Nowheresville by Craig Terlson

typewriterI pinned the latest of my twin brother’s postcards on the corkboard above the desk our father never used. This one showed the famous bridge that I’d seen in books and on TV. Finally made it. Wayne used the same blotchy pen to scribble Mom and Dad’s address. It was my address too, but I rarely got mail.

It was almost a full year since we graduated. All of us knew it was only a matter of time before Wayne lit out. Before he left, we watched the nightly news as a family, all the reports of protests made the United States look stranger than usual. The guys had long scraggly hair, clothes that looked like flags, beads, and the sleepy girls gave the V sign to the TV camera. They called them hippies. There was no one in our town that looked like that. Dad shut off the news whenever they showed reports from the war.

“We don’t need to see that.”

One night when our parents were out, my brother and I watched a report on something called a Be-in. The camera focused on this one guy, Doctor Something, speaking to the crowd from a high stage. He had white close-clipped hair, and didn’t look like a normal doctor. For starters he had a pair of yellow flowers above his ears like antenna. He smiled with sunny teeth, and said the words that sealed it for my brother.

“You hear that, Glenn? That’s what we gotta do. This place is nowheresville.”

“I don’t even understand what he means. What’s with his voice? And tune in to what? The radio?”

“Don’t be a square. The turn on bit is the scene–and the drop out part.”

“But we finished high school. We didn’t drop out. And neither of us are in college.”

“It’s more than that, man.”

Wayne picked up a way of talking that no one from around here used. A small Canadian town, an hour from the U.S. Border, didn’t ever think about be-ins, or happenings, or protests where everybody had a guitar and a bandana. The news made the U.S. seem more like another planet than a place we could drive to.

Wayne sent me postcards from the road, more when he first left. The Golden Gate Bridge card was the first one in three weeks. Whenever Mr. Frederik at the jewelry store asked about my brother there was an invisible head shaking that went along with the talk.

Nowheresville. That actually fit. What was our scene? Young kids drove in from the farm, got drunk and crashed their half-tons. Or they got third-degree burns at a pit party and died. Or one shot himself in a field. Things like this happened here, but no one ever got used to funerals for people my age. The parents of the dead kid looked like ghosts in a world they were no longer part of.

 

#  #  #

 

“Look at that. That’s living, brother. They’re in the scene.”

“They’re throwing flowers up in the air. On a blanket. How is that anything?”

Wayne slugged me hard in the shoulder.

“How are we so different?”

“Cuz we’re not identical,” I said.

“Yeah, and you’re the girl.” He slugged me again, and we rolled around on the floor like we were twelve. My wrestle hold turned into a hug. I pulled him in even tighter because I didn’t want him to see my face.

“Be careful. Don’t be an asshole.”

Wayne hugged me back. He pushed me away, laughing, but not in a way that he meant it.

He left the next morning. I saw Dad stuff a few bills in the beat up rucksack when Wayne hugged Mom. We stayed on the platform until the bus became a small grey blur at the turn for the highway.

 

#  #  #

 

Somehow, Wayne making it to San Francisco made me feel like I did something too. But everything was pretty much the same for me.

The last few weeks I’d been working with Mr. Frederik’s niece, Sam. She showed up one day without much explanation. I guess she had went to school on the west coast, knew how to fix jewelry, and was always going outside to smoke.

Mr. Frederik left her in charge when he and his wife took their Winnebago to Minnesota. Before he left he told me that Sam had been in trouble out west and that was why she came here. If anything happened, I should call him at the trailer park, and he gave me the number on a folded yellow paper.

“Anything like what?”

“You just call.”

 

#  #  #

 

“Look at this Beth. This is where your son is.”

Mom came in wiping her hands on a dishtowel.

“Do you see him? Is he there?”

She sat on the ottoman next to Dad, leaned in, her fingers reached for the screen. Mom was always kinda weird around the TV.

“Glenn got a card from there. Didn’t you tell her?”

“There’s gotta be thousands of people there. You’re not going to see him, Mom.”

Dad gave me a look.

“Look at that one. They seem nice enough, kind of messy. Wayne wouldn’t dress like that. Wait, wait, that’s him there.” Mom got off the ottoman.

A guy about Wayne’s size and build pushed his face into the camera. He had a wide grin like he was happy, but his eyes weren’t right. The news announcer forced his way back in, struggling to be heard above the chanting and singing.

“Are they mad at something? The war? What is it, Walt?”

Mom reached over and grabbed Dad’s hand.

“They’re mad about a lot of things. And they’re into some things that kids get into these days.”

“They’re not kids,” I said. “And yeah, they’re pretty angry about Vietnam. They got a right to be.”

My mom, kneeling now, reached another hand toward Dad.

“He’s down there now. Can they make him go, Walt?” Her eyes widened as she talked.

“The boy has to sow his wild oats. He’ll be back. And no, no, they won’t. It doesn’t work that way. He’s a Canadian citizen.”

It became a nightly ritual to watch the news looking for Wayne.

 

#  #  #

 

Saturday at the store was even deader than usual. Ever since Mr. Frederik left, Sam was talking to me more and more. I smiled goofy smiles, said dorky things, and tried to force the red out of my cheeks. For one thing, she was drop-dead gorgeous, like Wayne would say. She had long curly hair that whenever the sun hit it became a river on fire against her tanned skin. This morning she beamed a smile and gave a long wink that made my knees buckle and my groin twitch. Wayne would have said, damn.

“It’s pretty deadsville around here. Howdoya not die?”

“What?” I called from the front.

“Come back here. I need some company.”

“I should probably watch the–”

“Dammit. Shit.”

I ran back to Mr. Frederik’s work desk. She rotated her index finger in the air, a thin line of blood seeped from where she had cut herself.

“It’s not bad. Run it under water, there’s some gauze and bandaids in the washroom.”

She slid her finger in her mouth, and gave me another of those winks. She pulled it out clean.

“It’s cool.”

I didn’t know a single word to say.

“Huh. Turns out when you light up before work, it kinda dulls the pain. One more for the magic herb.”

“You smoke marijuana?”

“Geez Glenn, you gonna tell me you never blew a joint? Okay, we are in Andy Mayberryland… but c’mon, what are you seventeen?”

“Me and my brother are going to be nineteen next week.”

“You have a twin? That explains the whole Gemini vibe I’ve been getting.”

“The what?”

“Wanna get high Glenn the twin?”

“I, uh. Ok.”

“Lock the door, flip the sign.”

I did what she said, thinking all along, Wayne should have been here. He’s the one. I’m the one that studied for both of us, the one that provided all his alibis. I’m the brother that kept telling Mom and Dad Wayne would be fine. He was somewhere in San Francisco tuning in and turning on. He had dropped out of Nowheresville.

I didn’t feel anything at first, except for the burning throat and watering eyes from all the coughing.

“Lemme show you something.”

Sam slid a rod of thin copper out from a drawer and placed it on the work desk. She brushed a paste onto the surface, while she bent and twisted the rod into one, then three, then four overlapping rings. She clipped a thin piece from Mr. Frederik’s roll of solder. The propane torch flared on, and she brought the blue flame next to the two pieces. The tips of her fingers danced, barely avoiding the flame. She bent the metal into a fifth circle, and then there was a knot, and another, until a small spiral fountain rose up, catching light from where there shouldn’t have been light.

“How did you do that?”

I reached for the shining object.

“Wait.”

Sam took the spritzing bottle from the ledge. Water sprayed and hissed. How had she been able to touch it? Mr. Frederik always used a set of tiny pliers when he worked. She blew on the finished ring, then with a flip she pushed it onto my finger. The copper pulsed warm against my skin.

“Trippy huh?”

A jangling came from the front of the store, and then a banging. The sound felt farther away than I knew it was.

Sam had her eyes closed, humming a song from the radio.

“Dioscuri.” Her voice was like a plucked string.

“I don’t know that word.”

The jangling was an echo now.

“That’s who the Gemini were… from the same mother, but different fathers. One from a King, one from a swan. They were the helpers, long ago sailors knew this. But one was dead, and the other alive forever. Joy and sadness, beauty and pain, love and death. Which one are you Glenn?”

“What?”

A hot flash shot across my forehead and crawled down the back of my neck. The metal on my finger grew cold and tight. When I pulled off the ring the edge of copper dug into my skin. I stared at the scraped flesh, trying to make sense of it.

“Which one, Glenn?”

“Stop it.”

“Relax, you’re trippin’. Go with it.”

I threw the ring over my shoulder, it hit something at the front of the store. I cringed when I heard the crack of metal hitting glass.

“Love… or cold death?”

“Quit it. I mean it.” I pushed her shoulder hard. Way too hard.

“Ow fuck! That really hurt.”

She pushed me back with both her hands. It was then I noticed the red splotches and cut marks across her fingers.

“Sorry. I’ve never done this.”

“You totally killed my high. Fucking backwater square.”

I put my hand on her shoulder and she shook it off.

“Don’t touch me you little creep.”

She pushed past me. Those curls I thought looked so cool now just looked like hair. She threw the closed sign against the wall, and slammed the door behind her.

I stared into the street like it would tell me something. There were a few more people now, paper bags from the Co-op, a pair of men hauled a couch into a waiting truck. My mom’s face appeared in the glass door, and it took a second to realize she was really here. I went outside to meet her.

“We saw Wayne.”

“Mom, what are you doing here?”

“I wanted to tell you.”

“Where’s Dad?”

“He dropped me off and went to the radio station.”

“Why?”

“He wanted to tell someone about Wayne.” She peered into the shop. “Where is Mr. Frederik’s niece?”

“Slow down. Where did you see him?”

“On the news. We knew right away, even with the beard. It was funny, he sounded more like you.”

“You always said we sounded the same.”

“Not always.”

“What did Dad want to tell the radio station?”

“How our son was part of what was happening down there.”

“One of your sons.”

We stood together on the sidewalk, the canopy from the jewelry store shielding us from the June heat. She reached for me like she did with Dad. Her wide eyes filled with tears.

“They can’t make him go. He’s not even American. Glenn, you have those cards from him. Can you get ahold of him somehow? Write him call him talk to him?”

“They can’t make him go Mom. Dad said it too. It’s going to be fine. He’ll be okay. What did Wayne say on TV?”

“He said the man was trying to make him go. He was going to fight this man. What does that mean? Who is this man?”

A face with flowers for ears flashed in my brain. Drop out. I wondered if Wayne found Doctor Something.

“That’s how they talk down there. Wayne’s trying to fit in. He does that.”

“Why don’t you do that?”

“I should go back inside, Mom. Some people are coming to look at rings.”

I opened the door behind me. She wiped the corner of her eyes with a crumpled tissue. I stood halfway through the doorway and looked down. The ring I’d thrown lay on the carpet. It looked like wasted metal, a leftover from something else.

“It was nice to see him on TV. You’re right, we shouldn’t worry. Where did you say that girl went?”

“She had to leave for awhile.”

“Is she nice?”

“She reminds me of Wayne.”

“Why would you say that?”

“I dunno. I gotta work, Mom.” I stepped into the store.

“You’ll try to write him? Glenn, will you?”

“Sure Mom.”

She looked first one way up the street, and then the other, before she walked away. I plucked the ring off the floor and aimed it toward the trash, then changed my mind and stuck it in my pocket.

People always asked if me and my brother ever knew what the other was thinking. I hated the question. But the night before he left, in that wrestling hold, we knew each other in a way no one else could guess. I knew he had to go–he knew I had to stay. Will he come back? Would I ever leave? I know I’ll be the one at home when Mom and Dad get old and die. And Wayne, where will he be when that happens? And will he feel me feeling it?

The door jangled, and she was back. Her eyes rimmed with red, hair hung in front of her face like Raggedy Ann.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m back. Like you didn’t know. Your kind always does.”

“What kind am I?”

“The one that stays.”

Craig Terlson

Banner Image: By Nancy (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Nowheresville by Craig Terlson

  1. Hi Craig,
    Your story made me want to listen to Scott McKenzie!
    I think that you got the feel and tone of the time spot on!
    All the very best.
    Hugh

    Like

    • Haha – that’s high praise Hugh! Such an interesting time… and growing up in a Canadian small town (kinda like Nowheresville), watching the counter-cultural revolution happen across the border, and on my TV was a life-changing time. Thanks again to LS for publishing this.

      Like

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