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News & Features » July 2017 » “Falls Roads” by Frank Ladd

“Falls Roads” by Frank Ladd

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays. 

This week, things take a sinister turn in rural Vermont.

Falls Road
by Frank Ladd
Shelburne, Vermont

I lived on a farm on Falls Road in those days, a shortcut mile over hay grass and nettle fields to school. After class I’d hike across the playground to a pinch in the tree line. A girl didn’t think twice back then. This was September of 1967, and I was fourteen.

The trail cut through autumn growth, sloping down to a train bed that ran through town and along a gravel trench, before rising again to a thicket of scrub. I followed a fence behind the Shelburne Museum, past the blacksmith shed and the Ticonderoga, then north to the IGA parking lot. Beyond that, town land and empty meadow. Most days this saved me fifteen minutes home.

*

The boys hid where the dirt path dropped to the railroad tracks, shielded by elm and drunken maple. They’d bothered me for weeks, prodding me in the school hallway, outside the cafeteria, and after gym class. Tugged my dress, knocked my books to the ground, the cruel way boys flirt. I didn’t figure it to go further. But I’d made a cutting remark to Perley Hannifer and he wouldn’t let it ride.

When I reached the edge of the tracks, they stepped out. Their knees damp from rotting leaves. Their ignorant faces curdled by angry brows and hungry mouths. They handled me like the hogs and cows they tended so intimately on farms as far away as Hinesburg and Vergennes.

*

Perley lay on top. Tractor oil, cigarette, manure—the same warmed-over stew as my father. A backwash of Fresca and macaroni gagged up. Gravel scraped my skin where thin cotton pulled away. I conjured a train pounding down the tracks, fierce with God’s holy revenge, the iron coupler smashing us to nothing. But it never came. I lay there until the leaves lost color. Each boy took his turn.

This carried on past November. Perley always first in line. I learned to lift my skirt so the cinders wouldn’t stain, but I couldn’t keep from bruising my legs. No one ever asked.

*

Thursdays were a respite. The boys stayed late after shop class. The day I’m remembering was early December, the air cool enough to walk without a coat. I passed the cement bay on my way to the playground.

Everyone heard the crash.

*

Some fool had backed a truck on the lift cockeyed, and the boys got to work on the axle beam or the oil pan or whatever they do down there. The truck groaned, then slipped off the lift. Most got away, but Perley had been on his back. By the time I pushed through, he was half a man. His lips twitched like salted worms. A froth of bubbles came out. He never walked again.

Other Perleys took his place. Each year Champlain Valley Union High bussed a fresh crop of dark-browed boys who treated women like farm animals.

*

One by one, the war picked them off. Their ignorance made a feast for Nixon’s appetite. I learned all men are hungry, even the old. Vermont’s a small state, but nineteen thousand were called. There’s a memorial down by Bethel. I know some of the names. Some, I still hold a grudge.

After graduation I became a free love girl. I gave it away with flowers in my hair. But it was my choice. The world had changed. Giving is one thing. I have no tolerance for taking. I’m glad for what happened to Perley.

*

I’m a nurse at Winooski Senior Center now. The farm on Falls Road was torn down long ago. A convenience store in its place. I drive by on my way to work, past the school, the museum, then fifteen minutes across the bridge in traffic on Route 7. Some days I hardly recognize where I am anymore.

Perley occupies a private bed in rehab. The men who shipped to Vietnam, there’s something missing inside. Something cold and inaccessible. My first two husbands were like that, barely kept the lid on. But Perley, he never went. He stayed right here. Soft and vulnerable. Helpless.

*

At the end of my shift, I lock his door behind me. Fold back the sheets. I wash his warm genitals and empty his colostomy bag. I tend to him with intimate care.

So many Septembers come and gone. God help me, I’d do it all again.

***

FRANK LADD is a creative director in Boston and San Francisco. He writes short fiction while his clients aren’t looking (and when he isn’t working on his first novel). His novel-in-progress has been described as the marriage of Our Town meets Red Dragon; of foreboding lodged in the quotidian. You can read excerpts of his work and thoughts on crime and noir at his blog: www.writingismurder.com.

***

Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jul 17, 2017

Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , , ,



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