Fiction 2011 / Volume 41

Midtowners — Hailey Malone

“Fuck” is etched into the outside wall of the video store. Molly Silver traces her index finger through the “fuck” and goes into work.

“You’re late,” says Ellen, long in the tooth, toothed in gaps.

“No I’m not.”

Ellen looks at the clock, “Yeah, I guess you’re not.”

“It says ‘fuck’ on the wall, you know.”

“Where?”

“Outside by the door.”

“Fuck like how?”

“I don’t know, there’s no context.”

Fuck has many meanings. Ellen knows all about that. Ask her about Bruce Springsteen, just do it. Molly Silver files videos alphabetically. “As Good as it Gets.” “As Bad as can be Begotten,” that’s “Rosemary’s Baby” you know, can go all the way two aisles over, depending on how you file it.

Fuck: oh you know…A needling in the haystack.

It can mean that, Molly Silver thinks, as she files. Ellen would have it mean that. No one knows if she ever actually did it with The Boss, she gets all coy if someone brings it up. Sometimes she says things, makes comments, wants Molly Silver to ask, but Molly Silver never asks, won’t give the satisfaction. It’s not for lack of effort on Ellen’s part, but Molly Silver won’t cave, she doesn’t want to know the details, it would only make things worse. She doesn’t want to know if young Ellen followed Bruce across the country, made eyes at him from the audience night after night until he started to feel them. She doesn’t want to know if young Ellen had long blond hair and could dance better than any other girl in the world. She doesn’t want to know if young Ellen loved someone, was happy, passionately happy even if it was just for a moment. Molly Silver does want to know, but it would only make it worse to look at her now.

A new song comes on and Ellen turns it up.

“Oh I love this song, it reminds me of you-know-who.”

“Uh huh.”

“Yes yes yes, he was so handsome and dexterous.. .not to mention famous.”

“Hmmmm.”

“Oh my, it just takes me back to that evening when he first—”

Molly Silver leaves the room. She can’t listen to that. Yes, that’s what Ellen would have it mean, but she’s harmless and Molly Silver knows it, just misses being young, that’s all. Ask Ellen about the first time she heard Bruce, it’s mythical. She’s driving with her windows down, dew on the grass, the sun coming up, and Born to Run comes on and at that moment she felt it, felt the world shrinking down to a size she could understand, but big enough still to give her everything she could ever want.

Molly Silver leaves to go pick up coffee for her and Ellen. She walks over to the Roasterie two blocks away. Molly Silver hates the girl who works there in the mornings and normally drives to the Starbucks, but she is needing a walk today and hoping the barista tries to start something. The barista looks like Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” when she takes human form, fucks everything up. There it is again, a verb, but don’t limit yourself, Molly Silver thinks, don’t do that, it can be a noun too, you know, all kinds of nouns.

Nominative: That fucker just threw a football at my nose! Genitive: For fuck’s sake! Or, if it helps: For the sake of fuck!

You get the picture, but this walk, this walk she uses it in the Vocative. Fuck! She’s had a rough morning, and Ellen, Ellen just makes her so sad. Look at her now. While Molly Silver was filing the videos earlier, Ellen had approached and put a hand on her shoulder, looked at her like a mother might look at her daughter. Molly Silver had excused herself at that moment, and it weighs fresh on her mind as she walks to the Roasterie. Fuck!

Fuck: An exclamation, sharp, startles the listener. It’s a staccato, staccatos the adagios with the sharp accented Fuck!   Press the damper pedal down at that point, the Fuck! will reverberate, give the statement depth.

Ellen is not a role-model to Molly Silver. Molly Silver doesn’t want to be Ellen, doesn’t want Ellen to see similarities in their lives or faces, doesn’t want to sit in a video store saying things like, “Oh it’s so beautiful outside, you know what it reminds me of?” and hoping that whoever sits next to her will ask.

Fuck! Can indicate frustration too.

“I’ll have two cups of coffee.” “What blend would you like?” sneers the barista. “Whatever’s cheapest.” “They all cost the same.” “Ok, well I don’t care.” “You have to pick one.” Molly Silver gets frustrated. “I genuinely don’t care, just give me one.” “You have to pick one ma’am.” “Jesus Fuck! Just give me a cup of coffee.”

“You have to pick a blend, what about this do you not understand?” “Okay fine, I’ll pick one; what blends do you have?” “We have a lot.”

“Okay.. .which one would you recommend, Madam Barista?”

“I prefer the Chechnya Blend. It has a very rich flavor, something vaguely.. .oaky about it, with a hint of maple underneath, maybe even a tinge of smoky apple in the aftertaste.” “I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.”

Molly Silver leaves, angry, with two cups of Chechnyan coffee. Ellen likes it hot, steaming. She is waiting outside, smoking on the corner, looking very small, shoulders sloping, cigarette hand shaking, the other one moving slightly, like it’s grasping for something. She looks up and sees Molly Silver approaching, calls “Molly Oily Oxen Free!” and then “What took you so long?”

Molly Silver shrugs.

“Did you get in a fight with that girl again?”

“She’s so irritating.”

Ellen looks at her for a long time.

“I know, I know,” Molly Silver says, “I know.”

Ellen offers her a cigarette. Molly Silver shakes her head. A customer walks up and they return inside, Ellen’s arm around Molly Silver’s waist. She tolerates it for a moment then wriggles free. The customer checks out “Sophie’s Choice.” Molly Silver is overcome with a sudden desire to give away the ending, tell that well-meaning patron what Sophie’s choice was. Looks like someone wasn’t Pro-Life, no sir. It was a tough choice, that’s for sure, but the correct answer was clearly C. none of the above.

Ellen is talking idly. Molly Silver is barely listening, interrupts to say she’s going out to get a sandwich. It can function as an adjective too, a modifier, doesn’t have to agree in the areas of gender, number, or case, just tack it on.

Fucking: like a, like a, oh you know, like a, when you ‘re angry or when you ‘re feeling something and don Y know how.

“Ellen, I’m going out to get a fucking sandwich.”

That one made Ellen laugh, which made Molly Silver smile. She just couldn’t help it. Ellen’s life wasn’t filled with laughs. That one morning, in the car when Ellen heard that voice, that raspy voice going “in the days we sweat it out on the streets of the runaway American dream” she felt alive yes, but she also felt like she understood the words very deeply. Ellen reflects on this day often. And Molly Silver never asks, but sometimes, looking at Ellen’s face, it takes all she can not to. Sometimes Ellen just talks anyway.

The sandwich shop is just a block or two away, and Molly Silver is feeling even worse than she was earlier. She can’t stop thinking about that fucking song. Born to Run. Ha. Ellen once said that when she heard that song for the first time, she decided she was going to leave, wasn’t going to stay here anymore. She was 24 when she heard it. Molly Silver is 23. The Show-Me-State didn’t show Ellen shit. It isn’t showing Molly Silver a lot either. Born to Run. Maybe, maybe.

Molly Silver gets to the deli and realizes she forgot to ask Ellen what she wanted, so she just gets two turkeys on white. Sandwich twins, they can be sandwich twins she thinks with a smirk.

At five Molly Silver gets off work and heads home. She gets to her street and doesn’t know why but just keeps going, west, onto 1-70, it can take her all the way to California if she wants it to. But for now it’s just west, nowhere in particular. West, it’s going to be her time now, she won’t wait any longer. She leaves the radio off and watches time pass but the sun stays up, she’s so young and she feels it, clenches the wheel until her knuckles turn white. Her mom calls, she’s been expecting her home for a while now. Molly Silver ignores the call. The scenery flies by, she’s feeling the wind on her face. Thelma and Louise. She accelerates. The wind is on her face. Topeka. The world is flying by. Flying by at a rate that no longer frightens her because she moves in time with it. She’s so young. She’s flying by, into the mythic, Salina. West, the wind on her face. It’s late now, there’s hardly any traffic, everyone is at home dreaming. She looks at the clock and feels nervous, it has gotten late, and she pulls over in Hays, stops at a Shell station to get a Coke or something, a snack. She pays for her stuff at the register, the lady behind the counter eyes her suspiciously.

“You’re out awfully late.”

Molly Silver shrugs.

“On vacation?”

“Yeah sure.”

“I remember when I was your age, going on road trips with my girlfriends. We used to have so much fun.”

Molly Silver nods.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty three.”

“I remember being that young, twenty four twenty five. It goes by so fast,” she starts laughing, “and then suddenly, one day…”

Molly Silver looks at her now, and she gets it. She understands now and sighs.

Fuck as in fucked. Born to walk don’t run.  This is as good as it gets. Fucked.  Thelma and Louise. Rosemary. Sophie. Fucked.

Molly Silver gets home early the next morning, careful not to wake her mom, and goes to sleep for a couple of hours before work. When she wakes up she tells her mom she was at a friend’s house last night, couldn’t hear her phone.  She gets to work at ten, Ellen is waiting for her, listening to the oldies station and sipping coffee. She looks so old, Molly Silver can’t stand the sight, she looks away, refuses to ask. “Thunder Road” comes on and Molly Silver feels like she’s going to cry. Ellen whistles, says “Oh man, do I love this song.”

Molly Silver says nothing.

“I remember the first time I heard Bruce.”

“Hmmmm.”

There’s a long silence after that. Fucked weighs on Molly Silver’s mind. She turns and looks at Ellen. Her old face looking so tired, so sad. She should hug her, she really should, but she can’t bring herself to do it, instead she turns, says “Ellen?”

“Yeah?”

Ellen. Oh Ellen. Ellen and Molly. Who’s going to take the wheel? She is twenty-three. Sticking in the mud. What does she want? What? Ellen, what if this is as good as it gets? Ellen, did you do it with The Boss? Ellen, tell me about the first time you heard “Born to Run,” wind on your face, so young, the world flying by, the wind on your face mile after mile, eyes watering. Ellen, when did you turn around? Topeka? Or did you make it to Salina? Colorado, wind on your face? Please, Ellen, go with me here, you made it all the way to California, lived by the oceans and mountains and returned here years later only because your family pleaded with you. Ellen, did you see Bruce live? Did he take you on walks, did he hold your hand? Do you fall asleep with the memory of the weight in your bed? Say something, Ellen. Was it all worth it? Is this good enough?

Molly. Molly Oily Oxen Free! Molly Silver, that face, eyes closed, shoulders sloping and shaking. Shaking with recognition.

“Nevermind.”

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