Pump District #6  |  Daniel Miller



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             Such a traveler I was in those days! An explorer of sleeping towns found off forgotten exits. In these towns there was always a green sign boasting of one, or two, or sometimes three (yes, three!) gas stations, always a tree scarred with schoolyard love, always blooming into soft lips touching and delightful sighs and the ghosts of purity lingering above beds. There was always a pile of notebooks in my lap, full of scribbled notes and unfinished stories. I was young! Searching, endlessly searching for my Winesburg, for my Dublin! Always looking for persons of depth, creatures worthy of love or hate or any other emotion! Always, I was waiting for the words to flow forth, lyrically, from the tip of my pen, the paper absorbing the ink in permanence. And through all this searching and waiting and looking, I was blind, for I was surrounded by my inspiration the whole time, in my passion-driven seventeenth year, in my hometown—in #6.
             Looming over the off-ramp was a water tower, a handful of lights illuminating the bold lettering that proclaimed: Pump District #6. Being a structure of such size, the water tower easily overpowered the small sign below it. That, oh-so-small sign that proved the existence of Millersburg and its 7,036 occupants. Because of this, most of those native to the Midwestern town—and, on occasion, those passing by—would refer to the area simply as #6. It is a curious thing, in my opinion, to refer to a town by a number. It brings to mind the reduction of people to numbers in certain internment camps, as if those people are no longer people. But alas, I digress. It is in #6 in which my story begins, and it is in #6 in which my story ends.
             I was sitting in my car, parked under the soft glow of gas station prices, listening to the songs I sought to emanate from. Heartbreaking and haunting, the music softly filed into my ears. I had with me the written account of my most-recent trips. On the first page it begins, strongly at first, but soon it falls apart. The plot withers away, and the writing stops abruptly a mere five hundred words later. A handful of pages later, and a new plot begins and ends just as quickly. This happens again and again until the notebook is filled with evenly spaced beginnings. Spaces that I always meant to fill but never did. And so I flipped through this notebook spotting flaws that only became apparent once I was detached. I flipped and spotted until I became sick of the flaws and threw the notebook into the backseat; into the graveyard of notebooks.
             Outside, the sound of rain, heavy and intimidating, accompanied the music. In the distance, the water tower stood tall over the highway. Cars rushed past in both directions, their headlights cutting through the torrents falling from the evening sky. I watched this momentarily until a bag-clad figure walking toward the highway disrupted my gaze. As this figure passed beneath the streetlight, I could identify her as one of Mr. Turner’s daughters: Abigail, the oldest, if I remembered correctly. It was a strange thing to live in a town as small as #6. On paper, the population looked too large, too hard to fathom knowing that many people. In reality, it seemed as if everyone knew everybody else or, at the very least, knew of them. Abigail was one that I only knew of.
             Abigail was one that almost everyone only knew of. Another strange thing about #6 is that rumors have a way of spreading throughout the community. They float from lips to ears, through churches and schools and families and friends. So when Abigail, who led a mostly normal social life, became rarely seen, people began to whisper. The abrupt absence of her mother, Mrs. Turner, did not help matters. Some suggested that the family had problems with drugs, with drinking; others blamed abuse or death. The rumors came often but were exaggerated greatly. One week, Mr. Turner was a hopeless alcoholic; their neighbor swears that three empty cases of beer are being thrown out every Thursday. The next week, word spread that Abigail was addicted to drugs, that she suffered a mental breakdown, that her mother died, that her father had hit her. It is impossible that Abigail did not hear these things, not in a town that small, not in #6.
             And so she walked that night; head down and slowly, she walked. Putting my car into gear, I pulled up next to her, unrolling my window. Perhaps the pounding rain was too loud, too heavy, but she did not stop, so I yelled her name, and she responded with a quick glance. While there was a familiarity in her eyes, she still did not stop. No, it took yelling over and over before she surrendered and climbed into my car. Once there, she did not look at me directly but instead watched me through her peripheral vision. And though I knew her address, her name, and every rumor that surrounded her, I broke the tension that made the air around us so thick.
             “Some weather,” I said awkwardly. Ah, social naïveté—to be young and dumb and have the conversation skills of an infant. She sat, unresponsive. I guided my hand to the tote bag she carried with intent to move it, to give her more space. At this action, she flinched, letting out a short, sharp breath.
             “Sorry,” I responded. “Just trying to make you more comfortable.” And she began to weep. She pulled up her knees and turned her face in the opposite direction and wept tears that became lost on her rain-soaked cheeks. In a nervous fit I debated with myself on whether I should begin to drive or stay parked and console Abigail as she cried beside me. Settling on the latter was no easy choice but one I felt was right, and so, putting the car into park, I consoled.
             “What is it?” I asked, reaching again with my hand, this time to lend her some kind of warmth, some reassurance. She did not flinch at this second attempt of contact; she did not respond in any way, and so I repeated, “What’s wrong?” Again, there was no response from the weeping girl. “Was it before?” I started. “Like I said, I was just trying to—”
             “It wasn’t that,” she said, cutting me off. “It’s just … not that.”
             The whole scene was nightmarish. I felt as if I could wake up at any moment, sweat, sweet and sticky covering my body. But I did not wake up; I sat in my car, speechless, watching a girl I hardly knew sobbing. This went on for some time. While it felt like hours, I later realized that it only could have been fifteen or twenty minutes. After this period was over, Abigail calmed somewhat.
             “Can I tell you something?” she asked, wiping tears from her face. Nodding, I felt more uncomfortable than before but let her continue anyway. “I was raped,” she continued, “by my own father.”
             A sickening feeling bloomed throughout my body. Mr. Turner was known to be an upstanding citizen of #6. Though rumors plagued him just as much as Abigail and the rest of their family, Mr. Turner was not fazed. He still attended school events, social functions, and was even considering running for City Council the following year. He did not drink any more or any less than the rest of the city, didn’t touch drugs or other women. No prior scandals to give any such warning to this news.
             “I was in the living room, home sick from school, when he walked up to me. He shouted for me to get up, and I knew at once that something was wrong. I had received a bad grade earlier that week and wondered if that was why he was angry.” Saying this, Abigail shook her head slightly. “Sometimes I still think that was the reason. He pushed me, abruptly, onto the floor. The motion was so fast, so instantaneous that I did not have time to brace for the impact and so when I hit, waves of pain exploded through my face and ribs. As he kneeled down over me I knew—somehow, I knew—what was about to happen, but I refused to believe it. I refused to believe, as he pinned my arms and legs down. I refused to believe, as I tried my hardest to flail and escape. I refused to believe, as he pulled my pants down to my ankles. But when his fingers, hard and callused fingers of a working man, touched my skin, I could no longer refuse to believe. So I screamed.”
             To better understand the story of Abigail Turner, I must first describe #6 in a slightly more descriptive manner than my previous profile. The town is composed of two main roads and perhaps a dozen side streets. Rollins Street was the first of the main roads and was the road that the off-ramp merged into. This is also the road on which we sat in my car that night. Morley, the second main road, ran perpendicular to Rollins, intersecting beneath an ancient railroad bridge. Though these main roads were often busier than the side streets, they bore far fewer residential buildings.
             Unfortunately for Abigail, she did not reside in one of these main-street houses, for if she did, perhaps her circumstances would have been different. Instead, she lived on Fifth Street, a weathered road branching off Rollins. And on this road, houses were spaced either too much or too little by gravel driveways sinking under the weight of engineless cars. While, on occasion, children fled through backyards scraping flesh free from knees on rusted fences and shouting jubilant shouts, not a single soul strolled down Fifth Street on that day. Not a single soul heard. And so she continued.
             “I screamed as loud and as hard as I could, but nobody came, and I knew nobody would. My throat burned, and he wouldn’t stop, so I closed my mouth and stopped screaming.” While tears still ran down her cheeks, Abigail’s voice was steady, strong. “And when I closed my mouth, it was as if all of my senses were heightened. I could feel my throat throbbing, and the sensation of being ripped in half pulsed throughout my body after every thrust, each one a reminder that my womanhood was not being given by me but instead being stolen from me. I smelled the aroma of vanilla-scented candles mixed with artificial air freshener. These scents filled the air and my nostrils with each long inhale. I could taste the thick saliva and salty tears as they slid down my face and into my mouth. The textured ceiling above us blurred in and out of place. But the sound,” her eyes, filled with sincerity and importance, gazed through mine, “… the sound is what stays with me the most. Outside of our window, some songbird chirped and chirped, and I remember thinking that it was absolutely absurd that such a simple, delightful sound is what I heard on that awful day.” As Abigail continued, I shut my eyes and tried to imagine myself in that situation. To be raped violently and yet, find some small amount of reassurance in the twittering of a bird. “The chirping was so vibrant, so clear, that it seemed like a three-dimensional object. A shape I could touch and feel. So I focused on the chirping and the other senses too, but mostly the chirping. Eventually, when he got up and left, I lay on the floor and continued listening.” Abigail breathed deeply, and at this sign, I knew that her story was finished.
             “I’m so sorry,” I blurted clumsily, awkwardly.
             To this, she shook her head, curling her lips and smiling faintly. “It’s far too late.”
             I looked at the clock glowing blue on my car’s dashboard, looked at the flashing numbers declaring the time: 2:00 a.m., far too late, indeed. Following my eyes, she sighed deeply and asked to be taken home. The drive to her house was noiseless apart from the still-pouring rain. I was drained, emotionally and physically, from the story, and it was quite clear that Abigail was, as well. Aside from a light in the living room window, the house was dark. Abigail thanked me for the ride—for listening to her—and walked inside, turning the window light off a moment later. The drive to my own home was just as quiet, and when I arrived, I took to my bed at once, sleeping a dreamless sleep.
             The following morning, I awoke to the sound of a tweeting songbird. Just as I had listened to the story that Abigail told me, I listened. To the bird, I listened. To my heart, pounding against my chest, I listened. To my breaths, shallow and soft, I listened. I let these sounds resonate within me, let them become clear and real, and I knew, then, what she had meant by feeling a sound. Interrupting, my mother called me into the family room. On the television, a clean-cut news reporter moved his lips soundlessly. Underneath him, oft-misspelled text scrolled quickly across the screen giving meaning to his voiceless jabbering. Moving between the television and me, my mother concealed the text.
             “Abigail Turner was about your age, right?” Nodding, I disregarded her use of the past tense. “She died this morning. It’s all over the news right now.”
             She continued, but I feigned listening because the things that she said did not seem real, as the singing bird or the beating heart did. Her words slipped through my ears but connected not with my brain. They floated over me in waves, and again the tweeting returned, more vibrant than before. Closing my eyes, I listened to the songbird, imagining myself seated in the shallow water of a lake’s edge—imagining the waves flowing over me, the sun beating down on shoulders already burned and glowing. It was a pleasant sound, a delightful thought on that awful day.
             It was the summer in which I would fall in and out of love. The summer I would explore, for the first time, the delicate geography of a young woman’s body, all of its valleys and hills, its flaws and perfections. It was the summer of letters, first torrid, passing feverishly from hand to hand, then heartbreaking, leaving me empty of emotion for what would seem like a lifetime. Though I did not know this at the time, it is a soul-wrenching thought now. Now that I can look back at the life of Abigail Turner with a consciousness clear of sexuality, clear of angst, I realize that she never had these opportunities. She would never feel love and lust. Would never have the opportunity to steal dusty liquor bottles from dustier cupboards, running off into backwoods, fingers entwined with the boy she pined for. Would never let him explore, would never breathe heavy breaths and twinge at the pain of innocence lost. She would never experience the even worse pain of a broken heart. No, instead her childhood, her life, everything was ripped away. And so now, eleven years later, the life of Abigail Turner still inspires me, still makes my hands and fingers shake. After her death, I burned all of the unfinished notebooks lying dormant in my backseat, acquired empty ones and filled them with my stories, my experiences, everything that I sensed! All for her, my inspiration, my muse, my Abigail! But, again, I digress.
             A friend of mine swears that he saw her. I refused to let him recount this sight at first, but eventually curiosity overwhelmed me, and I asked him to describe it. And so he did. The sun was newly raised, and a sharp yellow melted upward into softer pinks and purples. “Like a postcard of some tropical sunrise.” He said that she hung underneath the water tower on that windless day, limp and still. A silhouetted greeting to all those small-town travelers, to the notebook-clutching explorers, to all who happened to drift onto that curling off ramp: Welcome to #6.


♥ End ♥



Daniel Miller is a 23-year-old student residing in Columbia, Missouri. Reading and writing are his two passions, and he hopes to pursue an MFA next year.

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Search tag: Go Read Your Lunch.  Kindle picture by NotFromUtrecht, modified by Maximilian Schönherr, used under Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.  All stories are submitted by the authors, are used with permission, and are not to be reused in any way without the authors’ consent.

Another Cup of Tea: A Personal Survival Guide to England  |  Jonathon Engels



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             The pain is sharp and sudden from the inside. It’s my first night in London, and I’m five minutes into a fifteen-minute walk to somewhere. The evening chill has cut instantly to my infinitely small blander. We’ve barely made it a block. If only I hadn’t taken that last cup of tea.
             Emma’s arm wraps into mine, and she skips along beside me, beyond content to be seeing her little brother for the first time in over a year. I, on the other hand, am tense teeth biting liquid, clenching out each step. The brother, Paul, and his friend, Adam, are maybe six steps ahead of us, and they’re going on, something about music. Paul is a bassist; Adam is a drummer.
             The wind snaps at the collar of my coat, the back of my neck, whispers tunes around my ears. My head sinks fast into my shoulders. My hands fidget inside my pockets as if I’m a pedophile overlooking an elementary schoolyard. Only I’m the one terrified.
             We stop at an intersection. My eyes search. They can’t decide where to go; I can’t decide what to do. The others chat about the location of proper British pubs, looking at me for acknowledgment. We settle on a place just around the corner. We amble in no particular rush, Paul and Adam pointing to a door, not twenty steps away, nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, sixteen, fifteen, fourteen . . .
             Opening the door, the warmth flips my bladder, defrosting it. The chair backs—draped with pea coats, scarves, the hats of London sophisticates—blockade all passages. Paul squeezes us through to the bar, asking what we want to drink.
             My hips sway, as if to a slow song. No one else is dancing. I shift again and again, become the shiftiest person in London, anywhere. “Where’s the toilet?” Emma asks, familiar with this particular tuneless tango.
             I’m hurting, frightened, wondering: What if I don’t make it before I pass this table on my way, if I don’t make it as I shuffle around the girl whose chair back is too far out to scoot by without bumping my leaky bladder, don’t make it when I reach the men’s room door, the five steps from the door to the urinal?
             I fumble furiously at buttons and zippers, holding the bottom edge of my pullover under my chin, eyes wide and tearful, staring down at my hand pinching the front of my pants. I don’t aim, but simply shoot, hoping no one is next to me. Round one goes to me.
             Sometime into the second week of our visit, after about 37 looking-for-a-loo episodes, I really became worried. I’d grown comfortable with England and Emma’s family, but my condition had worsened. “I’m going to have to get this checked out,” I’d tell Emma, tucked in some alleyway, as the droning thud of my urine still beat against the side of a church. “The stonework here is just amazing.”
             It wasn’t as if I could hide my affliction from a host of aunts, uncles, a gran, cousins, Mom, Dad, brother’s friend I’ve known since I was eight months old. Like a child, when in a state of “having to go,” I pee-pee dance; I stumble over words; I touch myself involuntarily. When members of Emma’s family noticed my nervousness, the best I could come up with were jokes: I swear I should just stand over a toilet with this delightful tea, thanks so much, so nice, I’d say, thinking, My god, Auntie Ginny, I’m about to explode.
             It was like a snake milked of a lifetime of venom in a matter of days. The dances kept coming, interpretive performances of Albert Dock or Strawberry Fields or wherever we were, followed by a mad, undignified rush to find a WC. Public restrooms are few and none between in England. In America, there are so many public toilets that you wonder why places like Bourbon Street smell like piss, but in England, you wonder why more people aren’t pissing on the street.
             I’m going to have to get this checked out, for Emma’s sake, I’d think. Imagine the embarrassment: “Here’s my new boyfriend. You’ve heard about him; he really needs the toilet.” My urination became an actual topic of conversation with each new acquaintance. Then, someone finally says something about tea other than: “Do you want another?” Emma’s fourth-cousin-third-removed informs me that tea is a diuretic.
             So, tea makes you—really makes me—have to “wee,” which makes that second issue even more puzzling: bathrooms, more appropriately (I was laughed at for saying “bathroom.”) toilets are in short supply. In England and the vast fluids that flow in, around, and through it, the notion of bathrooms and bladders became a real intellectual stump for me. We discovered those iconic phone booths in the middle of miles of empty fields, but ask for a toilet: It was like being potty-trained for a second time, and I ran into problems.
             When we stayed at Paul’s four-bedroom flat and a midnight tiptoe was in order, when we settled in at Emma’s mum’s three-bedroom “semi-detached,” when we visited Lizzie and Lizzie’s four-year old had to go, too, or at Auntie Kath’s huge stately home, large enough to fit three generations of family and still have me saddled in a bed for the weekend with a constant cup of tea or libation on my bedside table—It seemed everyone’s house had one toilet, and someone else was using it.
             Trying to duck into the facilities unnoticed for the twentieth time that afternoon, I’d catch a shoulder-full of locked door and hear the faint apology of the current, enviable occupier. Stumbling back, wiggling in place, I’d pace the hallway, groping at myself, fearful that my insides might just fail. What kind of sick culture insists on round after round of tea, then designs houses, houses for entire families, with only one bathroom? It was something out of an even-more-demented version of Alice in Wonderland.
             I’d find myself sweeping through my girlfriend’s mother’s side door en route to the back “garden,” searching for a shadow and a bush, praying for only thirty seconds, sure someone would step out for a “fag” and find me hidden in the hedges with my willy out, wondering how to explain that someone had been in the bathroom for at least fifteen seconds.
             Or, “We all do this in America.” Would they buy that?, I pondered, until finally the track of my zipper whished back up, and I returned to the party with beads of sweat on my forehead, pretending nothing had happened.
             In the case that one does manage to procure a toilet in England, it seems that the commodes are all equipped with anti-flushing devices. The handle goes down, but there is only a silent, lazy-river-like current of water. There was not one place in England where I didn’t wind up wandering into the bedroom to ask for Emma’s help. I felt mocked, finally relieved, but now stuck with the results. Imagine my dismay when my battle with tea and pee turned into a war with pie, the disappointment of standing over a toilet watching it all swimming in a circle. Helpless.
             After learning of tea’s diuretic qualities, suffering the indignity of my girlfriend having to flush for me (a childlike call from the depths: “I’m ready.”), and dashing to back gardens and semi-vacant alleyways, I backed off the tea. Unfortunately, this new resistance was only effective until about dusk, when the lot of us (whomever with and wherever located) made way for the pub.
             I’d been to “English pubs” and “Irish pubs” in America, where next door in the strip mall was Hooters and, on the other side, some low-dive Mexican restaurant. But in England, pubs are naturally (not thematically) quaint and cool and better bloody well have Guinness on tap, and not just some pull-the-lever crap, but one where the bartender pumps and pumps to get your beer into a proper pint glass that matches the brand.
             That’s right. Old fashioned pump taps, appropriately labeled glass, a shamrock drawn in the foam—things done with a certain British sophistication and class. So, everywhere we went and everyone we saw offered a new, official, proper pub experience. I don’t know if beer is a diuretic, but everywhere we went and everyone we saw there got to witness my bladder ramble on incomprehensibly. Up and down, I’d go, to and fro, as if the drink simply dropped down my gullet and into launching position.
             When I accompanied Uncle Jim to watch a Liverpool football match, Emma and Auntie Ginny left us imbibing pint after pint, eyes glued to the TV, Uncle Jim fielding amateurish football-ing questions from me. Eventually, he sighed, his eyes following the “lad” who’d gotten up for the third or fourth time to take care of business. “Watch this,” he said, hiding his mouth a bit under his hand. “That lad goes to the toilet more than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
             I sat squirming. When Liverpool scored the second goal, I broke for the loo in a bout of celebration. I took a little detour when getting us another round (This one’s on me, Uncle Jim.). But, once you break the seal … I got up again and again. Will I replace that other guy as the most prolific urinator in all of Lancashire? Is that a title I really want? By the time Liverpool had won, there was no doubt that a new, undisputed water-weight champion had come to town, my belt in a permanent state of being loosened.
             The truth is my struggles with tea, beer, and the English began well before I ever set foot on that island. My sorrows began with Emma in my apartment in South Korea, some astronomical distance from any scent of the Atlantic Ocean or the British Isles and long before any plane I was on set down in London.
             “Do you want a brew?” she’d say at the onset of our relationship. “Sure,” I’d tell her, kicking my feet up awaiting a frosty mug of Hite, Korea’s national beer, when minutes later she’d arrive with a steaming cup of milky tea. Setting it on the table in front of me with a pleasant grin, she’d sit and blow the steam from her own cup. “Do you fancy a brew?” “How about a brew?” Brew, I learned, ain’t beer in England.
             Then, by the time I’d adjusted to the whole “brew” debacle and learned to enjoy a cup of tea (What was I supposed to do? Not drink it after I’d said, Yes, that’d be great?), “Are you ready for tea?” she asks. I say, of course, “Yes, that’d be great.” I kick my feet up awaiting a hot mug of tea. Half an hour later, having watched her chopping vegetables, I feel cheated, as if she has forgotten the agreed-upon beverage. Then, I found out: “Tea” ain’t tea.
             “Tea” is dinner; tea is a “brew.” A “brew” is a tea—but not “tea” as in dinner—tea as in the rest of the world’s version. And, if you want a beer just say “beer,” don’t try to be catchy and spout off some yuppie quip about a brew. But, to the point, when your “tea,” “brew,” or “beer” has coursed through your body, ask where the “toilet” is—forget about the “loo,” bathroom, restroom, men’s room, water closet, or any such decorative terms and go for the gusto: toilet. Because, lord knows, if you need to relieve yourself in England, there is precious little time to quibble over appropriate nomenclature.
             After our trip, Emma had anxiously awaited me to write something about England, and when I told her little jokes about the English tea-pee situation, she’d been able to laugh in retrospect, without the awkwardness of me dancing and steaming from the ears. Finally, I wrote this, feeling I’d all but uncovered the true motivation behind America’s Boston Tea Party, and she hit me with: “Is the whole thing going to be about you peeing? Why don’t you just hold it? I do.”
             It seems so simple.


♥ End ♥



Jonathon Engels has been an EFL expat since 2005, just after he earned an MFA in creative writing and promptly rejected life as an instructor of freshman comp. He has lived, worked, and/or volunteered in seven different countries, traveling his way between them. Currently, he is in Antigua, Guatemala, where most mornings he can be found tucked behind a computer in the corner of a coffee shop.

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         Years from now, America is slowly collapsing. Crops are drying up and oil is running out. People flee cities for the countryside, worsening the drought and opening the land to crime. Amid this decay and strife, war veteran David Parrish fights to keep his family and farm together. However, the murder of a local child opens old wounds, forcing him to confront his own nature on a hunt through dust storms and crumbling towns for the killer.
         Reserve your copy in any format for $1 today, and get 20% off the cover price upon March 2014 release.


Search tag: Go Read Your Lunch.  Kindle picture by NotFromUtrecht, modified by Maximilian Schönherr, used under Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.  All stories are submitted by the authors, are used with permission, and are not to be reused in any way without the authors’ consent.