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Jane Hulstrunk and Jewel Beth Davis

Hulstrunk_Davis_RE

Jane Hulstrunk
Created using Jewel Beth Davis’s story (below) as inspiration

The Expressway to Hell
By Jewel Beth Davis

It’s Thanksgiving with my family and we’re stuffed, our chairs pushed back from the long dining room table covered with a white linen tablecloth. Most of the fixings have been cleared away. We are in Atlanta in the most recent of my brother Michael’s palatial homes, each one expanding in direct correlation to his ballooning law partner’s salary. It’s warm here, not like Thanksgiving in New England. My brother Buzz has jetted in from Germany with his family. I’ve flown from New Hampshire. Stevie Kramer, an old friend from Quincy, is here. We’re talking about the old days.  Mike’s kids, Anna, 9, and Ben, 12, are eager to hear these stories. Buzz’s son, Jonny, 7, is running in and out of the dining room and stops to listen.

The meal was perfect and we’re ready for dessert.  For an aperitif, I begin a story. “I’d turned sixteen in May and on the very day I got my license, my dad, Bern, loaned me the car to go for a drive but there was one thing I absolutely was not allowed to do.”

Just as I begin my tale, my brother Buzz interrupts, “Hey, Mike. Do you remember the day we got our licenses? Bernie gave us the car to go for a drive in his big blue Olds.”

I can picture my dad Bernie’s car as if it’s parked outside now.  My father died unexpectedly when he was fifty-one and we were still teens. As I conjure up Bernie’s dark blue barge of a car, I suddenly feel a presence, like he’s in the room with us.

“Yeah, sure. That Olds was like driving a boat,” Mike says. “Bernie gave us one hard and fast rule.”

“Yeah? What was that?” Stevie wants to know.

The three of us all respond, “You can go where you want but DO NOT drive MY car on the expressway into Boston!”

“’If you do,’” Buzz continues in my father’s big booming voice, “’you’ll never get your hands on this car again. Not in my lifetime.’”

Mike picks up where Buzz leaves off, “So, what’s the very first thing we did?”

Everyone at the dinner table speaks in unison, “You went on the expressway to Boston!”

The expressway to Boston is a black macadam monster that to a new driver feels as if it will swallow her up. It has six lanes running through Boston that begin near the legendary, gigantic oil tank transformed into art by a nun named Sister Corita. “Creative” Massachusetts’ drivers skate in and out of all the lanes at supersonic speeds without ever touching their directionals. The expressway lays there, a bridge and a barrier out of the South Shore. It is both terrifying and seductive. It beckons and repels, a terror and a challenge to the uninitiated.

“That’s amazing,” I shake my head with disbelief. “That’s exactly what Bern said to me four years later. And I disobeyed him.”

My brothers ignore my comments and the fact that I’d been telling this story, not they. I let it go. This time. I’m interested to hear something about my brothers that I’ve never known. It’s like opening up an old book you’ve read many times and discovering something completely new.

Michael continues, “At that time in the 60’s, there was a really popular radio disc jockey named Arnie Ginsberg.”

“On WMEX. I loved Arnie,” I say.

“He did commercials for different stores and restaurants,” Mike goes on, “And if you mentioned his name at those places, you’d get a discount.”

“’Tell ‘em Ahnie sent ya’!’” I reproduce Arnie’s voice, with the Boston accent.

“Well,” says Mike, “Our favorite was Adventure Car Hop of Saugus.”

My brothers and I begin to sing the commercial ditty and Steve joins in, “Adventure Car Hop of Saugus.” We mime pulling down on a train whistle, “Woo-Woooooo!”

Mike says in the Arnie voice, “’Order a Woo-Woo Burger from one of their lovely car hops, and tell ‘em Ahnie ‘Woo-Woo’ Ginsberg sent ya’ and you’ll get your second Woo-Woo Burger at just half price with a free fries.’”

“Woo-Wooooo!” we mime the whistle again.

Mike says, “Of course, we had to go there as soon as we got our licenses in our hot little hands.”

Mike and Buzz have just turned sixteen. They are fraternal twins and look as much alike as second cousins. Their interests are divergent as well, except when it comes to two things: girls and cars. They have passed their drivers tests today and their father, Bernie, has offered to let them use the car. It’s heart-pumping, foot-thumping, adrenalin-rushing heaven. This is a moment of supreme independence. It’s what the first sixteen years have all been leading to. The rest of their lives are starting. Despite their promise to Bernie, they decide that they must risk a trip to Adventure Car Hop.  It’s in Saugus, past Boston, on Route 1, heading towards NH. This means they have to take the Expressway to Boston.

They swear to Bern that they will stay off the Expressway and pile into the car with Ricky Goldstein in the back seat. Ricky talks them into driving to North Quincy to pick up some chicks he knows. Ricky always has the inside scoop on the chicks.

They head to the Expressway. Ricky is in the backseat sandwiched between two blondes with a brunette on his lap. They’re laughing. Mike’s driving and Buzzy’s riding shotgun.

It’s December. It’s freezing and pouring icy rain. It’s opaque black, no visibility. The wipers are going like crazy, the roads slippery. They’re nervous about driving in this weather but they don’t talk about it. The radio’s tuned to Wimex blaring out the tunes. They sing along as a distraction. “There she was just-a-walkin’ down the street…”

Suddenly, Bernie’s car hits a patch of black ice. They are catapulted into a 360-degree spin. The world’s spinning around them in slow-mo and Mike feels the hair on his head prickle and stand on end.

“AAAAAAAAaahhhhhhhhhhh!” everyone screams.

They careen around one and a half times and end up facing the oncoming cars. There they are in the one place they’re not supposed to be, about to get creamed in Bernie’s car. They know they may as well be killed, because they won’t be able to go home when Bernie finds out.

The cars are whizzing and veering around them, beeping like crazy. Everyone is shaking like they’re walking on a high wire. Mike tries to get the car turned around without getting hit. He swears to God that if he can get them out of this safely, he’ll take the next exit and head home to Quincy. He makes a deal with God that if they survive, and the car is undamaged, he will never disobey Bernie again. He’ll stop calling him Bernie and call him Dad again.

He finally gets the Olds turned around facing the right direction. The adrenalin is still pumping through them and the twins check with everyone to make sure they’re okay. Then Mike turns to Buzz and says, “So, do you want to go home or keep going to Saugus?’”

Without hesitation, Buzz says, “Keep going!” pointing to the dark road ahead. “Saugus!” All deals are forgotten.

In Atlanta, Mike wraps with, “Adventure Car Hop was a blast and the Woo-Woo Burger was delish.”

“And you lucked out,” I say.

My brothers snort. Still, they know it’s true.

I imagine sitting at home and Mom receiving a call that the boys had been in a serious accident. My stomach jumps.

“I can’t believe you never told me,” I say. I don’t know whether I’m outraged or fascinated. My brothers were on that dark highway in the middle of winter, spinning out of control in Dad’s car. I imagine the distorted symphony of horns as the other cars whiz by my brothers and how close I’d been to losing them. How many other secrets have they kept from me? I know how many I’ve kept from them.

Now, I sit at this table surveying the detritus from our meal, thinking about the Expressway. And about my Dad. For the time it took to tell our story, we had him back again. I miss him and it’s the only way I can spend time with him. I wonder if he hears these stories and whether he’s angry or amused. I’m grateful to be here with my family at Thanksgiving thirty years later, having traveled the expressway to Hell and made it back. The three of us are here, regardless of our best adolescent efforts to the contrary.

Most of us travel this highway when we’re teens.  It’s about facing demons and meeting challenges at the cross roads of childhood and adulthood. About overcoming, and most important, becoming. If you never do something that’s forbidden, something frightening and courageous, you may never break away, never grow up, never become.

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Jane Hulstrunk_Davis_INSP

Jane Hulstrunk
Inspiration piece provided to Jewel Beth Davis

The Fan Girl
By Jewel Beth Davis

Peacock removed her headdress, pasties, heels and finally her makeup and sighed. She dropped over into rag doll position to stretch out her back and hamstrings. Rolling up again slowly, she opened her feathered fan and closed it, then opened it again, falling into a kind of trance from staring at the deep heart reds, vibrant fuchsias, and petal pinks. It reminded her of the orchids growing enthusiastically under special lights in the Atlantic City casino owner’s office. Lush, that’s what they were. Sensual and sexual. She especially loved the poppy and fuchsia one with fading pink undertones. She longed to touch the flowers but Mr. Gentian allowed no one that liberty. They would wilt under the intimacy.

She caressed the oversized fan. She had once dragged this fan along every inch and crevice of a man’s body, riffling the golden hairs on his arms and legs and elsewhere. But now Sam was gone and he wasn’t coming back. She wondered what she had done to destroy the intimacy they had shared. So many others were loved, whether they deserved it or not. Apparently not her.

Peacock’s real name was Amy. Her fellow showgirls called her Peacock after observing her practice with the big fan one night after rehearsal. On their way out, they halted to watch from the wings while the new girl stood alone on the gigantic stage rehearsing the moves over and over.  She manipulated the big fan as if it were a natural extension of her body.

“That girl musta been born a peacock in another lifetime,” Jolene commented. The others nodded solemnly.

Amy loved dancing but she didn’t call the strutting they did in the casino show dancing. No one had any idea she was a classically trained dancer. No one at work knew she took a daily ballet class, usually five times a week. At twenty-seven, she was too old to be considered seriously by any of the dance companies in New York. Still, she thought about auditioning. Damn the aging process. It hadn’t stopped her from show dancing yet, but it would eventually. She felt the wear and tear on her body even now, especially in her joints and lower back. The career window for dancers was so small, just a crevice, compared to other kinds of artists like actors and writers.

Peacock glanced into her dance bag at her new pointe shoes. She could sense them waiting for her to break them in. They seemed to call to her like sirens. The shoes were a shining satin pink and she’d already sewn the elastics and satin ribbons on them. They’d been more than a steal, practically a give-away. She’d gone online and found them marked down from $60 to $5. They were Niccolini’s, her favorite, and Capezio was discontinuing the line. She was thinking about ordering nine more pairs in her size. Another favorite, the Contempora, was also selling for the same price.  Maybe she should order some of those as well. No. It would be a wasteful extravagance. By the time she had danced her way through ten pair of pointe shoes, her days on pointe would likely be long over.

She put a stick of gum in her mouth and drew back her dark brown hair into a thick tail with her scrunchie. She was quitting smoking and always either chewed gum or sucked on tootsie pops. Her tongue was often stained from the red and purple pops that were her favorites. She walked down the hallway dragging her beautiful fan behind her on the dirty floor. Why hadn’t she left it in the dressing room? She didn’t know. She turned back around and walked back to the dressing room shaking the dust off her feathered fan.

“Peacock, do you have a ciggy-butt for me? I’m dying for a drag.”

Peacock hung her fan on the rack next to her miniscule costume and pretended she hadn’t heard Jolene’s question. Jolene’s bleached blond hair fell past her shoulders in a shade that defied nature. She wore startling red lipstick and never removed her false eyelashes. They were the same age but Jolene appeared older. Maybe it was the alcohol or the cigarettes.  Jolene knew Peacock had quit smoking months ago. Her mouth still longed for the feel of drawing on a cigarette, sucking the smoke down deep. She could easily start again, but it was killing her stamina in dance classes. It was strange that so many dancers smoked, even famous ones like Nureyev and Barishnikov. She left the dressing room without responding to Jolene who knew how much Peacock was struggling with the addiction. Screw her.

Even more than a cigarette, Peacock longed for Sam’s mouth on hers but she knew that was a waste of longing. She found herself on the stage door elevator and instead of pressing Ground Floor, she pressed the Up button for the floor that housed the Casino offices. Mr. Gentian’s office was empty, as she knew it would be. She walked to the corner that housed all the exquisite orchids and spoke to the one displaying deep red and fuchsia petals that resembled blood-engorged flesh.

“Here, this is for you.” And she kicked off her shoes and danced for the flower in her tank top and flowing poppy skirt with abandon. Arms and legs extended in all directions; back bent forward and back; on half-toe and on flat; Amy performed for the orchid. The delicate flower quivered from the vibrations.

When the music in her head finished, she sank down onto the Aubusson carpet in front of the flower. She studied it carefully to ascertain whether the orchid showed any deleterious effects. It might have been her imagination, but she thought it looked heartier, more glowing.

“If I can survive all this without wilting,” Peacock said, “So can you.” And she reached out and caressed the petals of the flower that was so like her heart.

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4 comments

  1. Such wonderful sensory imagery in “The Fan Girl,” and such poignancy about self-imposed rites of passage in the Expressway to Hell. . . great job, Jewel!


  2. Great Stories, especially enjoyed the Expressway to Hell! Thanks for sharing your work.


  3. I love your stories! The spinning on black ice…so scary. The fan girls seems somehow familiar. So, what is the rest of the story?
    Love your work. Thank you for sharing.


  4. The story about the brothers, the Expressway, and being with Bernie for Thanksgiving was a poignant one, something that speaks to everyone, to be sure. Thanks for keeping me in the loop of the spinning wheel of your stories. Phyllis



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