Born to Run
by JP Miller
As far as the earth curved one could see nothing but row upon row of young tobacco plants swaying stiffly in the fecund summer breeze. On the horizon, back lit, there was a hint of white and yellow which would be the corn fields extending to infinity beyond the green dominance of the tobacco. The dirt which provided a nursery for the tobacco and corn was white and dusty. It was a farmer’s miracle that anything would grow in this clodded, sterile looking soil. Beside the tobacco fields and on into the cornfields there were perfectly lined trails of warm, wispy soil where dust-devils popped up, spinning like a miniature tornadoes, until bouncing off stalks and giving out into the tobacco rows. The sky was a saturated blue above and then became violet at a distance. Periodically young storm systems emerged on the horizon promising rain. The anvil shaped clouds began with a fury but died quickly, never reaching the parched ground.
The bruising sun fell down on the flat ground and heated the exposed paths of dusty earth. Meg ran and hopped along the dirt paths, chasing the swirls of dust and wind, never quite catching one. Meg had recently graduated from the ninth grade and at fifteen her budding body was, to her dismay, noticed by many boys at school. Her long legs traveled endlessly upward only ending at her faintly curving hips. Meg had no interest in the boys at school. Moss, her 12 year old companion, ran behind on his shorter burnt red legs. He chased Meg’s faded blue skirt along the path until he gave up the chase and she turned and waited for him. Meg was bent over, panting and swearing loosely. Moss, now only just thirteen, reached upward only to Meg’s chest. He stopped beside her and looked into her cornflower blue eyes. They both looked at the ground and panted in the overpowering heat. Moss wore cut-off jeans and a red t-shirt with a tractor company’s logo long faded by the sun to the color of clay. He was as blonde and sunbaked as Meg but his eyes were green as the tobacco stalks.
Moss watched the falling sun and spoke while looking upward to her eyes.
“Wanna go to the pond, Meg?”
“No”. She answered with a shake of her blond hair. She stared down at him gauging his labored breathing.
“Let’s go to the old house. It’s just over that hill”. Meg knew that Moss was scared of the old house. That was where he had lived with his parents until the the fire that killed his parents and orphaned him. At the time of the fire, Moss was two years old and as hard as he tried, he just could not recall his parents or the fire. At school the students teased him that his father killed his mother and then himself. He knew this was not true because Meg had told him it wasn’t true.
“OK”. Moss said reluctantly.
They walked on toward the setting sun speaking only to count the crows watching from the oaks and pines. Moss trailed behind a few steps as his legs were shorter. He stretched to catch up and grabbed her hand. They were second cousins, born to the same land, and holding hands had been as natural as breathing the same hot air. Meg was Moss’s only friend as well. The few boys he had known at the red-bricked elementary school treated him dimly at best. Moss was smaller than the rest of the kids at school and couldn’t defend himself against the physical and verbal abuse. He became the butt of many jokes and whispers. Moss had learned to tune out those punches and words. Those boys and their bullying games didn’t interest Moss at all. And Meg, well, she had only Moss as well. He lived only a mile away from Meg. The next nearest home was over 20 miles distant. Meg lived with her step-dad in a double wide trailer on a tiny lot that was bereft of trees and surrounded by brown grass. There were old lawnmower skeletons and refrigerator parts strewn across the yard.
Meg’s mother had left three years ago and she had not heard from her since. Moss lived with his grandparents ever since he could remember—ever since his parents had been killed. They lived in a white two story home on a dead end dirt road just off the main road through town. Moss didn’t know it but his family or lack of family was considered one of the richest in the county. Yet, despite his affluence, Moss lived a solitary life in that gnarled house. His grandparents rarely spoke to him except for short statements of direction and reminders of manners. They would dance to an old gramophone in the evenings after supper, shuffling their aging legs across the hardwood floors ignoring Moss. Moss always cleared the table and readied himself for bed alone. It was as if he wasn’t there at all. They never looked at him. He felt they blamed him for something.
Only the feed and seed store was as close as Meg’s house. That was where Meg’s step-dad worked the night shift lifting and stacking feed sacks, bales of hay and straw. He was a strong and red-faced man burnt by the sun, alcohol and loneliness.
Meg pulled Moss along dragging his toes in the dirt.
“Come on Moss…It’s getting late”.
“Well. We don’t have to go there now. It can wait.” Moss complained. Meg snatched his arm up and moved faster. “Dammit Moss. I wanna get there before the sun gets to the trees. I left some stuff there I need”.
It seemed to Moss that Meg spent all her life outdoors and away from the trailer. But that was fine with him. He was in love with his older cousin and she could boss him if she wanted.
“OK”. That was all Moss could say to his cousin. She was his world and he would do anything she asked if she just said it pretty like.
When they reached the “old house” they noted how the roof had sagged a little more and the window frames were splitting loose from the walls. It looked like a melting wedding cake at the edges where the corners turned down trying to touch the ground. Both spent time throwing rocks and dirt clods at the glass left in the windows. After they tired of that, they went inside to look over their treasures. Moss had mason jars lined across the sills and cabinets filled with moss, bugs, flowers, and strange looking stones he’d picked from around the swimming hole.
Meg had one of those yellow and mushroom green suitcases from the seventies filled with her treasures. She had some dresses and jeans and blouses carefully folded inside the case. On top of the clothes were three school notebooks filled with yellowed pages with a script only Meg could read. Her mother had left them for her when she just up and disappeared. That was over three years ago. Meg kept a rusty key on a leather strap around her neck which opened and locked the suitcase. She opened the case and took out the second notebook, dogged eared, and stained.
She lay back on the mattress that they had dragged under the back window. It was covered with torn Mexican blankets that the seasonal help had left there. The past few years the seasonal help had not shown up, moving ever closer to the cities. Meg stared up at the sagging ceiling and Moss lay beside her close enough so their legs touched. Meg opened the notebook to a pre-determined page and read aloud to Moss who picked at the blankets while she read aloud.
“My dear and precious daughter, I’m leaving this for you so you’ll know that it wasn’t your fault. I just had to leave. And I couldn’t take you with me. But, don’t you worry, I’m coming for you. But, be ready to go. I’ll just drive up in a shiny new car and you bring out your suitcase-the one I left for you-and we’ll get going together.”
Meg turned the page abruptly and continued.
“You are my beautiful baby girl and I promise I will come back for you. It might take some time but be ready for me.”
Moss looked at Meg and asked.
“When do you think she will come for you and can I come with you?”
“Shush…you always ask me that.”
Meg started once more to read the passage.
“I’m so sorry but I just couldn’t take living with him any longer. And….well, there’s nothing around here at all except the same old people and same old tobacco plants. Sometimes it seems that God forgot about this part of the world and just let it set all quiet like. I want you to know that you’re not stuck there. You can do whatever you want, Meg. Just know that I couldn’t take you with me cause there wasn’t room. I mean in the car that is. Five of us left together and you were so young. We are headed west. I can’t tell you exactly cause you know why but…”
Meg turned the page while Moss just studied her hands and fingers. He liked the way her hands and fingers were not painted and delicate looking like his grandma. They were long and strong looking almost like a man’s hands but slender, deeply tanned and grasping. Moss grabbed Meg’s left hand and squeezed. He knew that the notebooks were important to Meg. She always tied a shiny pink ribbon around the notebooks before placing them back in the suitcase. She would then lock the suitcase with her only jewelry – the key around her neck. The key had what Meg said was “Samsonite” written across it on one side. Moss wondered what that met.
Meg shook loose Moss’s hand and put away the notebooks in her reverential way. She put the key back around her neck, tucking it deep within her budding breasts. Moss stared at this for the zillionith time. The ceremony never changed. Meg jumped up and said.
“Ok…now we can go to the creek.”
She pulled Moss upward and they skipped out the doorway kicking bottles and cans out of their way. Moss finally spoke. He was often so quiet around Meg that she thought him slow-witted or that maybe all boys were that way.
Both Meg and Moss kicked the white, blue and yellow wildflowers along the path leading to the water hole. Once Moss had presented a handful of wildflowers to Meg but she just dropped them on the path and stepped on them. When they got to the hole the water had receded a little but not enough to spoil it for them. This magic garden of theirs was a deep spot in the creek where water spilled noisily in a cataract over boulders into a pool of clearly colored green and brown water. The water seemed to originate from the smooth rocks and it may as well. They both had no idea where the creek originated and it didn’t matter. The wind blew wheezy from the southwest and it was strong enough to keep the bugs away.
They both got into the water slowly since the exchange between hot and silky air into the cool water of the pool was a slight shock. They both swam to the deepest spot under the falls and tread water. They dunked each other, balling up into a fetal position to hit the bottom. Meg stood straight up while Moss continued to tread water and grab rocks for support. She could walk the bottom with the water just above her chest and below the tip top of her shoulders. They both swam in their clothes since by the time they would have reached home the clothes would be completely dry. While Moss moved toward the shore where he could stand, Meg did something Moss had never seen before. She stood there in the pool and stripped off her dress, pulling it over her head and throwing it to the shore. Moss watched the arch of her clothes then moved his wide eyes back at Meg. She moved toward Moss exposing her new self in panties and bra.
“This feels good”. Meg said.
Moss could only swallow some water and stare at her nipples which where taut and pointed toward him through the thin cloth of her bra. Moss could see how much Meg had changed in what Moss thought was such a short time. Moss felt a jolt of what he could only assume was a chill. He wondered what it all meant. It felt good and warm on the bottom and bad and cold up top.
“Meg? When did you get those?” He could not tear his eyes from her chest and then her hips. Moss was blunt and spoke his mind. This he had learned from Meg.
Meg smiled but did not move to the deeper water to cover herself. She put her arms out to Moss, held him at arms-length, straightened him, and then pulled up her bra.
“You mean these. She looked at her own breasts and cupped them to get their heft and measure. They were whiter than the rest of her skin and pink at the points.
“Yeah…” He answered, not wanting her to stop the show.
“I’m a woman now stupid. Do you like them?”
“Yeah…Yeahhh…I guess so.” Moss stammered this because he wasn’t sure what the right answer was supposed to be.
Meg moved side to side looking at Moss’s silly face.
“We’ll, you better get a good look now. You can tell the kids at school you saw me naked, almost.”
Meg waited a few seconds and drifted back to the deep water covering her as she went. Moss followed her and began to tread water again somehow fearful that Meg had shown herself to him. He liked it, of course. I mean what boy doesn’t want to look at girls private things anyway. The boys at the school had told him that putting your hand inside a girl’s dress was taboo and hence desirable. But the display had a wild portent to it that Moss could not place in his twelve year old mind. He knew that this day was different – like the shortened day of an Indian summer.
Meg pulled Moss out of the water till he touched the bottom.
“It’s time to go now, Moss. It’s almost five and I gotta get home and so do you. Come on.” Meg grabbed his hand to pull Moss along but he stood there and spoke quietly.
“I don’t wanna go home, Meg. I just don’t.”
Meg spoke to him matronly.
“I don’t wanna go home either, Moss. But, I gotta. I can’t be out late tonight.”
Meg got dressed and Moss covered his eyes for a reason he didn’t understand.
“OK. Let’s go to barn a little then.” This was Moss’s best chance to keep her beside him and he knew it was desperate sounding. To Moss’s surprise Meg just grunted.
At the barn they climbed to the open loft and sat in the huge doorway. They swung their legs out, dangling furtively, kicking out straw. She found her radio which was tucked and hidden in the straw. Meg turned on the old transistor and found her favorite radio station. They started kicking in unison and they tried to follow the song that rang out forcefully. They had both heard this song on her radio over and over again. The singer growled about how we “born to run”.
We gotta get out while we're young
`cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run...*
They stared at the orange sun wilting over the corn fields. The yellows, oranges and whites twinkled and were shimmering slightly above the horizon. Meg cut off the radio, snatched it from the wooden floor and jumped up.
“We’re late, damn”. Meg cursed to Moss.
Meg grabbed Moss’s hand again and led him down the stairs into the cavernous barn where a rusted and dusty old black Chevrolet rested on cinder blocks. Many times they had played in the car as kids teaching each other how to drive. So many places they had driven in that car. They went out the barn door, shut it behind them and walked home together and then split apart at the fork in the dirt tractor trail, the dust rising up under their feet and swirling around like a white and red fog. They were barefoot and they both carried their shoes in one hand and shaded their eyes from the falling sun with the other. Moss reluctantly said “goodbye” and “see you tomorrow”. Meg didn’t answer but turned and looked at Moss and then sped off home.
The next day Moss waited for Meg at the old house. This place had become their haven, their club and theirs alone. Moss spent the morning there waiting and Meg didn’t show until noon. Moss asked her reluctantly, not really wanting to know why she was late.
“Where you been?”.
“Doing stuff”. She said.
Meg slumped onto the mattress fumbling with the key around her neck on the smooth leather string. Moss looked at Meg and sat down as well. He noticed the torn seam along her shoulder of the blue dress, the same dress she had worn the day before. He said nothing about this. Meg opened the suitcase with her “Samsonite” key and untied the pink ribbon. She pulled out the first notebook, closed the suitcase, and laid the key on top of the yellow-green plastic.
She carefully unfolded the notebook to preserve the pages and leafed through to a passage she had read many times to Moss.
Meg read aloud softly and sweetly. Moss loved her voice.
“Listen baby. I’m going to see the ocean. I’ve never seen it and I just have to at least one time. Wish I could hold you while we look at it but I couldn’t take you out of school. A friend told me that everything important in this life the ocean washes up eventually. I thought that I had to go look. There has to be something out there. I never had much schooling and I wanted that for you. So when you finish up we can be together again. Don’t let your…daddy…take you out. And stay as far from him as you can get. I know I shouldn’t have left you with him but I just couldn’t wait. Just remember you will always be sweet daughter. Don’t be scared now. I’m coming”.
Meg lay back on the mattress and Moss followed her example. The noon heat was pushing down on the old house but a slight breeze through the broken glass heartened them. Meg lay there and then for the second time in front of Moss stripped off her dress to get cooler. She wore the same underwear as the day before. This was something that Moss could tell. The image of her standing in her underclothes was burned into his memory. Then Moss stood up and did the same. He took off his t-shirt and shorts, tossing them aside. He stood in his bright white briefs. Meg didn’t stop him and he lay down beside her. They both stared at the same sagging ceiling they had always stared at, noting even the slightest change in its angles and bulges. But again Moss felt that something was different now. It wasn’t just that Meg was older or they lay in their underwear. Something fundamental had changed but Moss could not produce the words to account for the change. So he lay silent, breathing in the breeze that wafted over his uncovered body. Meg then put her arm around Moss and pulled him close to her touching her head against his. Their pointed hips touched as well. She kissed his thin pink lips quickly. Moss kissed her back with a smack until she turned her head away. Moss had never, ever kissed a girl before unless you counted his mother and grandmother. And they had smelled of starch and hairspray while Meg smelled of the earth and vanilla. Meg held Moss tighter and tighter. She held him against her heart like she would a freshly laundered quilt just off the clothes line all folded and smelling of the sky. She breathed hot against his neck and face. He could smell her hair and feel all the curves of her body squeezing him until his body relaxed and carefully filled the voids her body left for him. She was like a variable relief map of mountains and valleys. Moss felt that he never wanted to leave this place. Fragments of their long friendship passed as staccato moments through his mind. She was always there. In every moment that Moss could recall, Meg was talking, walking, or just staring at him. Moss then held her too tight and she pushed him back some and said “Ummph”. This broke the spell. They moved away to a more comfortable space.
Moss spoke to Meg asking her a question that had long puzzled him.
“Is that what love is like, Meg?”
“Yep, if you do it right, Moss”. She replied immediately reading his thoughts.
After a time, Moss fell asleep on his back under a blanket of freshened breezes.
It was three pm by the time Moss woke. He got up fast, put on his clothes, and called for Meg. He looked inside and out. He went outside and yelled for her towards the creek. Moss knew she wouldn’t go to the creek without him. He got no reply. Moss went back inside the old house and kicked the carefully lined glass jars he had arranged around the living room and kitchen. He went back to the big bedroom where the mattress was lying tired and thin. Then Moss noticed that the suitcase was gone.
Moss shot out the doorway leaving his shoes behind and ran flat out towards Meg’s house. His thin legs lashed up the dust and it covered him, his face whitened like flour had been rubbed on it. The crooked miles between the old house and Meg’s house were unforgiving. There just weren’t any short-cuts. By the time Moss arrived at the Blue and white trailer that sat alone in a grass field, he doubled over breathing hard against the now still air. Moss looked at the huge antenna that looked like an antler emerging from the boxy trailer. He stood panting and smelling of sweat that was partly Meg’s leftover scent. Another look at the trailer told Moss that Meg was gone. The trailer’s windows were shattered, broken out by stones and dirt clods. She must have spent some time getting it just right.
Moss went inside the trailer slowly feeling that the air condition had been turned way up. The screen door slapped shut, pulled back by the spring. Moss called Meg.
“Meg, Meg are you here?” But he knew that he was alone.
Moss went to her room which was carefully made up. It looked as if she had never been there at all. There was no impression on the bed. The thin bedclothes were taut and tucked under and over the pillow. None of her pictures or posters or her few possessions were gone. The window was opened and Moss saw that the screen had been cut in three places forming a flap she could crawl through. Moss looked for the suitcase around the trailer but it was not there. Suddenly Moss felt very alone. He was chilled by the air conditioner. As Moss stepped out of the trailer, he left the door wide open, took a final look around and took off toward the only other place he could think of where Meg could be. He started running toward the crossroad. The only state highway he knew ran through the middle of the scant township. When Moss arrived at the crossroad he was spent.
The crossroad was just as dusty and empty as the fields or the old unused tobacco barns that dotted the landscape. He stepped on the pavement and it fired his feet until he moved to the white lines dotting the middle of the road. Moss looked in all four directions. East and west ran the smaller county road. North and south, the state highway stretched beyond infinity. Moss heard the increasing roar of an eighteen wheeler approaching. He moved to the ditch and it finally passed him stretching out in an all-out push to pass through this nowhere town. No Meg. No cars. There was nothing but lethargic looking crows lined along the sagging power lines and rows of tobacco plants in an undulating green vista. Moss looked around, put his hands into his pockets, and wondered if the ocean looked as broad and endless as this place.
*Born to Run----Words and Music by Bruce Springsteen.
©Perry Miller served in the U.S. Army from 1983 until 1993. He is a disabled veteran. After the Army he earned a a B.A. in Political Science, and an M.A. in Political Economy, University of Memphis 1998. He is a certified Rescue diver. He has published fiction and non-fiction and is still working on the book. He write political and social magazine articles for potentmagazine.com. Google Plus site: https://plus.google.com/116621184952638200953/posts
He has a 12 year old son named Sean Hemingway Miller. He is unmarried, 52 years old and lives on Albemarle Island (Manteo, NC).