So, Mr. Fancy-Pants Published Novelist Jeff Markowitz, who for some inexplicable reason has been reading my pointlessly meandering blog for the better part of a decade, thinks I should resurrect one of the stories I started and abandoned long ago. Like all of my stories, the one he’s referring to involved trains, danger, and the blues.
So I went scrounging around in my folders but I only found one piece of the story, which involved bullets raining down on me in Portland. I don’t think it’s the beginning but I’m not sure. I do tend to start in the middle of the action. Wait, maybe google can help me find it in my old blog posts. Hold on.
Ah…I found it. 2006. Here’s the first bit.
MIDNIGHT (OR LATER) TRAIN
When you woke up this morning, everything was gone
By half past ten, your head was going ding dong
Ringing like a bell from your head down to your toes
Like some voice trying to tell you there was something you should know
Last night you were flying but today you’re so low
Ain’t it times like these that you wonder if you’ll ever know
The meaning of things as they appear to the others
Wives husbands mothers fathers sisters and brothers
Don’t you wish you didn’t function don’t you wish you didn’t think
Beyond the next paycheck and the next little drink
Well you do, so make up your mind to go on
‘Cause when you woke up this morning, everything you had was gone
–Reverend D. Wayne Love
I left Lenoir’s at 2:55 am and walked to the station, no more than a bus stop really. I stood shivering in the cold dark by the tracks, pulling the collar of my wool coat up around my ears, both for warmth and invisibility. It didn’t work on either count.
“The three o’clock is always late,” a voice to my right complained.
I turned to face the speaker, a man in his 60’s with a white brimmed hat. “You’ve taken this train before?”
He chuckled as if my question were both rhetorical and amusing, but didn’t answer. I pulled my collar tighter.
The train pulled to a stop in front of us at 3:07. “Late again,” the man muttered as he mounted the steps. I followed, gripping the handrail at the top to get my bearings before fully committing to this ride. The door at the bottom closed and the train lurched into motion, knocking me into the white-hatted man, who appeared to be waiting for me.
He grabbed my arm to steady me, and with a smooth movement that defied the rapidly accelerating train, guided me to a seat in the middle of the car. He sat opposite, removing his hat to reveal hair going, but not all the way, gray.
“Thank you,” I said. “Where are you headed?” I glanced around the car, empty but for us.
The man chuckled again. “California, like always. Unless I can get south-er.”
“Why do you want to go further south?” I pulled my collar down but left my coat buttoned.
“Chasing the sun, sweetheart. It keeps getting away from me.” He unbuttoned his own coat, a battered dark blue canvas London Fog. He laid it on the seat beside him.
“What’s stopping you from going further south?”
His eyes opened wider and took on a more serious expression. “You’re new.”
“I guess so.” I studied his face for clues. New to what? Where, exactly, was this train going? Why was I on it? The sorry truth was, I remembered grabbing my coat and my keys, heading to the train depot, drinking blacker than black coffee at Lenoir’s, but I could not remember why.
He studied me too, and looked into, right through my eyes. “I’ll look after you as long as I can.”
I looked back. He ran his fingers through his scraggly hair, stroked his beard, and finally rested his hands on his narrow legs. He lowered his eyes. Blue eyes, kind, but haunted.
“Thank you. I’m Jodi.”
He looked up again, and held out a hand. “Bill Foster.”
We shook hands, maintaining the grip longer than required for meeting a new acquaintance. Our palms expressed solidarity, our fingers made common cause. We were going to California, and maybe further south, together.
There are several installments after this, in which things quickly become hazardous. But, as Jeff knows, I never finished the story. I never finish any of my stories. It’s one of my many character flaws. Maybe this will be the one to make it to the end.
Should I work on the story, or stick with angst-ridden TMI blog posts? I know what you’ll say if you have any sense.