovely grime and grit. The only thing that could make it better would be hearing you read it aloud. Very well done.

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  6. What a beautifully tortured story. Your vision, I think, is unique, as your writing always takes me in a direction I didn't think I'd go, and your characters always seem to make unexpected and interesting decisions. Congratulations on this piece - as Jeanette said, it is quite an accomplishment.

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  7. One of the best pieces of yours that I have read. Your stories (this one included) are always dark, creepy, and although almost surreal, it disturbs a place in my gut, which means it is touching on something very real - something to which I can realate. As usual, I want more!

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  8. callan- I liked every word and turn of phrase. I thought that it was a great mixture between dialogue and descriptive writing. There was a lot in there to sink one's teeth into. The generational troubles of people in crisis. Their survival mechanisms, the way many of them talk, et cetera. Milk being such a commodity- true. The texture of things you present, ture. The writing is alive in a quietly frenetic way. There is a darkness to it all, a darkness that is true. But- there- near the end- the narrator admits, even if stoically, or plainly- or reservedly without too much fanfare or sentimentality- that if they can walk in the rain and accomplish something, the narrator finds no compelling reason not too. as a reader, i felt that the characters were being painted well in darkness, but also being given a fair shake. there is lots more about this piece that makes it a really well piece to read. great work callan!

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  9. Callan, I knew you had something going on from the first six sentences I read of yours, but this is just something else! Wow!

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  10. Love this!!! Especially the way the milk theme is utilized throughout.

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  11. I knew this was a marvel when Callan sent it in, and was hoping it would be appreciated by all. To have her compared to Knut Hamsun, one of my all time favorites, and an expert, I think, in portraying subdued desperation, validates my opinion.
    I would love to read more from Callan as she writes of people I think I may once have met and never really got to know before.

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