Not Fade Away
Life moves differently in the streets of a dying industrial town. It’s the kind of thing you really need to experience first hand. Everything is a little bit darker. Everything is a little bit colder. Outside of the empty apartments, outside the locals who can’t afford to pay for them, and outside abject poverty evident inside every boarded up window on the block, there is something else buried here, a sinister secret, sitting right underneath the surface of cracked concrete and decaying infrastructure:
A reason for extinction.
There is no other way to tell this story than to start from the beginning. I’ll apologize for that in advance.
I left home at the tender age of eighteen. First for college, then for my first big paying job in the city. My mother didn’t like it very much. That’s actually an understatement. My mother made her thoughts on the subject very well known. We were a small family. My father passed when I was two. I never met my grandparents. I didn’t have any siblings, or cousins, or aunts, or uncles, and so we were alone in the world. Just me and her. And I left.
Truth be told, I always planned on leaving.
I guess I just got used to the feeling that we were big fish in a shrinking pond. Blanco used to be a great place. Back before the world knew the consequences of coal, back when we basically washed our feet with the shit, the money didn’t just trickle down to town, it came in like a waterfall. Kids wore designer clothes. Parents drove beamers, and Lexuses, and all the expensive shit you see even nowadays on TV. Lawns were maintained to a T. State funding reached record levels in the eighties, and people were living good, too good in some cases, as evidenced by the ensuing lawsuits.
Mom used to say the first shoe dropped in ‘91. Drugs. Then embezzlement. Then corruption, then corporate malfeasance, then a thousand other things of which I couldn’t be bothered to understand or learn the names. Such was the sinking of the ship. The last coal mine closed in ‘92. The Shopping Mall out on the highway shuttered in ‘96. The Mom and Pop shops couldn’t keep up with corporate competition, so most of these went with the millennium, and then the corporations sunk sometime after. The locals tried to make a comeback. But it wasn’t the same.
In Blanco, you’ll actually hear this a lot, it’s never as good as it used to be. So it goes.
I don’t know when the people first started to leave. I think of it now as more like a retreating wave than an avalanche. But by the time my class reached Senior year, there were six total students in my grade, and we had only one teacher. Most of the time we just went to her house for lessons.
My mom understood why I left for college. The opportunities weren’t exactly enticing. She didn’t like my choice – but she respected it – and yet I struggled with her reasons to stay. I asked her to come with me, somewhere, anywhere, half a hundred times, throughout my childhood and into adulthood. But her response would always be the same.
“That’s not homs. Home is the place you feel closest to the ones you love.”
And it took me a good chunk of my childhood to understand that line. My mom’s entire life was spent in Blanco. She was born there. She grew up there. She met my dad there, she married my dad there, she buried my dad there, she had me there, and she planned to die there, happy as a clam, rattling through her shitty one bedroom apartment, subsisting off delayed disability checks and stale bread for an eternity. That was the way she wanted it to be.
“Even the street signs make you feel closer to them.”
Mom used to say that she could see a bench, like the ones they keep in front of our only grocery store, and remember a decades old conversation with her Mom about getting married. She could see a park and remember where she learned how to ride a bike. My mother lived off these memories. They fed her well being. They got her through the struggles, sometimes, and it took me a while to realize she would never feel whole without them.
And so I left. And she stayed. And we lived happily ever after in this dynamic. After college, I moved two states away, and struggled through a burgeoning writing career. I struggled through a failed dating life. But no matter where my particularly pitiful struggles took me, I always kept a plan in place, to visit my mother the second Friday of every month, plus holidays, no exceptions. I stayed true to that promise for many years.
It was during one of these final visits when the first secret came to light.
We were in the kitchen at the time. Mom couldn’t let a soul sit at her table without pouring them a cup of tea. And so she was bustling back and forth, back and forth, muttering to herself in a hurry when she accidentally dropped a glass on the floor and it shattered spectacularly. She let out a cursing spree bad enough for me to ask what was wrong.
She tried to hide it. But she looked terrified.
She was really cool about it nonetheless. She sat down and held my arm. She looked me in the eyes. She even spoke in her grownup voice, a relic from my rebellious years, which definitely made my heart skip a beat.
“I did something bad.”
I laughed. Usually it was the other way around. I used to be the one doing the bad things, I said, but she didn’t laugh with me.
“I followed someone.”
My expression must have changed. So did hers. She looked worried. Mostly worried about my reaction.
“I followed someone and he saw me.”
“Slow down,” I must have muttered. “Who did you follow?”
“Does it matter?”
“Does to some people.”
She grimaced. She was tight lipped. She knew I would judge her, so she wanted to hold back the bad details, in a patronizing way, to ‘protect me”, like she did when I was a kid, but I groaned, and she eventually gave in. Her confession came out like a faucet at full steam.
“I saw him in the store. Markoff’s. Last fucking department store left. You know the one, on LaBrea, anyway… I’m in Markoffs, I’m trying to find a reasonable coat, and this guy comes in with this fancy suit and funny colored hair… He was very distinct looking, you know, the type of face that makes an impression. And I still didn’t recognize him.”
“You recognize every single person that comes into town?”
I looked out the window judgmentally and noticed a fresh foreclosure sign. I looked back at her, and she shrugged, as if to say, ‘Yeah, dumbass. Nobody lives here.’
My mother grinned.
“So I went and talked to the checkout girl… Linda…. Bob’s daughter…. she was friends with that girl you used to go with in high school. Anywho Linda doesn’t recognize him either. So now I’m interested. I follow him over to Esther’s. I follow him over to the hardware store. Each store he goes into, this guy gets more stuff. He must have spent hundreds of dollars. I was intrigued. Who the hell around here has that kinda cash to blow on knick knacks? On hiking gear and candy and all this other nonsense? I had to know where he lived. I had to know if he was a local. So I followed him. For an hour or more… I followed him… I was right behind him in the car.”
“Did he see you?”
“Let me finish. So we just leave Lavola’s. The whole time, I was sneaky, hiding places, never getting too close. But at the end, it was getting dark, and he took me down Whippoorwill.”
“By the mines?”
“By the mines.”
I shuddered at the thought of my mom tracking down a stranger at dusk.
“There’s a lot of hills over there. I could keep the car 100 yards back and still see him if the angles were right. I parked under one of them and just sort of watched. I had my bird binoculars in the back. Lucky, I guess.”
“He parked. He never looked over his shoulder. He never gave any indication that he saw me at all. So I’m still watching. He goes into his truck and he pulls out some gear. Ropes and stuff. Bags of some other stuff. He lays it down. And then he starts digging.”
“You hear me. He started digging. For about ten minutes. Digging, digging, digging. Nobody with him. No light on his spot. Just digging. Then he took these… giant bags…. and he dropped them in his hole.”
“Really weird. But the next part is even weirder. I bumped my knee on the steering wheel. The damn horn chirps, but only a little bit.”
“All of the sudden he stands still. You know how a deer looks if you get too close? Same thing. He turned his head around, like, all the way around. And he spots me.”
“The neck thing freaked me out. But I’m mostly thinking what you’re thinking. How embarrassing. Sure this guy is a little peculiar, but he’s probably a nephew or cousin of somebody in town, and I’ve made a huge fool of myself by following him. I turn the keys in the engine, throw it in drive, and get ready to leave. I turn back and he’s coming towards me.”
“But honey when I saw he was ‘coming towards me…’ he wasn’t walking. He wasn’t approaching cautiously to check me out. He was running. Running as fast as he could, actually, but in the most strange way.”
“On all fours.”
“He was running on all fours.”
I took a moment to process.
“Like a dog?”
“Like a dog.”
I couldn’t come up with anything smart to say. My mother is not the type to exaggerate. If she said the man ran like a dog, the man ran like a dog.
“So then what?”
“I hit the gas and came home.”
“Did he follow you?
“I didn’t think so.”
“You didn’t think?” I shouted. “What does that mean?”
My mother took a sip of her tea and looked me dead in the eye.
“He showed up here last night.”
“I don’t understand, how could he…”
“He wanted to hurt me, Patty, he chased me… ”
My heart rate accelerated.
“Why didn’t you call the police?”
“He must have ran like that for miles.”
“Why didn’t you call the police?”
She stared at me blankly.
“There wasn’t enough time. He tried to break in through the front door. I shot him in the forehead with the gun your father kept under the kitchen sink.”
\I couldn’t believe a word of it. My mom barely knew how to hold a gun.
“I don’t understand…”
She let out the rest like an exorcism.
“I put the body in the basement.”
She gasped for breath in between sobs.
“And I knew you were coming over, every second Friday, like you promised, good boy, such a good boy.”
She gagged like she might puke.
“And so I waited, and I wanted to call somebody else but I…”
She held her cup like a crutch.
“I heard the door close before you got here.”
She looked terrified.
“And he’s gone, Patty, I checked.”
“But what if he comes back?”
And I believed her.