NIGHT TRAIN TO FRISCO - ROBERT CRISMAN
Geographical cure? You move, you bring you along with you. You and the friends that you thought you’d left dead in those cold, nasty rooms on the tideflats.
Roanne had run out of road. Dope, tricks, cops, jails; same-o, same-o, forever and ever amen. Shit gets past old. Seattle was chewing her up. She needed to get somewhere fast and make plans to—what?
Sleep first of all...
She called Donny, who’d always licked the soles of her shoes for the chance to get next. She’d sack at his crib, then tomorrow she’d figure the best way to outrun the demons.
Roanne was a ghost on the phone. Donny came, dread like gas building inside him. She opened the motel room door and his hopes for the future just up and died. The ghost on the phone, this corpse in the doorway; his whole body sagged.
Like she gave a rusty rat’s ass.
Everything he could think of to say was way past inane. “Uh, how are you doing, Roanne?” She shrugged, her eyes dead like the leaves from last winter.
They drove to his house. She had nothing for Donny to carry inside. She stood in the living room looking around. Donny hovered, dying by inches. She turned and ghost-walked into her bedroom.
That was the first night. She didn’t come out except once, to the bathroom. He stayed in his room, tried to read. Sentences, paragraphs, over and over; he’d start them again and again and again... Another small foretaste of his room in hell.
Next morning she went to his room. She’d made up her mind; she had to get out of town, like right now. Donny, this house, the bed in her room, like a drill up her ass. She’d heard sirens last night, racing up Beacon, some gangbanger slamfest no doubt. This town was on fire. And her room was so cold...
She’d hit on a plan in the bathroom last night; it just kind of came to her there on the toilet: Frisco. She knew people there; well, sort of, maybe… She knew where to go. She had enough money to get there, get dope… She’d—how to go? Let Donny drive her? No, uh uh, no. She’d puke on his face before Portland and tell him get out of his piece-of-shit van. Then, what, drive the monster herself till the fucker broke down in Grant’s Pass?
Well then, a plane? And have security hoover her ass at the gate? How about Greyhound? She’d taken Greyhounds. She’d rather walk with a stick up her butt all the way.
Which left Amtrak. She chewed it, shrugged, yeah, beats the bus.
She told Donny she needed $500. He didn’t bother to hide his lack of surprise. Nor did he ask why she needed the money. It wasn’t just the fact that he knew; he’d always known. What’s to know? She’s a dopefiend.
But always before he’d ask why and she’d tell him. Usually she’d lie and it didn’t matter a lick. It was a game they’d evolved that Donny had hoped would somehow cement their connection...
Now, Jesus, this corpse here, her hand out. Her eyes, somewhere, nowhere… A feeling brushed him; he didn’t exist...
Old habits don’t die; nor do they fade like old soldiers. He went in his pocket. Two hundred dollars. He handed it over. She tucked it away.
He drove her down to the station. She had just the clothes on her back and her purse. At the station she gave him a flatline goodbye, got out of the van and went in. He turned and went home, his breathing and heartbeat suspended. Behind his eyes this flat salted desert. Instinct alone got him home to his room, to whatever the last sentence was that he’d read all those 10 million times.
R.I.P., boy. The train has done gone.
The night train to Frisco. Trees flying past, lost in reflected overhead light on the window. Roanne sat like a wax effigy. She’d get up, hit the can, ghost-walk back. The car, a cacoon with compartments, one for each silent person adrift. The porters, ghosts also; they never stopped, never once looked her way. The conductor who’d taken her ticket had taken great care not to check her out closely...
Her whole life went by in her mind on that train, like those trees. The memories, shards, unearthed from some Pleistocene digging, inscribed in a language she knew, not her own; a language she’d traded away, perhaps for that first dope she’d banged.
Memories, shards...all cardboard now, some ancient drama that limped and slid into fadeout the day her attention was taken...by what? By the boys? That happened early enough, and the first time it hurt, but she wanted more.
Those boys in their cock-happy pride, the bad boys who spit on the old folks’ religion, they’d somehow mustered a power she sought for herself, a fuck-you-all freedom denied her. The ticket away to some faraway place.
She followed the bad boys downtown.
She found dope.
She found Power...
Her mind, a kaleidescope now as the train pushed on south. She felt a rush, or something near-like, as memory retook her: the memory of what it was like that very first time on the mountain. Oh Jesus, God… She tried to grab it, hold on, but the memory fled like a rat pack. She tried to retrieve it. She coaxed, pleaded, cursed in the silence...
A junkie chasing the ghost of a bag down the miles...
The train went through tunnels, past Portland, Eugene and on down. Roanne sat there, wax, frozen.
Dawn. Frisco, not far.
One last image came as the train neared the station. She basked in front of a high-end boutique and remade herself there in the window. She stood tall, cloaked in red, sabled, her black feathered shell of a hat tipped forward to one side with a gossamer veil that shaded one eye.
Roanne in that window, a Lady...
The train wheezed to a stop. The image now a flat photograph in a magazine tossed in the dust on the floor of an old Chinese laundry abandoned for decades.
On into Frisco. The City. Gray day, the fog rolling in, brand new life...
Roanne and the ghosts in her stomach. She ran to the bathroom and puked. They laughed and skittered, and burrowed on into her marrow, nestling there as if they had finally come home.
They got to stay there rent-free…
BIO: When Crisman got out of the mix he brought some ghosts with him. Roanne was one. He wrote her this little elegy, an acid-noir look toward road's end. Noir by and large is a romantic genre--doom as the Goddess of Night and all that--but there's nothing romantic at all about the milieu where the stories were born. Hence the acid, to strip the romance and get to the horror that's lived on those night trains to Frisco.
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