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“I stop in front of the bus station, look in on the waiting people, and think about all the places they are going. But I know they can’t run away from it or drink their way out of it or die to get rid of it. It’s always there, you just look at somebody and they give you a look like the Wrath of God.”

from “A Room Forever” by Breece D’J Pancake  ♠Add a Tooltip Text


film clip is from My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant; song is “Jim Dean of Indiana” by Phil Ochs

These are summaries of short stories by Breece Pancake, West Virginian. (1952-1979)

A guy is sad because his dad just died. The guy is around twenty. He likes looking for special rocks. Fossils, arrowheads, etc. He tries to grow sugar cane on the family farm, but the crops fail. Blight. So his mom has to sell the land. The guy hates himself. The good news is, he is learning to stand up to bossy women.

A man drives a snowplow for the highway authority in a mountainous county. The man’s son is a missing person and he makes a big show of looking for him; but it’s possible that he killed this son and fed him to the hogs. Because he is a serial killer. He picks up a hitchhiker in his plowing truck, the perfect victim. But he decides not to kill the hitchhiker at the last minute. Because the killer is too tired to make the effort, and he doesn’t want to have to clean the blood out of his truck. Also the hitchhiker is polite.

A woman wants to be pregnant but she hasn’t found out if she is or not. She thinks she probably is not pregnant but she’s not sure. This is happening in the nineteen-sixties when medical professionals actually killed rabbits to detect pregnancy in women. They injected human blood into rabbits’ veins. The woman is pretty sure she’s not pregnant, but she’s holding onto a sliver of hope. She goes to the state fair and sees a side-show of monkeys mating, having sex. She later finds out she is not pregnant. She blames the monkeys.

A man works on river barges: one month on, one month off. He is in a river town waiting for his barge to arrive so he can board it and go to work. He is lonely. It’s New Year’s Eve. He hires a “chippy,” or prostitute. She is very young and tragically new to the business. She is traumatized by their transaction. Angry, guilty, put-out, he returns to his rented room.

A trailer-tractor driver pulls into the town where he spent his childhood. He has decided to visit his “family,” who he hasn’t seen in years. The trucker was a foster child, and the family who fostered him had two bad-natured children of their own. These kids did things like burn bees alive and stab puppies in the heart. The family’s real son tried to scare the foster child/trucker—this all happened way in the past—by doing a doughnut in his father’s car on a highway bridge. The bad son wrecked the car and was paralyzed in the crash. The foster child/trucker survived with no permanent damage. A few itchy scars. The whole family blamed the foster child and they hated him deeply from that day on until he left and went to find his own way in life.

As it turns out, the family still wants him to burn in hell, and they tell him so. He gets back on the road immediately, though they had invited him to spend the night.