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Steam City Girl
by Paul Silverman

art by Robinson Accola
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.

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.



Paul Silverman's stories have appeared in The South Dakota Review, Tampa Review, Hobart Online, Pindeldyboz, Word Riot, Thieves Jargon, Alimentum, Smokelong Quarterly, The Pedestal Magazine, The Jabberwock Review, The Adirondack Review, Subterranean Quarterly, Tryst, The Summerset Review, and others. He's been a Spotlight Author in Eclectica, which nominated his story, "The Home Front," for Best of the Net, 2008. He has three Pushcart nominations for stories in Byline, Lily and The Worcester Review.

Read the interview.

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly on an as-needed basis.

Issue Twenty-One (June 15, 2008): Paper Mouse by Bob Arter «» The Folk Singer Dreams of Time Machines by Matt Bell «» The Bone Orchard by Randall Brown «» Disease Relics by Blake Butler «» We Decided to Make Porn by Brian Allen Carr «» The Baby Drop-Off by Natascia Casey-Dean «» The Cougar by Dave Clapper «» Anointed by Myfanwy Collins «» Sister Earth by John Colvin «» Soap by Katrina Denza «» The Interpretation of Light by Murray Dunlap «» The Hole by Ashley Farmer «» Repair Man by Kathy Fish «» In the Kitchen She Wakes by Stefanie Freele «» American Gothic by Scott Garson «» Lobster Girl by Alicia Gifford «» Pen and Notebook by Natalie Goldberg «» Memento Mori by Rosanne Griffeth «» BiC by Steven Gullion «» Parting by Evelyn Hampton «» Tuesday by Lindsay Hunter «» Waiting on Lombard Street by W.P. Kinsella «» Johnny by Nance Knauer «» Like Swimming by Jeff Landon «» Feeling Sad by Darby Larson «» Alone With Cooper by Ellen Meister «» The Angel's Visitation by Corey Mesler «» South Dakota by Mary Miller «» California Fruit by Meg Pokrass «» Home Made by Bruce Holland Rogers «» Handful of Dirt by Jim Ruland «» Steam City Girl by Paul Silverman «» Sugar by Claudia Smith «» The 13th Toast by Amy Sparks «» Gathering by Kelly Spitzer «» Tiny Shadows by Maryanne Stahl «» Double-Exposure by Thomas White «» Epistemology by Joseph Young «» Why This Isn't a Good Story to Tell by Shellie Zacharia «» Liquid by Michelle Zellers «» Real Estate by Bonnie ZoBell «» Interviews: Bob Arter «» Matt Bell «» Randall Brown «» Blake Butler «» Brian Allen Carr «» Natascia Casey-Dean «» Dave Clapper «» Myfanwy Collins «» John Colvin «» Katrina Denza «» Murray Dunlap «» Ashley Farmer «» Kathy Fish «» Stefanie Freele «» Scott Garson «» Alicia Gifford «» Rosanne Griffeth «» Steven Gullion «» Evelyn Hampton «» Lindsay Hunter «» Nance Knauer «» Jeff Landon «» Darby Larson «» Ellen Meister «» Corey Mesler «» Mary Miller «» Meg Pokrass «» Bruce Holland Rogers «» Jim Ruland «» Paul Silverman «» Claudia Smith «» Amy Sparks «» Kelly Spitzer «» Maryanne Stahl «» Thomas White «» Joseph Young «» Shellie Zacharia «» Michelle Zellers «» Bonnie ZoBell «» Cover Art "Five Years of SmokeLong" compiled from art by Marty D. Ison, Robert Dornberg, Malina, and Rebecca Gullickson «» Letter From the Editor
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