Short Story: Southbound 63

Southbound 63

by Richard R. Barron

You have to understand the reason I went to see Melody in the first place was that I kind of enjoyed how painful it was. Probably. How the hell did I know? I thought I loved her.

Weary from eight hours on the road but excited to see her, I followed her up the stairs of her non-air-conditioned dorm room at the University of Missouri. Once in her third-floor room, baking in the lingering warmth of the concrete campus, I could see, for the first time in my adult life, the place where I was born. Across the street from her open windows was the University hospital where, 22 years before, I’d uttered my first sound.

For a moment this distracted me. Then Melody turned around. Suddenly, abruptly, she was my focus once again. And why not? Wasn’t she the prettiest woman I’d ever seen? She smiled. No, not exactly smiled. She tried to smile, then winced from the pain in her neck and back.

I smiled back and remembered the letter from her I received two weeks before. In it she told me of a tipsy night at a bar, and the blurry drive home. Well, not all the way home. She made it as far as that big truck, which returned the favor of her getting in the way by crushing her car into a two-ton accordion.

The letter also said sure, Richard, you’re welcome to come see me anytime.

I assumed that two weeks later was included in “anytime,” so there I stood in her room, looking at my birthplace and the prettiest girl I’d ever known. And I’d known her for a long time. We met in seventh grade. We were twelve. Wow. Twelve. She was cute and quiet and ten times more popular than I was.

Watching her turn in her math homework was the hand that turned the faucet of my hormones all the way on. I had a crush on Melody Ferris. In those dark days of junior high, her freckles and pixie haircut held promise, and now, as I stared at her across the room, all that promise was in its prime. Small and delicate, yet athletic, her body was as perfect as her three freckle nose. Her face was graced with a frame of silky red-auburn hair, and her pale hands had their own imaginative grace.

With the meaningless hellos out of the way, I felt like being with her, like talking or walking or eating or something. She, however, wasn’t really that kind of person.

“I’m going to The Granary,” she explained, telling me what a great bar it was, and how much fun she’d always had there. “You’re welcome to come along, if you want.”

I guess she either didn’t care or didn’t understand that I had no choice in the matter. I either went with her or sat in silence in her dorm room waiting for her.

The drive in awkward silence behind us, we entered the smoke-filled, dimly-lit night club. Finding a table, we sat, and were pounced upon immediately by a darkly-tanned sorority-type college girl anxious to sell us overpriced watery drinks. She seemed aggrivated when I asked for an iced tea.

Five or ten minutes passed as we sipped our drinks. My tea must have seemed a bit pious next to her tall whiskey sour. And my clean smile must have paled in the clouds of her cigarette smoke.

Wait a minute. Melody doesn’t smoke. My perfect little Melody doesn’t smoke!

She caught the eye of a friend or two, then another, and soon I was surrounded by people I didn’t know. They were loud, drunk, and vulgar, and I couldn’t understand exactly why Melody wanted to be around them. Not my Melody.

The dance floor had been empty, except for one trashy-looking couple who persisted in amusing the entire patronage of the tavern, including us. Their dance was sleezy, sexually obvious and unimaginatively plebeian.

It turned out to be the icon of the evening. Melody drank and smoked and danced with her friends, and with the sleezy couple.

One in the morning rolled around, and to my relief, it was time to go. I drove, since I was the only one close to sober.

Back at her dorm, she led me across her hall to a friend’s room, where they offered us an amyl nitrite “popper.” Melody took it, place it to her nose and inhaled deeply, and was instantly in another world. I was stunned.

The next morning, we decided to have an early lunch.

“I couldn’t believe you just sat there all night,” she said as we tried to eat, frowning. “Didn’t you even want to be there?”

No, I didn’t.

“Sure I did,” I said.

It was as if she had ordered me to have fun, and I disobeyed. Now I was being punished.

“I just don’t appreciate the way you acted, that’s all.”

Ah, yes, the way I acted. Sitting quietly, minding my own business. No wonder she’s so angry.

“Melody, maybe I should go.”

“Maybe you should.”

* * *

The windshield collected bugs rapidly, thick splotches of bug guts and bodies clinging to the glass. The windshield belonged, I thought for a moment, to my own Bug.

“A bug killing bugs,” I mused and smiled weakly to myself.

If I didn’t clean them off at every fuel stop, they quickly became so thick and messy I could hardly see. And as the sun started to set off to my right, the brilliant yellow summer light began to highlight them.

The bugs were a sideshow. I watched them and considered their presence a major issue, because I didn’t want to think about the weekend I was escaping.

The green Missouri farmland rushed past my open window. Trees swayed in the waning heat of the wonderfully, oppressively painful day.

Music covered the drone in my ears as the last rays of the sun touched the tall windbreak trees, southbound on U. S. 63.

I listened to my music trying to get Melody out of my head.

“… ain’t got no feelings
ain’t got no pain
ain’t got no reason
to try again …”

Ugh. This Supertramp song was the wrong choice. Bad message, bad grammar. I reached up and yanked off the headset. The broken muffler of my Volkswagen droned louder. The night dragged on longer.

I remembered something a friend told me one time. If you start to get sleepy while driving, put your hand in a bucket of ice water. The pain will keep you awake. I was certain that tonight, no ice water was necessary. There was already enough pain.

My Volkswagon and I rumbled south towards Jefferson City on one of the sturdy four lanes of U.S. 63. It was almost dark, so before it became too dark to see, pulled her last letter from its envelope. Awkwardly, with one hand driving and the other unfolding the typed page, I read.

“… and I’d love it if you would come up. Just name the weekend and I’ll work around whatever I have going on.”

She’d love it. And she did love it, for about the first three minutes I was there.

I don’t know. Since I was alone, I had plenty of time to think about what had transpired, if anything, between us. And honestly, I didn’t go to see her with any kind of plan. I didn’t plan to try to fuck her, or talk her into marrying me, or anything in between. I just wanted to be with her.

Fully dark, my headlights shone on the sign for West U.S. 54. I turned, and was on my way home. My tiny car and I rushed through the night. I relaxed as we got further from Melody. I wasn’t going to see her again anytime soon. And the next time I wanted to feel some pain, I’d just put my hand in a bucket of ice water.

Freshman Diatribe

Written in the fall of 1981 and spring of 1982 when I was a freshman at Oklahoma University, this document is published here as an insight into my philosophy when I was 18. Key influences: Richard Bach, tenth English teacher Gil Hernandez.

Each individual is free to do anything.

What could appeal to an emotionalist more than the phrase “autumn air?”

Learning falsehood teaches truth. Don’t turn away from what is false before knowing all the truth it contains.

Feelings are harmless because they are totally caused by choices in the mind. By the same token, they aren’t “necessary.”

It’s just an idea. It will go away.

We are all creatures of the mind. The mind is responsible for thought, feelings, and behavior.

There are no inciting forces unless I chose to allow them to affect me.

Three levels of existence:

• Primary

• Emotional

• Transcendent

Each can be divided into Basic, Secondary, and Complex subgroups.

The ultimate level is Applied Transcendence.

The value of something is whatever you make it. No exceptions.

No one can make anyone do anything. There is only suggestion, strong and weak, and preference on way or the other. Nothing is better or worse than anything else.

There is no right or wrong.

The masses look at life and see birth as the beginning, death as the end. They don’t realize that whatever is true, they probably don’t know it.

Chip was one of my best friends and most brilliant foils, yet in spite of our brilliance, we ended up hating each other.
Chip was one of my best friends and most brilliant foils, yet in spite of our brilliance, we ended up hating each other.

None of this is what I believe. It’s what I could believe if I choose. It’s one possible truth in a Universe of many.

The Universe is a result of cause and effect, rather than chance.

Beyond existence lies non-existence. In nothing, all things exist. Attempt to perceive INFINITY.

Infinity is nothing. In nothing, all things exist. In infinity all things exist. Therefore, infinity exists because everything is contained therein, but does not exist because of the infinitely larger nothing.

Within the confines of existence, there lies what we know as reality. This reality includes all the substances of our being, the biological masses of our bodies, surrounded by the tangible objects of our daily lives. However, when we speak of the time for the biological portion of our existence to end, we are faced with a dilemma. Does the essence of each individual continue to be? Or does it die along with the body? If, indeed, the individual is capable of existing beyond the body, does it follow that the individual has always existed? Is the essence of an individual transcendent of time and space, or is there a portion of “reality,” i. e. matter and energy, involved?

The past modified the present.

The present is constant.

The future is subject to change.

Reality is endless, as is time. Time is not fluid, but rather is the static measure of the passage of events. “Time travel” is not viable, since time itself is not a medium. The past is gone, and totally unalterable. “The future” is a means of prediction, and does not yet exist. Only the present exists in reality. Reality cannot be transcended.

Exactly what exists to be perceived beyond the substances we know? Perhaps everything we know to be real is available for perception. It is by choice that we live this life, by choice where we were before this life, and by choice where we are going beyond this life.

Within our essence is a characteristic which causes us to seek the reality in which the greatest amount of learning and growing can occur.

Everything in my life may be wrong.

Who among those surrounding me is one of the “advanced souls?” Any? All?

I can point to what doesn’t matter, but can I know so well what does?

Why do we aim to recapture the past? The past is a loser! The past is dead!

“Real life doesn’t have much shape to it.” -Writing professor Clay Lewis

“I’m in to pain.” -Clay Lewis

The deeper I think, the more difficult it becomes to write creatively. Why?

How well do I know myself?

The is no such thing as “better” or “worse.” There are only differences, and preferences about those differences.

“Life = constant re-evaluation.” -Chip Johnson

No one can hurt anyone else. One can only hurt one’s self. I’ve learned this is undeniably true in my life.

Why feel sad about the truth? The truth is unalterable. Why mourn that which is constant? It’s self-defeating.

Of course, everything I’ve said here could be entirely wrong.

Short Story: The Road

The Road

By Richard R. Barron

A gentle August rain fell on us as we drove nowhere for an hour or more, saying nothing. In the distance, lightning danced, decorating the horizon with the shadows of cool grey clouds. Thinking without words in my heart, I listened to the faint complaints of a distant clap of thunder.

Jeff downshifted and poured the throttle to wide open as we rocketed down the empty street. A fence on our right blurred by, and the mountains beyond were kissed by another finger of fire from the restless heavens.

I didn’t wonder at all what Jeff was thinking, if he was thinking. I was concentrating on the road, the sky, the summer rain. It was a beautiful, majestic, mysterious night. I opened the window on my side of his prized Trans-Am and let the drops fall on my hand and face. The rain felt warm and soft, and it smelled of wet grass, weeds, and pavement.

His high beams flooded the road ahead. In the distance, a third of a mile down the tarmac, I caught the telltale white reflections from the headlights of another car, which I could see was parked on the opposite side of the road, facing us. My first thought was that it was a speed trap, and the car was a patrol car. Jeff apparently had the same notion. We both snapped our eyes to the speedometer. 54 miles per hour. It was one of those rare occasions when Jeff wasn’t speeding.

Another second passed and out of the darkness we could see a figure emerge. At first it looked like a mailbox where none had existed on this very familiar stretch of South Boundary Road. In another second we saw it was two people. A second after that we saw them clearly. A man in a blue ball cap and a plaid flannel shirt was vigorously embracing a plump woman in a pink pants suit.

Then, in another tenth of a second, we€ were gone, and they were gone. I wondered who they were.

* * *

Nine months later, I was driving home from college for the summer in the middle of a blinding thunderstorm just north of Chickasha on Highway 9. A few hundred yards ahead a bold bolt flashed forth from the heaving clouds, filling my father’s car with the light of a thousand suns. I stared at the ghost of the flash in a split-second of anticipation, then felt the explosive roar of the thunder as it shook the ground beneath me, beneath my father’s car, beneath aII my possessions, beneath my reality.

The rain was slowing my progress down the two-lane highway. I checked the clock when my vision and awe cleared. It was 4:45 p.m.

Within another mile, the storm that had so captivated me had dissipated, and the sun fought its way out into the open through patches of lingering grey. I stepped harder on the accelerator, trying to get more speed out of my dad’s lumbering Oldsmobile. But it wasn’t much use. Despite only being away two semesters, I had amassed numerous boxes and bundles containing my valuables. 55 miles per hour would have to do.

It wasn’t like that at all the night Jeff and I drove in the rain. When I drove alone, I felt a kind of pain. It was the pain of loneliness. I never felt that when I drove with Jeff. Maybe it was that he felt so at home in his car. Maybe he was at peace on the road. Being with him in his car lent me that same peace.

I was driving home to spend the summer in Lawton, my hometown. Jeff was already there. Finally, the storm had passed. I pressed on under clearing skies. By the time I reached his apartment, it was as though no rain had fallen there in weeks.

Without really knowing why, I went straight to his place instead of home. It seemed like the place to be, to start the summer. When I arrived I saw his familiar Pontiac Trans Am backed into his space in the parking lot. Next to it stood Lynn and Kathie, two friends of ours. I parked my dad’s car, it still full of everything I had in the world, and got out.

“Hi, Lynn, hi Kathie. Where’s Jeff?”

They paused and looked at each other. Something was wrong. Had they been crying? Their eyes were red. The pause grew longer, more awkward.

“You tell him,” Kathie said.

Lynn looked at me and took a deep breath. “About an hour and a half ago…I can’t.” She looked down, apparently trying to hold back her tears.

Kathie took over. “A little before five today, Jeff committed suicide. He’s dead.”

* * *

June rain fell in the distance. Yellow streaks of lightning arced along the horizon. Chip and I rode the streets of Lawton without Jeff. Silence had consumed us as the cars and businesses rushed past us. The wind from the open sunroof blew in our hair, and on this very warm night, I was a little cold. Chip turned down a side street, then another, then another.

We knew the town so well, from our endless rides with Jeff, that there was no chance of getting lost. We snaked through the neighborhoods in abject silence, putting together the pieces of the last few days.

“When do you think we’ II stop thinking about it?” he asked.

He was right. There was nothing else on my mind.

“I don’t know,” I answered.

We went around another corner, then another. At one intersection we waited, the only car at a traffic light. Across the street from us appeared a young woman, followed a few steps later by what looked like her boyfriend. She was obviously angry. Her arms were folded and she stared at the ground. The boyfriend was trying to explain something to her. The light turned green and we pulled away. We were gone, and they were gone. I wondered who they were.

Welcome to the Giant Muh

From 1978 to 1998, I wrote in the college-sized spiral notebooks like the one in which I started writing in tenth grade English class. From 1998 to 2008, I wrote in smaller leather-bound volumes, and since then I have been writing exclusively on my blogs.
From 1978 to 1998, I wrote in the college-sized spiral notebooks like the one in which I started writing in tenth grade English class. From 1998 to 2008, I wrote in smaller leather-bound volumes, and since then I have been writing exclusively on my blogs.

The publication date of this entry is not an accident. September 5, 1978 was the first day I wrote in my journal. Originally an assignment for English II class in tenth grade made by a teacher named Gil Hernandez, I found, as an awkward teenager, that writing in my journal was one thing I could do well, and I stuck to it. Many years and many journal entries later, the journal morphed into the blog you see before you.

Like the paper journal before it, this blog is home to my thoughts and opinions, the news of my life, and the machinations of those around me. Some of my blog entires are private, and can only be viewed by administrators, but the majority are here for all to see.

Hosted at richardbarron.net, my official web site, this blog is a continuation of one I started at blogger.com. In its present form, it is one of several blogs I maintain. Others include my Photoblog, my Photography Teaching Blog, my wife Abby’s Photoblog, and our Travel Blog.