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Plenty of chances to leave

Matt Zalaznick

Penny is convinced a few hours in church every week would cure her daughter of her sour attitude. A little prayer and Dapple’s nasty restlessness would be a thing of the past and maybe she’d settle, maybe she’d quit chomping at the bit. Maybe she’d even be satisfied with what she has instead of calling the place Junktown all the time, instead of constantly scheming to move away from home, instead of keeping a suitcase half-packed and in the corner of her closet, ready to be zipped up and thrown in the trunk of some stranger’s car or the storage compartment of a Greyhound bus the second the girl finally decides to skip town. Though in twenty-five years, none of Dapple’s escapes have lasted longer than forty-eight hours. Penny still worries the girl might eventually make it farther than a motorcycle rally just across the border in South Dakota. She might finally make it over the mountain pass west of town that always does in her truck. Because if ever Dapple makes it through and settles in some distant city, the girl probably won’t call or write not even Christmas cards and Penny would need to console herself with the blessing that He is looking after her.Thankfully, Father Pumice has assured Penny, He is Dapple’s Lord and Savior, no matter where the girl is, no matter what she is doing and no matter how few prayers Dapple offers up in hopes of receiving His Mercy and Guidance. “Y’should come, because Father Pumice will explain “”Got a light?” Dapple asks, shoving the inhaler back in her coat and taking out a pack of cigarettes. See ya’ at church on Sunday, Dapple thinks. She wonders will Father Pumice explain how she’ll ever scrounge up enough cash to make a serious escape if she has to keep loaning her mother money to pay her always-delinquent utility bills, if she has to keep paying for her father’s back treatments. Maybe Father Pumice will foresee if the mechanic will get her beast of a truck running long enough, at least, to sputter off to California. The mechanic says he’s doing everything he can, but there’s doubt in his voice. Dapple has the feeling, too, that, after the truck stalled in a smoky seizure three weeks ago, she may have taken it in to the mechanic for the last time. Dapple Del Toboso may for once be facing the truth about her terminally ill truck but for all of her scheming and complaining, she has never admitted to herself that she has had plenty of chances to leave Burrow Junction. She has had enough money and she has been offered rides out of town when her truck was in the shop, but she has consistently scraped up reasons to stay. Once, for instance, it was her father, whom everyone calls the Egyptian even though he’s from Madrid. When he was sent to the state penitentiary for two years – drug trafficking – Dapple stuck around to watch over his locksmith shop – though his brother could have handled the trickle of business by himself. In those two years, she changed three locks and cut maybe half-a-dozen keys. But, she kept reminding herself during that idle time, somebody trustworthy had to sell the dope she and her father grew in their basement. Another time, when she was just about ready to leave, she convinced herself it was bad luck to start a new life in the dead of winter. Last summer, it was high gas prices that stopped her. Dapple is indeed so lost in her predicament that she often feels like she is digging her way out of a maximum security prison with a plastic spoon. But even her mother, as entrenched in the high plains as the woman is, knows it’s Dapple herself who is making sure she is locked in her cell every night; it is Dapple herself sweeping the spotlight across the darkened yard; it is Dapple standing in the guard tower with a high-powered rifle, itching to pick off any escapees who try to climb the wall.”Gotta go, OK?” Dapple says, having found her own book of matches. Penny nods at her daughter. The sad, dejected look is now in Penny’s leathery face, but it is unaccompanied by stirring organs or murmuring choirs. It evokes no pangs of guilt in the girl. Penny twirls her sign back to STOP and Dapple hikes down the shoulder toward the sister sentinel’s realm where she’ll hitch a ride back this direction, toward the interchange, to Spinnaker Drive, to her job as assistant night manager on the graveyard shift behind the reception desk of the Cozy Cowboy Lodge. Dapple is a half-an-hour late. She squashes her cigarette out in the parking lot. She is holding a grease-splotched bag containing her Arby’s dinner. She squints up at the sign as she gives herself another blast from her inhaler. The neon-yellow sign with the bucking bronco is almost too high for her lousy eyes to read, but she can just make it out: Crazy cowboy’s Lodgge, Blow CHunktoWn, wYoyo-inG& Jet away loCo mule! An inert CaRtoon strip…. Last night the sign said:C.R. & C.H.’s Cozy-Cowboy Lodge,Burrow Junction, WyomingGateway to Yellowstone National Park!Apparently, nobody at the hotel has noticed yet. Apparently, although this doesn’t occur to Dapple, it is also more than a spontaneous, drunken prank: The perpetrator had to have copied the sign and done a little work rearranging the letters before he’d struck. Either way, it means Dapple will have to call the maintenance man to have the letters fixed, but what frustrates her most about the sign, though, is that the Cozy Cowboy Lodge isn’t even in Junktown. It’s outside the goddamn city limits, she thinks for the thousandth time, with the wind cutting through her tattered coat as if serrated, slicing at her bristling skin. The wind has been carving up her coat for the last four winters. Because her favorite coat – suede with fake fur collar and lapels – a much, much warmer coat – is packed in her suitcase: ready to split the instant she is. Dapple is counting on being warmer in future winters, far away from Junktown.

This is the second part of the serialization of Matt Zalaznick’s short story, “Junktown.” The Vail Daily is serializing short stories and novels written by locals. To submit a piece, contact Vail Daily editor Matt Zalaznick at 748-2926 or mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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