Friday, July 25, 2008

Deeann - An Excerpt

Ever since she had passed three hundred pounds, Juliet found it hard to do much. And it became hard to keep up with her eleven-year-old daughter. "Deeann!" Juliet shouted, pushing the screen door open with her thick hand and stepping with calloused and dirty bare feet onto the concrete of the front porch. Winded from the twenty steps that she had taken from the kitchen to the porch, Juliet pressed her shoulder against the vinyl siding of the duplex, and took a drink from the sweating Diet Pepsi can in her hand. "Deeann!" She shouted again, her voice sharp and piercing, with its Missouri accent. Then she quietly murmured, "So help me girl, you’d better learn to come when your momma calls."

From the shade of the porch Juliet looked out on the barren area where Deeann was allowed to play. It was supposed to have been a small development of duplexes to house the families of men who worked at the grain mill. It was started in the eighties when some large conglomerate had bought the independent mill, and the prospect was that production would increase, more people would move to Hurdland to work at the mill. After a year under new ownership, the mill was closed. Most of the men were out of work, and a large exodus followed.

What remained of the low-income development was an intersection of two short stretches of black top, lined with its white curbs without sidewalks, storm drains forming a triangle at the intersection as if it were a legitimate suburban street. Juliet and her daughter lived where one road ended at the perpendicular meeting of the other, in one of the only five squat buildings that were constructed. One of these pastel colored buildings was never fully completed, and the particleboard that had been put over the windows and doors did not keep out the teenagers from the neighboring trailer park. In front of the row of homes, a strip of blacktop stretched to the two-lane state highway. On either side were the barren plots of future homes. The ground there had been leveled for construction, leaving two flat fields where nothing grew but brown weeds and assorted clumps of green crab grass. Two mounds of dirt on the far right side, next to the trailer park, were used by kids on their dirt bikes. A place where the fence between the two developments had come down was a well-worn path.

Deeann was supposed to ask before she went to the trailer park. Juliet looked in the direction of the trailers, listening for the sound of children playing. She didn’t think much of the kids that lived there, mostly because she had heard them laughing at her. Deeann only ever left the immediate area to fetch groceries for Juliet, who, herself, left the house less and less. Her disability check went right in the bank, Deeann knew how to use the ATM, and the TV provided all the information and entertainment she needed.

On the far side of the trailer park was Casey’s General Store and, beyond that, the railroad tracks. The tracks crossed the highway at an angle, coming out of the trees and curving in to run along side the mill, which was wedged at the center of town between the tracks and the highway. Opposite the mill was what constituted Main Street. Originally it might have been three blocks of bustling action. Indeed, when the mill ran at full tilt, the three restaurants would fill at lunch with the sickly sweet smell of mill workers. Now the windows of what used to be sunny restaurants had been covered over to conceal the patrons of bars and pool halls, the only businesses in the area that prospered. It was in one of these dark bars that Juliet met the man that became Deeann's father.

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