Soundtracked: Julien Baker’s ‘Sprained Ankle’
Soundtracked is a new feature that we couldn’t be more excited to share with y’all. It’s not a review, but a reaction to the music being consumed. Lucas, our newest contributor is going to take the time to listen to an album and write a brief piece of fiction inspired by the work in which the songs act as chapters. I was hooked from the pitch, and I couldn’t be more excited to share the first of what I hope is many to come. Soundtracked 1: Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle.
They ran in unison towards the grey metal door lurching slowly away from them, their shuffling feet pushing gravel dull zippers. The first feet landed on the panel-board floor and echoed through the slats in the walls. She was last. The camera strap on her shoulder hung loosely. The lens cover was still on her camera as she turned to take a picture. She set the cover on the curved metal top and snapped the picture. The lens cover sat on top as the train churned through the night, finally sliding off a bridge, gliding down to the flowing stream below.
Her camera perched on her bent legs in the early morning. The group behind her curled asleep in the corners of the car. Through the night the train drove through the dry valley and now they were traveling through a grassy plain. It stretched out further than she could see and the tall brush bent in the morning wind. The sun simmered and crackled on the yellow grass. Her camera caught the shine of the sun within its lens. She looked for the green blades of grass between the tall yellow brush. In the distance thin, wispy plumes of smoke rose.
Cars passed them on the highway through the night and they ran out of train tracks twice through the day. By the train tracks they trudged through and tripped up in mud pits, and between the trees sat the hazy smoke from previous passing trains. In the thick pools of water deep within the trees sticks of plants stood. Between the trees, streaks of light blast through. She swung the camera off her shoulder to take a picture. When the sun began to set, glowing orange over the plains, making golden the brush, they saw the plume of smoke rising ahead.
The first two had already jumped and caught themselves on the slope to shimmy, staggering, down the dirt hill. She held her camera up, taking pictures as they jumped. As they fell the daylight filtered into the lens, shadowing their contorted bodies. She was left on the slowly moving train. They stood looking at her looking past them in the distance taking pictures beyond them. She slid the camera to her opposite shoulder and jumped. As she landed her boots slid on the loose dirt, pushing her directly into a blackberry bush. Thorns broke her skin, trailing blood down her arm.
The rest of them rested curled into a mass on the bed. A thin trail of clothes led from the end of the bed to a closed door. Light shined from underneath, the sound of water through the walls.
Inside the bathroom, steam hung thick everywhere. The sound of water drowned out everything as it rushed to the drain. She sat, feet crossed, watching him quietly. He sat under the water with his back to her, breathing heavily, largely. Her wet hair stuck to her back and raised spine. The black bag sat on top of the toilet, guts spilling out.
During the heavy midday sun they listened to the chugging of the train. She stood behind them taking pictures. They talked, planned, mused, laughing until one almost rolled through the open train door having to be caught.
The sun beat down. The sides of the train became hot. By late afternoon, they had to keep their legs from swinging because the metal became too hot to touch. Behind them through the broken slats were hordes and hordes of trees, the swamp behind it drying in the heat. She didn’t speak, only watched them through her camera, playing rock, paper, scissors, yawning.
They fidgeted on the edge of the crowded bed and trembled. The black bag sat between them. She kept close with the camera and kept an eye on them through the lens. The piles of bodies and intersecting arms formed mountain lines. The closeness of the subjects distorted the shaking actions.
The hands on the bag cupped and clasped each other and the lines from the dirt of previous days hung to them and created new veins. Inside, his hands looked the same. Dirt filled the lines and turned the deep wells hard, thick. The blue clustered veins showed from underneath.
Inside the lurching train sound echoed off the metal front walls and bounced around until the wood slats opposite soaked it up and drifted it off into the trees where the slow leaves heard it. The dark water sat still against the rhythm of the sounds.
She sat along the edge of the door, back to the sun and brush, taking pictures of them against the wall. The sun vertically broke up their bodies into sections, parts of them black, in shadows, and the thin wind pushed the hair around their ears. Their dark blue veins exploded in the bright sun.
He fell asleep on the tile next to the shower. The bag’s spilled out contents dropped from the tank to the seat cover. The bag hung from the tank, folded. She sat against the wall with her back curled, spine pressing. Her camera sat between her legs on the tile. Its strap lay across her bare leg and hung over the outside of her thigh. She sat with her head lowered on her raised knee, flipping the strap back and forth with the back of her hand. Her hazy day ended abruptly, lazily, sitting watching him sleep, forgotten from light exposure.