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The Wicked Burbs
All of my life there had been some precognition. My mother had it. Both of my sisters. Once, when I was very little, my oldest sister had come running into our room crying because she feared the phone call that was about to happen. That I had been struggling with some sense of foreboding all day came as no surprise. So there I was, at two in the morning, driving into the coastal abyss to respond to some disconnected call from my girlfriend, ninety-four miles away.
When I saw her walking, a stranger on a sharp curve from a presumed break down I had not seen in the fog, I couldnít help but stop for her. There could have been hours between cars at that ungodly hour of the morning and the weather, according to the staticy radio broadcast I had lost moments before, was only going to worsen. I squeezed off the shoulder and opened my door into a sharp wind to call my offer to her for a ride as far as Eddyville and she ran at the car.
\"Thanks for stopping,\" she said, slamming the door hard.
\"Youíre lucky I came along,\" I said. \"This is just about the worst place to be in this.\"
\"There are,\" she offered, \"Worse places.\"
Ever get the feeling you know someone but canít quite place the face? Or the sense that you are in the presence of a past you canít remember? We settled into the drive, progressing very slowly around the dipping corners, past sleeping houses unaware of any turbulence.
\"Is there someone you can call from Eddyville?\" I asked her, knowing that, in all the years I had driven through the little burb, I had never really ever \"seen\" anyone in the tiny village. It was just a skid-through. There were half a dozen houses, all I thought, occupied by ghosts who left their vehicles from the fifties to rot in front yards that the highway department had paved into. Oh, I saw someone once. A railroad worker days after another fatal crash had happened along a strip of track that divides the town. There was at least one fatality in Eddyville every year. All on that same small strip of track. All in weather like this and all in the wee small hours of a morning just the same as this one.
She leaned a little closer to me and said, half whispered, \"Have you ever seen a phone in that dot on the map?\"
She had a point. I suggested we could pal around until we got a little further, into Toledo maybe, where I could drop her off at the Dairy Queen, knowing it would be closed but that there was a phone at least.
\"I donít think so,\" she said, somewhat sadly.
Someoneís bright idea, about a year ago, was to board up all the houses that would object to widening the road. The state had moved in and condemned a trail of them west of where we were and still I wondered, because of this woman, if she had maybe lived in one of them. She starred out the windshield like a kid on a school bus, knowing something about the drop off and not seeming to care when we arrived. I sped up a little bit, uncomfortable at her sudden silence, and dipped into another curve.
\"Is she expecting you?\" She asked, breaking several minutes of silence.
\"Who?\" I asked, even though I already knew.
\"Your girlfriend. Is she expecting you?\"
I must admit, I look the part, though in this neck of the woods I could be mistaken for someoneís hard working wife. That she could assume this truth came less as a surprise as did my knowing she would be asking me. I sank a little lower in my seat, slowed the car to accommodate the telling and bore my soul to her as if she were my bartender.
\"No. She doesnít,\" I began. \"We got into a little spat and she hung up on me. Iíve tried to call her back, nine times, but sheís refusing to answer the phone. So I thought I just stop by.\"
\"Kind of a long way to go to just stop by,\" the stranger remarked.
But we had played this little game before, the girlfriend and I. For years, in fact, we had broken into some heated argument and ended up wrapped tightly into a little ball, rolling around the floor of her apartment at the coast. I kind of liked the sex after fighting with her. As much as Iíd hate to admit, albeit it safe to a stranger, I may have actually started more than one dispute just to end up in that position with her.
I smiled at the thought of how she might be sleeping when I turn my key in her locked door. That broadened when I remembered an evening when she had even left it unlocked for me, knowing there would be that staged argument.
Lightening happens. Some one million strikes can be counted on this planet at any given second. One such flash lit up the curve just entering Eddyville. It hued the main street in a dark blue and faded, green to gold to black, extended past my headlights.
\"How long do you suppose sheíll wait?\" the young woman asked.
\"Not long,\"I answered, becoming more comfortable with what was really going on. From a memory that was detached to me, I pulled quietly to a stop in front of the tracks. She and I watched the vapor of the train, long since lost to time and reality, whoosh past us. She turned to me and, sliding closer, leaned in and kissed me softly on my cheek before stepping from the car and walking into the throws of the specter locomotive. She wonít wait long, I thought.
I turned the car around in the shallow intersection just as I had been doing for years and began the long drive back in the fog. It was as lonely a drive as it had been that hot summer weekend when I didnít see the train even coming. I had been so preoccupied by the anticipation of her that it cut right through me.
As morning approached, the mist would rise, heated in the sun in spots uncluttered by the lining of trees. It would form a dozen people walking this stretch. People who had been wasted by their urges to drive to the beach when, in those early morning hours drivers like me, who had been condemned by our abuse of the living, would deliver them to their fatal destinations over and over again. But I had known that. I would always know that.