Lee Matthew Goldberg
Publication date: April 29th 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
They told me I was an out-of-control train about to crash…
Everything changed when the police officer knocked on the door to tell me – a 16-year-old – that my older sister Kristen had died of a brain aneurysm. Cue the start of my parents neglecting me and my whole life spiraling out of control.
I decided now was the perfect time to skip town. It’s the early 90’s, Kurt Cobain runs the grunge music scene and I just experienced some serious trauma. What’s a girl supposed to do? I didn’t want to end up like Kristen, so I grabbed my bucket list, turned up my mixtape of the greatest 90’s hits and fled L.A.. The goal was to end up at Kurt Cobain’s house in Seattle, but I never could have guessed what would happen along the way.
At turns heartbreaking, inspiring, and laugh out loud funny, Runaway Train is a wild journey of a bygone era and a portrait of a one-of-a-kind teenage girl trying to find herself again the only way she knows how.
I’m still high after leaving Winter’s house and decide to just drive around and around as the sun sets beyond the hills coating the sky orange and purple. I adjust the rearview mirror to apply my MAC Viva Glam Taupe Lipstick with brown lip liner and take a moment to assess myself. My hair has been dyed so many colors it appears clumpy and lifeless. The baby fat has finally fled from my cheeks, but my chin still looks weak (thanks Mom), unlike Dad or Kristen’s strong jaw. My smile makes me resemble a chipmunk, and no one would ever call me beautiful, pretty maybe if I spend hours doing my makeup, but most likely, simply cute. Again, like a chipmunk.
I hit play on my mixtape and “Runaway Train” blasts. I roll up the windows so I can sing it loud without feeling embarrassed, belting the chorus that coincides with my upcoming journey, my flight to nowhere and everywhere at the same time. I’ve got the courage to run away now, but what would happen once I come down from my high? I’ll likely curl up in bed to the sounds of In Utero, solely on my Walkman since Mom had freakin’ broken my stereo.
I arrive home during Mazzy Star’s luscious and mournful “Fade Into You.” When I walk through the front door, Mom and Dad are waiting on opposite couches. Dad clears his throat.
“Park it, Scrap,” he says, a nickname that used to be endearing when I was little, but now indicates how little he’s involved in my life. I’m just a scrap to him, leftovers on a plate.
Dad has a sweep of silver hair that might have been called dashing like a movie star, but his tired, weighed-down eyes keep him ordinary. Winter once said that from far away he looks like Richard Gere in Pretty Woman and that she’d “do him.” I responded by punching her in her big boob.
Mom gives a shy wave, as if we’re old friends reuniting. I don’t even bother to check if I give off a weed odor. Screw ‘em both.
“I know about your mother and Mr. Ferguson,” Dad says. He doesn’t sigh like I expect him to; he explains their tryst like he’s rattling off what we’re having for dinner. “I have been seeing someone else as well. Annette.”
I scrunch my face up. “Annette?” I picture some over-sexed French lady sharing my father’s office cot after a boink session and feeding him escargot.
“Your mother and I are getting a divorce.”
An image of Jeremy sashays into my thoughts, hands on hips, and an “I told ya so” pouring from his lips over and over. When I look at Mom, she gives a sobering nod.
“This is for the best, Nico,” she says, and tries to grab my hand but I whip it away.
“I’ll be staying with Annette at her place in Los Feliz,” Dad continues. “You won’t have to move.”
“What if I don’t want to live with her,” I say, pointing at my mother like she’s a defendant in a courtroom. That woman!
Mom chews on her lip. “Nico, we don’t want to uproot you. And your father needs time to settle in.”
“I don’t wanna live with him either.”
Finally, the two of them glance at each other, former opponents aligned against a new adversary.
“I’m gonna stay with Winter,” I shout. “Her mom already said it’s okay. They have an extra room.”
“That’s a big imposition,” Dad barks, smoothing down his tie as if we’re in a goddamn business meeting.
“I’ll help around their house. Edina’s practically begged me. And this isn’t working out so we’ll try it.”
I stand up like I’m the parent who already made the decision. The allies glance at each other again, neither willing to put up too much of a fight for me.
“O-kay,” they both say in eerie harmony.
“I just need to pack,” I say. “I’ll be out of your hair tonight.”
“Nico, there’s no rush,” my mom says. She stands up but just teeters in place, afraid to make a move.
I’m holding back tears, refusing to be emotional in front of them. I tell myself to be cold like Dad, a robot in flannel.
“Why waste any more time,” I say, flapping my arms. “Like, we waste so much time all the time, ya-know? And then one day…”
I mime the action of dropping dead and watch their faces scrunch up in response.
“So, it’s been fun parental units. I’ll call you in a few days when I’m settled too.”
I spin around to head up the stairs. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Mom try to come after me, but Dad raises his palm to hold her back. Am I not even worth an argument? I guess fucking not.
I dash into my room, get out a duffel bag, and throw in everything I think I’d need. My yellow Sports Walkman and a shit ton of batteries. A dozen different band T-shirts and four practically identical flannels, a few various chokers, an off the shoulder leotard, two straight fit jeans, and two jeans shorts that I made by cutting up old pairs, some glitter nail polish, a couple of baby doll dresses, a Jansport backpack, some joints, my fake ID where my name is Sasha Lioni and I go to USC, a bag of makeup and hair dye, a Nirvana poster that I’d tape up in my car, and finally a picture of Kristen and I, nine and ten years old at camp on a trip up to Big Sur, the sun a bright melon ball making us squint, our arms around one another, smiles filled with braces, still innocent and unexposed to any tragedies.
On my way down, Dad meets me at the bottom of the stairs. He has his gas card in his hand.
“Use it as much as you need,” he says, tucking it in my jeans pocket. He gives me a pat on the shoulder. I can hear my mother sniffling in the kitchen. I keep my eyes trained to the floor and duck out of there, tossing the duffel bag in the passenger’s seat and roaring off into the night.
Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of the novels THE ANCESTOR, THE MENTOR, THE DESIRE CARD and SLOW DOWN. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the Prix du Polar. His first YA series RUNAWAY TRAIN is forthcoming in 2021 along with a sci-fi novel ORANGE CITY. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in The Millions, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, LitReactor, Monkeybicycle, Fiction Writers Review, Cagibi, Necessary Fiction, the anthology Dirty Boulevard, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, The New Plains Review, Underwood Press and others. He is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Fringe, dedicated to publishing fiction that’s outside-of-the-box. His pilots and screenplays have been finalists in Script Pipeline, Book Pipeline, Stage 32, We Screenplay, the New York Screenplay, Screencraft, and the Hollywood Screenplay contests. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series and lives in New York City. Follow him at LeeMatthewGoldberg.com
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