Friday, February 12, 2010

#fridayflash: America


The wiper blades shush-shushed sheets of water from the windshield of Lynnie’s Durango as it sped through the glistening, rain-soaked night.

Dried tears were crusty on her cheeks.

Her eyes were arid, sore, burning with the chore of keeping on the highway, keeping straight ahead, keeping on.

There was an overnight case in the back seat. It bulged slightly. She had packed it hurriedly and nothing was folded. 

Nothing was neat. 

She ruffled through her purse, sitting open on the passenger seat, looking for the pack of smokes she had purchased at the gas station a few miles back. Lynnie hadn’t smoked for two decades but tonight seemed like a good time to pick up the habit again.

She peeled back the cellophane sealer strip with her teeth, then ripped it off and opened the fresh pack. The smell of tobacco whooshed up and she smiled crookedly, gratefully, as she snuffed the scent up.

Lynnie hadn’t smiled for days.

Years, maybe.

She touched her bruised jaw tenderly, grimaced, then pushed in the cigarette lighter.

The highway stretched ahead, middle-of-the-night empty. She pulled a cigarette out of the pack and stuck it in her mouth, staring down the black tunnel of asphalt, waiting for the lighter to pop.

She hummed to herself. 

The song was America by Simon and Garfunkel and it began with slow downhill harmony.


Let us be lovers 

we’ll marry our fortunes together, 

I’ve got some real estate here in my bag ...


The lighter popped, startling her.

Lynnie pulled it out and pressed it against the tip of her cigarette, breathing in. Smoke curled up as the tip reddened. She coughed. Once. And replaced the lighter. 

She took a deep drag on the smoke.

It was good.

As good as she remembered.


“So we bought a pack of cigarettes,” she whispered, “and Mrs. Wagner pies. 

“And we walked off to look for America.”


Her soft voice trailed off. She remembered the first time she had ever heard this song.

She was so young. 

It was her first job after college and she was boarding at a house in the middle of nowhere, owned by an older hippie couple who introduced her to exotica like curry and Simon and Garfunkel. 

No one was home at the moment. Just her. She put S & G’s Greatest Hits on the record player, turned up the volume and carried a cup of coffee and her smokes out to the back stoop.

It was late summer, late afternoon and the distant, forested hills glowed in the sun. The air was thick, redolent, rich. Lynnie drank her coffee and smoked her cigarettes and listened to the record, dreaming of the adventures that almost certainly lay ahead.

She wanted to live her life like the couple in the song. There was a world out there to see. It was calling her. She felt her heart swoon in answer.

Yes, it said. 

Yes.


“Toss me a cigarette, 

I think there’s one in my raincoat.” 

“We smoked the last one an hour ago.” 

So I looked at the scenery, 

she read her magazine. 

And the moon rose over an open field.


The middle-aged Lynnie smoked her cigarette down to the filter, smushed it into the empty ashtray, then lit another one.

She felt slightly high.

She smoked. 

She sang.


“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, 

though I knew she was sleeping.

I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why. 

Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,

They’ve all gone to look for America...


Lynnie drove through the long night, a melancholy trail of cigarette smoke and broken dreams in her wake.

28 comments:

  1. Best song incorporated into a fridayflash award! This is a beautiful piece. I love that you didn't actually say what was going on that made Lynnie drive away, just hinted at it. Perfect. The last line is especially good. Woo!

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  2. okay... s & g being my absolute all time favorite music, you get major kudos. and then on top of that, a well written story. felt like i could have been in the passenger seat. kinda wish i was really. good job.

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  3. what about that bottle of "Fat Cat" wine that goes with S&G's greatest hits?

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  4. Slice captures the moment well with nice hint of reason for travel. Nice.

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  5. CJ: I'm so glad you liked it... you really liked it! I'm so thrilled to receive the Best Song Incorporated Into A FridayFlash Award. I'd like to thank your Durango, and the weatherman for his crappy weather and you, for seeing the sublty.
    Brooke: We both have really good taste in music. Hey, if I ever decide to head out, I'll give ya a call. I'll bring the Greyhoung, you bring the cigarettes and a raincoat. A crossword puzzle book might be good too. And some egg salad sandwiches.
    Mark: What the hell is Fat Cat wine? Why can't I remember anything? Thanks for the S&G CDs when I was heartbroken. I should buy you a CD. What would you like?
    David: When you wrote Slice I thought you were saying Slife, so I thought, eek, he thought my ff was Slife, and then I thought about contacting you to say, NO, you're reading the wrong way, but then I thought, no, you'll think I'm certifiable. Which is a good thought. When you think about it. At least, that's what I thought.

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  6. Brooke: Greyhound. Unless the Greyhoung is cheaper.

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  7. I wish I had something intelligent to say about your writings....some criticisms or advice. I am not knowledgable that way, I have no formal training or good command of the english language as I have just shown here and you hear from me at work. I just know I look forward to what you write and there is always some emotion that you tug out of me. Thanks Cathy. Hugs

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  8. Hugs to you too, Lynda.
    Don't be down on yourself! You are so great at so many things!!! Including writing.
    Hugs, hugs, hugs!
    Besides, I never care what you comment ... I always just look for your comments!
    So, thanks!
    And have an awesome weekend!

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  9. maybe it was "Fat Bastard" wine ... i brought it along with the CD.

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  10. Oh sugar cheeks! I had to open iTunes and play America after reading your flash. The song is a perfect accompaniment and your story is haunting and honest. All the elements line up beautifully ... her drive down the rainy highway, away from whatever it is that she's escaping, feeling the sadness of her broken dreams. Hmmm, I'm feeling depressed now. I'm going to go listen to The 59th Street Bridge Song. ~ Olivia

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  11. OMIGAWD!!! Feeling Groovy!!! Another of my all time favourite tunes!!! Enjoy!

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  12. greyhoung, greyhound, whatever works :). with the food talk i couldn't keep my mind from wishing i was an english muffin, trying to make the most out of a toaster...
    or perhaps... i wish i was a kelloggs cornflake, floatin in a bowl making movies, relaxing awhile, living in style. talking to a raisin that occasionally plays LA, casually glancing at his tupee.

    genius i tell ya.

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  13. Not down on myself, just stating that I do not have the educational background to comment productively on your story other than to say... yet again.... you always get the emotions working... and no its not because of menopause. Have a wonderful weeknd and happy Valentines day pal. Give Davey a smooch for me, cause he's not mine to smooch and you will enjoy doing it.... Just 'cause.

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  14. I love this SO much. This is beautifully written. The atmosphere is rich with detail, and totally sets the scene.

    "The highway stretched ahead, middle-of-the-night empty."

    That is one of those I wish I wish I had written.

    The whole thing is so full of truth, and the ending is painfully perfect.

    (Optimistic, if I may be so bold. I am about to get my college degree (English) at middle-age, and I can tell you I am no more qualified to have an opinion on someone's writing than I was before I started. And I can say as a writer, knowing that you touch someone emotionally is the greatest gift a reader can give.)

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  15. A touching story with a nice tie-in to Simon and Garf. I was thinking, at first, there is a lot of attention paid to her lighting up and smoking. By the last sentence, it feels very symbolic (melancholy is a good word).

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  16. This actually makes me feel strangely optimistic and hopeful. I mean, there's subtle hints that her new journey isn't going to be an easy one: her jumping at the pop of the lighter suggests just how tightly wound she is; and the self destructive nature of picking up smokes and sugar :-) But, over all, I want to shout "good for her!" and think now she does have some real adventures ahead. Really great job.

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  17. Loved this story with its touching tie-in to the song.

    I agree that your hinting at what caused her to throw her things unfolded into a bag and get out of town was an excellent touch.

    Very good writing here!

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  18. ...in response to the comment you made on my blog ....thank you for the complements!
    You too produce beautiful work. Your stories are well written, touching, insightful, and in short, amazing.
    Oh, and Fat Cat is a really good wine from California. My preference is the Merlot.

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  19. This is beautiful. I like how you reframe the song so it means something different (yet the same) as the original as Lynnie sings the final verse.

    I particularly liked the phrase: "Her eyes were arid".

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  20. Her journey may be hard, but I suspect it was taking that first step that was the hardest... and that staying behind would have been harder still.

    I love that she answers the call of the song, and am optimistic she's going to be okay!

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  21. I loved this line:
    "keeping straight ahead, keeping on."

    The keeping on part...sometimes it's a once in a lifetime choice, sometimes it's something we have to decide to do every day.

    Lovely work.
    Welcome to fridayflash!!
    Karen :0)

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  22. Isn't it that when we are smack in the middle of change, in between an ending and the birth of a new beginning, that we notice the simple things like a song and the shush-shush of wiper blades. This piece is wrought with sadness but also possibilities.

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  23. "We smoked the last one an hour ago."

    And she wanted to live like these people, sharing everything - even smokes. Now she has a life-bruised jaw and smokes alone. Life is like that, isn't it? But moving on is the key, and you gave us that too in this beautiful, moving story. Very well done, and thank you.

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  24. Hi Cathy, I posted an award for you on my site. You can see it here ...
    http://wp.me/ppRTu-cN

    Enjoy! ~ Olivia

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  25. "There was a world out there to see. It was calling her."

    She's finally answering the call again. Nicely interwoven story and song.

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  26. Kudos on pulling the reader in. As an ex-smoker, you made me taste the cellophane, and crave that whoosh of tobacco smell from a new pack of smokes.

    I too, liked the hopeful line, and the restraint you used in telling this story. I enjoyed this one.

    Of course, I kept thinking this could be Katie's mom, in the stories I posted this week :).

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  27. a great portrait of someone at what is possibly a very important moment in their life. Or not. I'm guessing that's not the point. Thanks for showing us this moment

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  28. Thanks for all your kind comments, everyone. They are so appreciated.
    And, oh Peggy, this whole story is about the cigarettes. I, too, am an ex-smoker but I can still smell the whoosh of the tobacco from a new deck.
    I wouldn't start again, too nasty a habit for that, but I can remember it with blind lust and enthusiasm.

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