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Steam City Girl

Story by Paul Silverman (Read author interview) June 15, 2008

Art by Robinson Accola

The bus pushed off under whipping Boston rain, so much of it the windows smelled like wet fish until they hit the cornfields, where everything dried and smoothed out. Denver was the longest stopover, and from there to the state line the only sound around them was passenger snoring and engine hum, so Corinne could stroke Johnny’s dome and talk softly about the future.

There were things she had to say about the past too, things she was still ticked or ripped about. Even now, she considered Johnny a beer-bellied fuck who couldn’t see his toenails, much less the end of the Mass Pike. “Until me, me the Steam City girl, you were like that big old sign in South Station,” she said, “the one right before the tracks that had just four words on it, Albany and the West, like Albany was the end of the known world. Without me you wouldn’t have even got to Albany, would you? Albany! You would have sat there in Eastie, two feet from Runway Three at Logan Airport, and you never would have even stepped on a plane. You would have stayed up in the catwalk with your stinking olive barrels, up there at the top of the goombah line with the forklifts, cracking the staves and pouring the olives down the chute, coming home to me stinking like an antipasto. Jesus, Johnny, you could have had a doctor’s degree in olives. Who else east of the tunnel could tell a Cannon Ball from a Colossal? But until me you didn’t know Arizona from Alabama, for shit’s sake. A gorilla like you, a weekend bouncer at the Marco Vittori Post, nearly wetting his pants over that bullshit cactus story. It’s a myth, that’s all, there’s no such thing as a jumping cactus, a cactus that shoots its spines at you if you come within six feet of it. They were slinging it to you, those cowboys, and you fell for it, cause you were such a Boston-ass dude, such a greenhorn, you and your faht and pahk the cah mouth, Charlie and the MTA…”

Corinne didn’t bring up the other incident—it was so dumbass and shameful, but she remembered how Johnny’s baggy eyes had bulged, like an elephant having a shit fit over a mouse. The guy in skinny-assed Wranglers who showed them around the mesa in a Jeep—the memory was so sharp she caught whiffs of that very guy in the bus fumes… how he’d screeched to a halt at this big rock and scooted off just as she and Johnny climbed out onto the red dust road. Like a freaking mountain goat the guy was—scrambling right up the side of the rock. “Know why I’m up here?” he yelled down at them. And then, after a great, fat silence: “Cause the spot you’re standing on has the greatest concentration of rattlesnakes in the world.”

But in the end, after all the times she dragged him, kicking and screaming, away from the three-deckers and out to the West, it was Johnny who forked over the wad for the trailer, every EE bond they had in the East Boston Five, and the trailer was waiting for them now, just two trailers back from a dead-on view of the craggy Presidio Range. These were the sunset shapes Johnny had slowly come to love more than anything he’d ever known. More, even, than the old giant Madonna statue looking down on the Chelsea oil docks, the hopped-up nags of Suffolk Downs and the garbage barges toting the seagulls up and down the great artery of mercury called the Mystic River.

The bus made its final stop at Steam City, and what was left of the night and the conversation took place at a super-economy motel, the kind Johnny was fond of calling A Nap n’ a Crap. Next day, Corinne hit the local Auto Mile and acquired a Chevrolet Suburban. As the salesman had said, it was a style of Suburban you don’t find any more, the battleship style, built back when they were making the bodies out of steel not plastic. They reached the trailer at nightfall, and there was more talk about the past and the future, a night and a whole day of it, a day of the foghorn-free air Corinne was born in. And then, in a swoop of light and color, it was the future: sunset pulling its blanket of blue and rust over the chilled crags of the Presidios.

Corinne walked until she found nothing in sight with pitted chrome or worn treads, just a straight-on view of the peaks. Then she waited for a breeze, lifted the dome and let Johnny go wherever the air wanted to take him. She was still amazed that a three-hundred-pound barrelhead, a greaser who could eat nails and spit nickels, who inhaled two-pound T-bones like they were communion wafers, could fit so easily in a brass jar.

About the Author

Paul Silverman has worked as a newspaper reporter, sandwich man, olive packer and advertising creative director. One of his commercials won a Silver Lion at Cannes. His stories have appeared in Tampa Review, The South Dakota Review, The North Atlantic Review, Word Riot, In Posse Review, The Pedestal Magazine, The Timber Creek Review, The Front Range Review, The Jabberwock Review, Jewish Currents, The Coe Review, Hobart Online, Amarillo Bay, The Adirondack Review, The Paumanok Review, Subterranean Quarterly, Thieves Jargon, Lily, The Summerset Review, and others. His piece, “Getaway,” published by Verbsap, is on the 2006 Million Writers Award shortlist of Notable Online Stories. Byline Magazine and The Worcester Review have nominated his stories to the Pushcart Committee. New work was recently accepted by Oyster Boy Review, Cricket Online Review and Alimentum.

About the Artist

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-One

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