Night Train from Seattle
Suzanne Marie Hopcroft

Minnie is a boxer, and she doesn’t let the enemy get away with anything. But exactly what side Minnie is on tends to shift from day to day according to the vicissitudes of the more-than-marginally screwed up world that Minnie inhabits and the oddly tuned moral code that she carries around with her like an invisible pocket edition of Fordyce’s sermons updated to the extreme for a girl’s life hopping trains. And that’s always been Minnie’s way. With her, you can find yourself facing flashes of ferocity and bared teeth one day, then hot tea and a homemade chicken stew the next, all because the balance changes and you suddenly need rescuing from a threat even worse than the one you pose yourself (and she’s smart, so she knows it–and pities you enough to mother you for a while).

I remember the smooth chill of the winter night when Minnie and Sky laid it all out for me. Their distrust of the men in blue polyester suits with their radios and badges and patrol cars, set to harass them at any turn for not exactly having a home address to put on the report at the precinct. Their rule that a friend knifed in the back or a kid sister catcalled one too many times would mean one thing and one thing only: vengeance meted out swift and savage by their little community taking matters into its own hands. No recourse to courts of evidence or restraining orders, just eye for an eye, quick and sweet.

It was like something I would dream up on nitrous oxide in the dentist’s chair, hearing them talk that way in the demure quiet of the clapboard colonial where Minnie’s mother spent her nights knitting and where they’d only let themselves be locked up civilized and suited in cocktail dress and shirt and tie on occasions like Christmas and Minnie’s birthday. A few days of proper heating and eating iceberg lettuce that wasn’t the proud result of their dumpster dives and they’d be itching to be on the move again, already heading toward the rail yard in their minds, with Minnie composing her next pocket trumpet solo for the next downtown street corner that she’d take over seeking looks of admiration and a little spare change. I could barely believe people like them still existed, and yet for seven years Minnie had been my closest friend, had practically shared my skin.

Minnie had gotten used to moving and moving and never stopping, riding up and down tucked away in Union Pacific boxcars and hitchhiking across the Southwest clear from Vegas to Galveston and then to God knows where, with hardly a pit-stop back East. I would hear the word boxcar and think of corn or cattle or a well-loved series about a passel of orphan kids left to fend for themselves in a world without friends, but Minnie kept telling me about these unreal sojourns she’d taken curled up into a ball of nothing between crates of auto parts and loads of newspaper pulp, hoping to avoid detection long enough to make it across the lines of one state and maybe then another. I would shudder thinking about her standing tiny and unprotected by the tracks in overalls and that red bandanna, dreadlocks punctuated with hunks of bone and beads and an old sterling ring I’d left at her parents’ house one spring day after boarding school had finally let out again, but she kept saying there weren’t as many ex-con hobos as the un-liberal media was trying to tell me and that Sky had her back, anyway.

She was right in a sense because Sky and his bulldog were more sheltering than one might imagine picturing the vast, borderless expanse that his name conjures up. But the great protector lost a twinge of his sanity when they stopped off in Seattle for a few winter weeks and a friend and colleague who’d wanted Minnie’s dollar bills for herself whispered in Sky’s ear that his girl had been stripping to supplement the trumpet gig. By the time I showed up at her door, it had been approximately 20735 minutes since he’d slapped her across the face for what he felt was infidelity of the most repulsive (if subtle) kind and approximately 20734.5 minutes since she’d retaliated, breaking his nose with one little fist.

In the meantime, Sky had managed to get himself stabbed in a fight over what I imagined had probably been some supremely illegal substance and dragged sleeping off the couch where a sympathetic and pliable ex-girlfriend had briefly let him crash after Minnie had chased him from the house with his nose dripping red. So there he was a few long, dragging seconds after I knocked, answering the door in his boxers as though he owned the place. I wanted to kill him.

Okay so seeing Jillian is the best and the worst thing that can possibly happen to me in this moment, right? Think about it. One minute I’m welcoming my idiot boyfriend back in across the threshold that still has his bloodstains decorating it like something Pollack would have hung up on our wall if we’d been friends. The next minute I’m trying to make my best friend sit down long enough for me to explain why the hell the bastard isn’t dead by now, why instead he’s been sitting on the floor under the boarded-up front windows waiting for the knock on the door so he can invite her in with that self-satisfied smile and show her around the empty house we’ve been crashing in because it’s too cold to sleep under the highway these nights.

She’s here in the flesh and I love her to death and so of course I’m going to be thrilled for us to be orating on and on: she ranting until I think the next stop is going to be a heart attack and I working overtime to talk away the stupidity of letting him set one foot in the door after what he did. Wait–no. In reality this task falls somewhere below getting hypothermia and watching my parents fuck on my list of things I want to do today.

But either way we start to duke it out in the crumbling kitchen and the conversation we have goes something like this:

JILLIAN: What the hell, Minnie! What, one slap wasn’t enough? Did you call me up and make me fly all the way out here just so I could sit across the table from that raging Neanderthal while he smirks and enjoys knowing he’s practically gotten away with murder?

ME: Jill. I know. He’s a jealous idiot.

JILLIAN (rolling her eyes): Yes, clearly this is a lesson you’ve internalized. Because I know the first thing I do after my boyfriend goes off the deep end is invite him back to the house to dry off and have a cup of tea.

ME: Really, Jill. It wasn’t all that bad, and anyway, his nose–

JILLIAN (mouth dropping open, nostrils flared, eyebrows knit together): All that bad? I don’t know how it can get much worse. Maybe next time you’d like a visit from the paramedics? They’ll find out you’ve been squatting here and have you evicted or worse! Think you’d like to try a few nights in prison with the rats squealing under your cot while you sleep?

ME: Jillian. This isn’t 1917 and this isn’t Zimbabwe. There are no rats in jail here anymore. No cots either.

JILLIAN: Oh, so now it’s all a joke to you! I mean it, Minnie–I won’t let you keep that monster under your roof whether it’s really yours or not. And for that matter, if your mother could see you right now in this rundown piece of shit house–

ME (in measured tones, squatting and patting the ground): But Jill, she can’t. So please just have a seat on the floor here. Stretch out if you want. Take a nice deep breath.

At this Jillian beats the air with her fists and lets out a frustrated noise that is half grunt and half shriek, and I have to laugh a little on the inside imagining her as a talking pig. I know in another situation she’d find this noise hilarious despite herself and the grunt-shriek would lead to snorts and then to both of us laughing on the linoleum until one of us started choking. But of course this time it doesn’t and instead she just looks at me quite sadly. Which is when Sky charges in with the knife.

First I’m reaching for it and then I’m feeling the cold metal feeling the rough edge of the blade scrape against my thumb just like I can hear the two of them going at it and the one trying to get the other to kick me out when what really needs to happen is the other needs to learn some goddamn self-respect and stop acting like such a whore and at the same time Minnie’s smooth bare ass is blinding me pressed tight against another guy’s jeans bucking and shaking and his calloused fingers are moving the air around her hips moving to touch the whiteness of those inner thighs even though he knows that they’ll get pushed away because being told “no” is half the fun isn’t it and now roaring in my brain there’s the click of cheap Lucite on the stage floor that’s her stilettos click-clacking and probably the guy is wondering asking even can he take her home or at least out for breakfast and then afterwards try again to take her home because it seems like she’d enjoy a nice good fuck and maybe also the danger of doing what she’s not supposed to or at least the feel of a cool two hundred tucked away against her ass as it saunters home and why the fuck is that chick still bitching about me in the kitchen gotta shut her up make it stop can’t let her just keep talking and the other one shaking her ass and tits and maybe doing some fucking too all for the money since when do we give a damn about the money oh I’ll rip those little diamonds straight through her fucking earlobes I swear to fucking Christ I’m done I’m done I’m done with all this shit just done with it I’m DONE.

Night train from Seattle. Chase her soles across America. Flee the lunge, the rebel yell–the sickly flash of silver sinking, oozing, sinking again. Confederates in a boxcar wrap their wounds and cry together, mourn this splitting from their own.

And I’m watching myself as from above: loving her beyond the end. Knowing how we’ll never get back home.

Suzanne Marie Hopcroft just saw her first published piece appear in Camroc Press Review in July; she now has short fiction live or forthcoming in Gargoyle, > kill author, LITnIMAGE, JMWW, elimae, and other lovely literary magazines. Suzanne is a PhD student in Comparative Literature and writes from a decaying pudding factory across the water from New York City. You can find more of her work here.

One Comment on “Suzanne Marie Hopcroft”

  1. 1 THIS IS A GOD DAMNED ROUNDUP | Metazen said at 3:06 am on October 16th, 2010:

    [...] Night Train From Seattle [...]

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