Nowhere Is Always Somewhere
  Six Stories by Robert Earle
  1  Under the Bridge
2  The Mustard Pot
3  Nowhere Is Always Somewhere
4  Monsters, Monsters Everywhere
5  What Maggie Knew
6  The Last Summer
  About the Author  |  echapbook.com  |  September 2017 Fiction Issue
 
 

Under the Bridge

After she said all right and he lay down beside her and a few moments had passed with the two of them lying there like two pieces of detritus bumped together by the ocean’s wayward currents, he said the thing was you didn’t know what you were doing before you did it and didn’t know afterward what you’d done. You only knew right now.

Sort of like a substitute teacher trying to sound impressive. She gave him a pass, though, to see if there was more because in a way he was right as far as right now went, and if she didn’t pay attention, true, there would be nothing, as there had been before he showed up and asked if she minded him lying there beside her.

Sort of like sitting in a truck cab, what you saw erasing what you’d seen, he continued. All you did was watch the whole country snapping past you, and it’s gone, and you’re here, and you don’t know where here will lead, either.

They lay there under the bridge in what they mistook for silence because they were paying attention to each other, comfortable on the sloping concrete channel wall above the trickling river flow that didn’t glint in the shadow of the bridge, displaying its freight of oils and fertilizers, insecticides, and factory run-off. The surface of the river danced with that stuff while it was in the sun and then stopped dancing under the bridge and farther along, back in the sun, danced again, very pretty although it would kill you if you drank it.

What I would say to you, he said, is an hour from now we may never see one another again.

She asked him where he got this annoying way of talking—What I would say to you—intending to squash his philosophizing like a bug.

My mother, he said, unsquashed. She would talk like that. Sit down and pull herself together and start with that. She said it all the time.

His clothes were not totally subsided into his skin, she thought, contemplating a poem she would never finish, clothing so worn that it subsided into a person’s skin. He also had a grease smear on his cheek. He said he got it helping a driver turn a crank on his trailer, tightening the load, which led to him getting in the truck cab he was talking about. One ride all the way to L.A. Then he finished up walking to Long Beach to see the ocean and then followed the river channel back to where they lay.

She offered him a cigarette. He declined.

So, you’re here, she said, exhaling.

I’m here.

How long is it?

Since I got here? Four days. You?

More like four years.

She wasn’t a poet and turned to how she looked at things, her own philosophy, so to speak.

The first thing is being hungry. That’s the main thing you’ve got to deal with. The second thing is going to the bathroom. The third thing is staying cool. Fourth is the boredom and not letting it get the best of you and make a mistake in getting rid of it. Fifth is where do you sleep. And sixth is not hating it all, what you’ve done, gotten yourself here.

But you haven’t done anything, he objected. That’s what I’m saying, and if you did, you couldn’t say that was why you were here, the only single reason. There is no single reason.

How old are you? she asked.

Seventeen. You?

Twenty.

Where are you from?

The way you put it, nowhere. The way most people would put it, St. Paul. You?

St. Louis. So, the both of us running from saints.

I’m not running anywhere. I’m lying here like I would have been lying here if you had kept on walking.

She had gone through phases. Boyfriends for free. Drinking for free. Drugs that weren’t free. Boyfriends for pay. Cleaning houses, stringing wire, factory night guard, sleeping in the canyons, the house she got into, the house where she was invited on the beach, San Jose once, another time Brentwood, staking out a chaise lounge by the pool, no bathing suit, browning like a cigar. And other things, street things, barrio things and this thing, the river channel thing.

Say your name again.

Tim. I never said it before, though. Yours?

Martha, Marty, Mart. Depends.

Her jeans, to her the most famous thing in her life, were soft to the point of disintegrating, totally subsided. She had the tank top, the hoodie, three pairs of underwear, the trainers, poquito Spanish, bonjour in French, a sense of these four years enveloping her like cake batter folding into a cake pan.

The seventh thing, she said, is gangs, staying clear. One time one of them had me in a basement, and they would fuck me for nothing except Colonel Sanders and Mt. Dew, which they all drank. The white girl downstairs, they called me. Chica blanca.

You were like a sex slave?

More like a sex prisoner. Slaves have rights.

How did you get in with them?

I was with another gang and this one snatched me off the street.

How did you escape?

My pussy swelled to where they couldn’t get in and they put me back out on the street right where they snatched me.

The old gang didn’t want her back. Then she heard about a clinic where they patched her up and put her in a shelter. After a while, it reminded her too much of being a prisoner again, so she left.

This was recently?

A few weeks ago.

You all right now?

I’m not ever going to be all right. Look at my teeth.

She wanted to see if he would. She knew they were ugly, two bottom ones broken and three top ones gone. But he did. In return, she studied his own sallow olive face, the extra stray hairs at the peak of his crescent-shaped eyebrows, the unwashed hair that would gleam in the sun like the river sludge, rainbows of body oil and the grime and dirt of wherever he had been, the stuff in the air, in that truck cab, on the docks in Long Beach.

He surprised her by touching the ragged edges of the two broken ones on the bottom like a dentist considering how he was going to fix them.

Offended yet feeling sisterly in response to his compassion, she said, Eight, keep your teeth brushed, okay?

It wasn’t not brushing that got you that.

In Mexico when I have the money, I’ll get them fixed. It’s cheap down there. You have any money left?

Yeah.

The trucker didn’t make you pay?

No, he was all right.

He make you suck him off?

No.

You ever suck anyone off?

No.

She didn’t like the way he said no, like, not him, never.

Always a first time if you get hungry enough, she said.

He lay back on the sloping concrete channel wall, rehearsing what he was saying to himself when he found the channel and began walking it east.

You know what, he said. I am having the best time of my young life.

Your young life. That’s funny.

This is the least boring thing I have ever done. I like it here. I’m thinking all the time.

Have to.

We have everything we need. We’re set. Right here, right now. Nobody to tell us nothing.

She elbowed him in the ribs. You’re a dumb fuck, but I like you.

They lay there in silence awhile until just listening became unbearable. Being under the keening, droning bridge was like being in a cathedral before the mass or an opera house before the music or a hallway between classes with no priest, conductor, or teacher ever appearing to signal hush, the service was about to begin, the performance, the lesson. The traffic overhead never stopped; the bridge’s grim struts and girders, its pier heads on which everything arced from one side of the channel to the other, throbbed without cease; it would go on and on forever.

She offered to suck him off if he would buy her some lunch.

He said, Here? It’s broad daylight. Which it wasn’t. It was light as spotted and brown as a rotting banana.

She said she had a blanket in her bag. No one would see.

He said she didn’t have to suck him off, he’d buy her lunch.

Nah, I want to, she said, reaching into her bag.

What about you?

Believe me, you don’t want anything to do with my pussy.

It’s still not right?

Shut up, I’ll get you off quick.

You don’t even know me.

She smiled her messed-up smile. Yes, I do.

She got under the blanket and undid his jeans and extracted his prick and didn’t hurry, played with it, took her time. And he began to sound like the rest of the din beneath the bridge, amusing her to where sometimes she would peek out and just work him with her hand so she could see his pitched-back head and hear him groaning better.

After he came, she spat it onto the blanket and rubbed it in and pushed his hand off where he had been grabbing at her breast. Then she rolled the blanket up while watching him jam himself back into his underpants and push up his thighs and arch his back so he could pull his jeans into place and zipper them.

I am so hungry and I know a place not far where we could go, she said. They have these mango hamburgers and the best ice tea, minty sweet, not sugary sweet. Sugar will kill you, you know that? I stay away from sugar.

Me, too.

Really?

I never have anything to do with sugar.

She pressed her hand against his temple affectionately, approvingly, and spread her fingers to run them through his dirty black hair, looking at a scar on his forehead and one in his scalp where the hair didn’t grow at all, just a white line that never saw daylight. Then she took notice of her hand, how calloused and scabby and bony it was and thought about climbing things and prying through things, and thought it might not be pleasant, feeling it on the tender places of your temples and scalp and removed it. But he had liked it and put it back and covered it with his own hand, pressing both hands, one on top of the other, on his forehead.

I hate to leave here, he said. It’s so nice.

But I’m hungry.

I know.

I told you that was first.

Okay, let’s go. It’s not far?

Maybe a mile. But it’s worth it.

Then what? Back here?

No, I have somewhere I need to go.

I’ll go with you.

No, we’ll meet back here.

When?

I don’t know. Later. Just be here, okay?

They were both up now, walking aslant, one foot above the other on the concrete channel bank. The sunlight beyond the bridge’s shadow had a glacial look, an impenetrable look. What he would have said to her, if he said anything, which he didn’t, was that it wasn’t hot out there. He would have said it was freezing. He would have said the way the bridge above and the concrete channel below framed the city ahead made it look like a never-thawed icebox, all the buildings encrusted in a sparkling icy snow, everything fused together, all the doors and windows stuck, the people inside stuck, the plane in the sky stuck, going nowhere, frozen there, never going to land.

     
  © Robert Earle, 2017

   

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