Lock No. 10, essay by Megan Lewis

Park­er and he went out to the lock.

He drove fast down dark roads. Roads that remem­ber us still. He parked. Next to the his­tor­i­cal marker—

I think.

We stum­bled through a star­less night, right down to the water. Right down to the water’s edge and we sat on the grass—cool, damp.

Took his pipe out of his pock­et. A lighter too. Inhaled.

Kissed her, blew the smoke into her mouth. She didn’t cough.

Didn’t cough lying on the grass there. Down by the water. Out at the lock. And we laid back, sight­less, the night warm, and passed the pipe back and forth.

Tongues and spit and his hand beneath her shirt. My nip­ples hard and his fin­gers harder.

His pants slid down easy, even if her fin­gers were unsure, and there he was—and we both high—and in her mouth as he mur­mured all those words six­teen-year-old girls need to hear.

Hon­ey, baby, oh yeah, so good.

And his hand in my hair.

Not the Erie canal, not the one in the song, but a dif­fer­ent one along the Shenango—near the dam. Lock No. 10. That’s where we went. It was dead then—the rail­road came and killed it. And then the steel mills died and killed the rail­roads too.

Miles of track they ripped up.

She sucked him hard, moved her head up and down, her hand too, hair wild and messy and falling into her eyes.

The rail­roads killed the canal and the steel mills they killed every­thing. Killed my friend’s uncle, cut him right in half.

Beneath my tongue and in and out of space and a time and place we want to for­get but which remem­bers us still and will come for us when we’re old.

The mill jobs are gone, but only a few escape. They go and live in the city, by the three rivers, and pre­tend they got away but as long as the water is near they remain sight­less in the night and it’s all the same as if no one left.

We nev­er left.

Park­er and he went out to the lock and we’re there still. He eager in my mouth, press­ing toward the future, dying to escape, and her believ­ing if she sucks hard enough he just might—

He just might like me.

Oh hon­ey, baby, maybe next time.

he grass is cool and damp and we can’t see any­thing. The trains killed every­thing and I hear the whis­tles. The trains killed every­thing except the mills and the mills killed them.

Miles of track ripped up. Came across some rail­road ties aban­doned in the coun­try­side once. Out there fish­ing with my dad and the dog he shot. A Sun­day after­noon and I stood pre­car­i­ous on the ties they had forgotten.

He put a bul­let in her and claimed it was ’cause she was too stu­pid. Too stu­pid to live, that’s what he said.

Actu­al­ly, he said, he said that he took the dog to a farm.

Just for­got to men­tion that he shot her when he got there.

For being dumb.

When we were eight the union went on strike. A mill job was a good job, the kind you could keep, retire on and live a respectable life.

Even if the smoke made you cough and the asbestos scarred your lungs, like my neigh­bor. They gave his wid­ow a set­tle­ment and she put in a swim­ming pool and start­ed res­cu­ing dogs, some of them vicious; you’d be too if you had been kicked around like that.

He made good mon­ey, the kind your wid­ow can dig a cement hole with, a respectable death.

The union lost and the mills died off, most­ly, and the town went on. Most­ly too. A ser­vice econ­o­my now and the jobs pay less—but our hands are clean and no one gets cut in half anymore.


My mom called me up the oth­er day, said so‑and‑so’s nephew shot him­self at the big hotel, the big hotel where she used to work.

A ser­vice econ­o­my and a bul­let in your brain, just like the dog. The best you can do when there’s noth­ing more to be done and the Steel­ers are on TV.

You know the water’s down there. And you hear the whis­tles in the dis­tance as he pulls his pants up and the shift ends at the mill and the train goes by and your throat is sticky and maybe your hair a lit­tle bit too.

The men stag­ger from the mill to their cars and from their cars to the bars and drink Yuengling. And you stum­ble blind and high and stu­pid back to the car.

And he turns to you, turns on you. Turns as he puts the car into dri­ve and says—

He says, if you tell Mag­gie about tonight, I’ll lie. And she’ll believe me.

You won’t tell. Won’t say a word about any of it—the trains, the town, the guy who got cut in half, the dead dog. And you’re going to leave here some­day soon and you won’t come back.

The dark roads remem­ber us still and he dri­ves fast. Through the town’s only stop­light. Past the bars where the men drink Yuengling and PBR. Past the boarded‑up mills. Down dim­ly lit streets, stop­ping in front of her par­ents’ per­fect lawn.

A dog barks and he doesn’t kiss her good­night, don’t know why you expect­ed him to. He just dri­ves away.

I hear the water still and the ties are some­where. Some­where we ripped them up.

Some­where. And there’s a dog.

And the men drink beer. And talk about the good old days. And watch the Steel­ers’ game and don’t talk about the guy who got cut in half.

And he’s one of them.

We’re out there, some­where, down by the water. And you—you got away, got cut in half a few times any­way, but you opened your eyes and you got away.

Sticky hair and all.

Pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished in Prague Revue

Megan Lewis writes a weird mix of erot­i­ca and lit­er­ary fic­tion and has been known to occa­sion­al­ly mas­quer­ade as Park­er Mar­lo, usu­al­ly when refer­ring to her­self in the third per­son. She is also the nar­cis­sist behind Mug­wump Press (www​.mug​wump​press​.com), a shame­less­ly cap­i­tal­ist endeav­or. When not pimp­ing writ­ers or writ­ing fic­tion, Megan works as a free­lance edi­tor. Find her at www​.park​er​mar​lo​.com and @parkermarlo.

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