SHADOWS IN EMPTY ROOMS
By M. Cid D’Angelo
There’s Pat Methany on the radio: misty music somehow in the somber glow of the dash lights. A lonely train chugs through the tune and the trucker recalls the depths of warm summer nights, watching a 13” black and white television screen on the VHF channel – long before cable – watching as the stars glisten and the sleeping world turned; the sound of a train’s horn far away, drifting in from the lost horizon. Alone with Katerina, the gray half-glow on her face, fresh from waitressing after the drudge work of endless nothings; the keys to their passionate world inspired by reruns of sci/fi and horror movies and fatigue. Oh, and that that train so far away, so far far away, and the horn smoothing in through the open window.
The radio stations are only temporary; they fade and vanish after so many miles. There’s comfort in that – a strange comfort. He doesn’t know why he feels that way. One’s lucky when a country station nearby is playing some good instrumental music without a brash Honky-Tonk noise and especially when there’s not a Christmas carol. Good luck with that. There’s Hank Williams Sr., maybe some other Grand Ol’ Opry singer, and maybe Marty Robbins, even. There’s rarely anything good on.
Pancakes with grape jelly, screw the syrup.
Sex in the early Sunday light.
When are you coming home?
You never know.
His long roads and her late night work. Shadows in empty rooms.
There’re snow shards against the windshield and a long stretch of early morning hours before his rig. The far hills have a shadowy blue light, somehow, over them, so it’s not as black as it should be.
On the northern road at night, it gets so dark the universe is only miles away. When you make the trip often, you get to know the ranches and the working girls in them, and they have Clint’s name on a chalkboard in the back near the bar at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch. He feels special. He’s not a blundering in and out sort of guy, you know, and they know; he tarries for awhile whenever he’s around and it gets to be like that old TV show where everybody knows your name.
It’s set up like a bed and breakfast. It’s comforting; it’s not like some trashy dive bar or nightclub with girls dancing on poles or in retail windows showing off themselves like hardware, not like the brothels in Europe. He’s seen those and don’t ask him why or how.
They lay on their stomachs next to each other, smoking, he and sunny-crowned Darly. She’s pretty, so very pretty, that she’s way out of his league in the natural order of things. If he’d met her on the street, or a singles bar, or a love-match dating website, she would have nothing to do with him. He knows this.
So what’s it like?
What is what like?
Being what you are, with so many guys?
You think that since I’m a whore I have a long chain of guys every day?
As if this is McDonald’s?
No. Nothing like that.
Everyone thinks that, though.
I have one or two nights a week.
A john here and a john there, but nobody I don’t know. Somebody like you.
There’s gotta be that first time.
Yes, you’re right, but it’s not as often as you think.
They smoke. They watch The Walking Dead on the flat screen.
Some of the other girls make good money and they have plans.
Sure. They want families and children too.
So, they have plans?
Mmmm hmm. Of course they do.
A family. Haven’t you been listening?
Most of us make a good amount every month. We buy a one year lease in Reno or Battle Mountain, you know, and we serve it out and quit. Move away. Find a husband.
A girl has to live for the future. The alternative is depression and suicide.
It never sits right, you know, meeting some guy and settling down, especially when you’ve made a good amount of cash and he doesn’t know where it came from. I think some of the girls lie and say they made it gambling, or they have some inheritance. Most guys are squeamish if you come right out and tell them you made your money as a Nevada whore.
It’s hard to move down those roads with Darly, because she’s a ghost in her way. Can she, at those lonely times, away from the profession, away from her johns and johnettes and anyone else who rules her world, sit in a cloistered apartment, low on rent because she’s saving up, and a floor heater – again, she’s saving up – and all those big numbers in her bank statement aspiring for that magical day when, like a chrysalis, she emerges as someone human? Clint wonders, though, if Darly lies there in a wide open bed at night because she’s single, and if she cries in the dark, listening to old Waylon Jennings like his mother had after she’d divorced those years ago.
Darly, lemon-gold, creamy like vanilla and strawberry ice cream; the princess and not the empress because she’s never grown up, not fully; the catastrophes of her nun-like life jumbled up around her as a convent because she’s holy and …,
… does she have friends there? In her temporal hometown? Or is she in hiding like the other women who work at the ranch?
Since she’s a ghost, he wonders, does Darly have other ghosts haunting that apartment with her? Sad, displaced, disquieted, and hopeful ghosts as she is?
She’s. Saving. Up.
Do you have plans?
Mmmm hmm. Of course I do.
A family. Haven’t you been listening?
He wonders if Darly watches the snow on her window pane on gray days and dark nights, like he does the snow on his windshield in the depths of Christmas.
Streams of lights move out and beyond the darkness. The early morning commute; Clint supposes they’re either miners or working at a government installation somewhere. Area 51. There are some strange off-the-road settlements in the Nevada desert. Mercury for one, but that’s in the south; Rachel in another, and of course there’s Auburn. Auburn has a winding course of the I-80 and some broken up wannabe canyons, but it feels like a down-home sort of place.
Kat said something about never wanting to be a rural-type of girl. Some people need that extra kick of coffee and smog in the morning.
When he’d proposed, he’d written all the pros and cons on a bulleted list for her convenience.
Oh good, she’d told him, this makes it easier for me to tell you why I’m not going to marry you. And she had gone down the list with a red marker. None of this will work, she’d said, crossing out his points.
I’m mentally handicapped. I’m depressed. I’m depressed all the time. That’s what’s wrong with your list and why we can never be married.
But they had married. They had, despite her warnings and despite his absences.
Oh, but now the road ahead, bogged down by the early morning snow and the cars and the where-are-you-going-tos. Where are you going to? It’s Christmas. Shouldn’t you day-trippers be home?
There are other truckers too, of course, weighed by the slow traffic and the bottleneck. Salt Lake City isn’t getting any nearer, it seems. For once he’s happy, if indirectly and frivolously so. It’s because of the uppers and the caffeine pills, he muses. If he does half a bottle, there’s a chance they’ll kill him, and sometimes …,
… sometimes that seems all right.
The windshield wipers are slapping time because the early snow is in harmony with the radio. He remembers Janis Joplin and wonders what a harpoon is inside a dirty red bandanna.
Mmmm. Mmmmm. Mmm. Music. The boys in the band Clint sometimes throws down with come and go in his mind because they are so far away right now; and come to think of it, their manager too. Prissy Priss from Kiss because she’d told them she’d been a manager of Kiss from a long time ago, before they’d been big.
I’m thinking this is it, Clint.
You’re thinking what is ‘it’?
I’m going to kill myself.
No you’re not. You’re just going through a rough patch.
Nobody gives a fuck about me, Clint.
Prissy Priss from Kiss didn’t know if Clint would believe her or not. After all, he’d seen her wasted before, so wasted she’d almost killed herself doing some stunt, like trying to do a trapeze walk on the top of a five-story building. He’d seen her so wasted on Quaaludes she’d had her stomach pumped on more than one occasion.
Everyone in the band doubts Prissy Priss had ever been the manager of Kiss, but again, no one has a way to call her out on the boast.
What are you going to use?
Uh? Sleeping pills, most likely.
But let’s face it, she hadn’t liked being asked. She didn’t approve of … planning.
You know that statistics show that women will kill themselves with sleeping pills rather than shooting themselves in the head, right?
That’s a woman’s vanity for you. She’d rather go out looking good.
That’s so sexist you misogynistic bastard… I’m serious, Clint.
So am I. I pay a lot of attention to statistics. Like the fact that most people who first threaten to kill themselves generally just need a little reassurance. Nobody wants to kill themselves.
You won’t get any sympathy. Me and Kat and the boys’ll make it a point not to even show up at your funeral.
And that’s the way to lay it down.
When they’d all met a day later, at IHOP, the front door blew open and in strolled Prissy Priss from Kiss – eyes dilated and as big as dinner plates – looking like she’d been ran over by a mixing truck.
Fuck all y’all! She’d exclaimed, and in one motion, she’d flopped forward in a terrible somersault on the dining table and lay there spread-eagle, blinking under the lights.
No one truly cares about me, Clint. No one truly loves me beyond their eyes.
So, Clint supposes suicide isn’t really her cup of tea after all.
Somewhere far away the memory of a mocha-skinned beauty awaits him for long hours that come too late. Poetry from dead lips. Falling verse in between strips of cold, cold logic.
One of these days, Clint, I’m going to be someone of worth.
I’m not a pianist, I’m a music sheet turner.
Don’t look at me like I’m useless! Somebody has to turn the music sheet!
There’s a little bit of a ghost story there, with her. Not that there’s anything weird or creepy, not like the movies; an echo of a person, a shade, a fleeting gossamer sheen on the sunny window for all Clint knows. The shadow of her eyes, a shadow in an empty room, and the following stretch of blank emptiness of times like this when the huge sky is ebony and infinite and the thousand count of fireflies beyond the earth’s embrace shine in their own sentience.
Ah, yes, waxing poetic. A long-hauling trucker with a load of plastic garbage for some automaker, and he’s waxing poetic. Driving the long stretches will do that to even the most jaded and illiterate because there’s so much to think about.
Space aliens in the far south and the constant war between the Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flame or some such. She’d told him – Canajun-Blooded Katerina – nothing really MATTRESS.
Hey there, ghost girl, he’d say only half-jokingly, the amount of energy you spend roaring over Canadian hockey and idle musings about things that don’t concern you, they could bottle it and replace electricity, you know. Or at least solar power. You know how that’s a pipe dream.
Kat once wanted him to read to her Robert Frost’s poem about death, that famous one from a long, long time ago. Even up to a few weeks ago he never truly knew how apt it was. Snow in the woods is somehow more haunting than just snow on the open road.
That was the graduate commencement speech at logical school – that’s a laugh: logical school. Kat had gone to a prestigious school for gifted children. And you know how unsettling that was? She’d said. Having some Phys Ed coach as the keynote speaker reading a poem about death at your graduation?
It’s been a little more than a year now, and sometimes you wonder, you have to wonder, how time can move so fast.
Oh, but forget that right now. Forget it because the light is stagnant in the pools of gray and black and shadow, even as the world sleepily, drowsily, moves somewhere beyond his sight in the dirty seamless sheet despite the flickers of snow. Waiting for Santa. It happens every year, you know, and no matter how many times one experiences the stark death of the oncoming winter, it always seems like the first time.
From where he drives, he can see the blankness, en blanc, of the wintery infinity. There’s at least a foot of snow on the shoulders and it’s piled higher on the roofs and against the walls of the morning buildings along the highway. The world is morning, always, in its way.
The road goes ever ever on; the straight flatland and nothing now but the expanse of his own forlorn company. It’s everywhere.
It’s more than a year since she’s been gone.
About the Author:
M Cid D’Angelo has been published in diverse literary journals such as Third Wednesday, Midway Journal, decomP magazinE, Silk Road Review, and Eureka Literary Magazine. His novel Dead Reckoning was published by J Ellington Ashton Press and placed among the Top 10 Finalists for Best Horror Novel in 2015 by Preditors and Editors.