These are the posts where you can find little snack sized bites of my writing.
Around 500 words or so.
They may stack together to form a linear narrative. Or maybe they won’t.
Feel free to review or ridicule.
Alice is glad to see the “Welcome to Murphysboro” sign has not changed in the six years since she has been home. The creepy apple which serves as the town’s mascot leers off the sign at her and offers a hand in greeting as she drives up the hill, past the Hardees’s and into the sad strip of dusty thrift stores, hippie coffee shops, and beauty parlors that serve as the “downtown” and main street. It looks exactly as she remembers it except for the emergence of what looks like a bar and grill in the old Parker drugstore building.
She drives away from the downtown and past her old high school, the library and the post office. Her family home is near here, a sharp left and then a right on Twin Lake Drive. She never could understand the name, since there wasn’t a drop of water in sight, only an endless subdivision of seventies era split level houses. Alice bypasses the turn, and instead heads down the road to the Kroger.
She isn’t ready yet.
Inside the grocery store Alice roams the aisles without purpose or plan. Her main goal of the trip—to fortify her return home with as many alcoholic beverages as possible has already been fulfilled. She has spent the last ten minutes wheeling a cart around the store filled with vodka, limes, a six pack of New Castle, several bottles of tonic, the assorted ingredients for a pitcher of spicy Bloody Mary’s, and a box of Benadryl. She plans to spend several days getting drunk and sleeping. What else is there to do?
Idly, Alice roams the cookie and cracker aisle. She maneuvers her cart around an elderly couple squabbling over the price of Triscuits, the wife waving a fistful of coupons in the air as proof of the cracker’s affordability. She pushes her cart with one hand and trails her other hand over packages of Oreos, Fudge Stripes, and some generic sandwich cookie. She can’t remember the last time she has been in a grocery store; they make her feel kind of panicky and strange, like something has gone very, very wrong. Alice has never had the kind of life that require grocery lists, shopping carts full of food, or coupons. The lists, coupons, and carts seemed to imply a life of deliberateness, and a fullness of the sort that Alice can’t quite seem to master.
Alice hears someone call her name, but doesn’t look up. She is sure she is about to be duped into one of those awkward moments when she thinks someone is speaking to her but really they are talking to the person behind her. Her tentative “Hello” squished under the booming greeting of the true recipient. Surely a six year absence was long enough to have changed, to look different? She had always been mostly invisible in this town—who could know her now?
The voice screeches again, louder and more aggressive. “Alice Higgins? Alice? Stop pretending like you don’t know me, it’s Caroline Morris, well—Jacoby, now.” Alice finally looks up and notices on the name Jacoby that the woman waves a monstrous (and ugly, in Alice’s estimation) platinum wedding ring in her direction. Alice glances down at her own bare and bony ring finger and wonders when women will get tired of brandishing their rings like they are some kind of irrefutable proof of their worth.
Alice had her own engagement ring once. Lucas Smith bought it for her three years ago. This was before they started fighting about the tiny things which were really passive aggressive placeholders for the big things they wanted to fight about: her commitment issues, his addiction to porn, her need for space, his hurry to get married. The ring was bulky and heavy. It kept getting caught on her pants pockets, in her hair, and it snagged several pairs of tights. She set it on the edge of the bathroom sink one day and never saw it again. Four months later, Lucas moved in with some girl he met on Craigslist.
Alice missed Lucas and the ring like she missed everything else; she poked and prodded the emptiness like a tongue searching for a recently pulled molar. She missed Lucas, but she was sure she wouldn’t miss deleting porn off of her computer. And yet, several weeks after Lucas left, she found herself looking at porn on the internet, wondering if she was missing something. Maybe she could learn to be the kind of girl a man would leave his fiancée for. Was it something she needed to do with her tongue? Was it really all about the anal sex?
Engagement Ring: Lost Thing # 313.
Lucas Smith: Lost Thing#314.
Innocence (after looking at all that porn): Lost Thing #315.
The hurricane ripped the roof right off of Alice’s apartment building. She wasn’t there to see it (she was sitting in a 14 hour-long traffic jam outside Jackson, Mississippi by then), but she imagined it looked like something out of the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz, but instead of a cow, a bicycle, and hunks of a house whirling around in the vortex, it was her record player, her vintage hat collection, and endless photographs of ex-boyfriends being tossed about. Alice doesn’t much care about the photos, but she will really miss those hats—bowlers and cloches, and even a doeskin derby.
Alice feels the loss of the hats with a slight pang that other people might associate with the death of a small pet (turtles or hamsters)— a tiny gasp of loss, a brief and momentary sadness, pure and clean, the kind she likes best. Alice is accustomed to losing things: car keys, the words to her favorite songs, her mother. She puts the hats on her mental list of lost things somewhere above the bird cage she lost in Hot Springs, Arkansas and the car (a 1992 Dodge Stratus) that was stolen once in Baltimore and then for good in New Orleans. For Alice, the losing is never the hard part; it’s the missing she has trouble with. She misses everything and everyone like an amputated limb. All of that empty space hurts to touch.
Vintage Hats: Lost Thing # 417.
Her friend Opal has declared her a national disaster area, and each time she visits she tacks up a list of emergency numbers on Alice’s refrigerator. The numbers range from the practical (911), to the ridiculous (the 800 numbers for FEMA and The Red Cross), to the outright absurd (The National Guard). The numbers are a joke, but if anyone needs emergency assistance, it’s Alice. She has had her house catch on fire twice, been robbed three times, stood huddled in doorways during several earthquakes, and now finally, the roof has blown off of her life.
On the way back from New Orleans, where Opal and Alice spent a mournful four hours viewing the wreckage of Alice’s apartment, Opal is silent and fidgety. She drives slowly, and passes rarely. She keeps glancing at Alice as she drives, one hand on the wheel, the other fluttering nervously beside her, floating off the arm rest and up to the radio and back again. She reminds Alice of an anxious mother braced to throw her arm across the chest of a child to cushion the blow of a collision. Alice wants to tell her not to bother, but she is too tired. Disasters always make her sleepy.
“So what now?” Opal finally asks.
Opal’s voice, soft and whispery like Spanish moss, gives life to the question Alice has been asking herself for over a month. She asked herself everyday in the shower. She asked herself each night on Opal’s porch while she smacked at mosquitoes and wondered when she could go back to New Orleans. She asked herself while she watched Anderson Cooper slosh around in water on CNN.
“Duck and cover.” It’s a protection technique Alice knows well. Once, during a third grade tornado drill, she won a ribbon for executing the maneuver the fastest. Alice was an award-winning avoider, but now she is out of practice.
“Where?” Opal asks.
“There’s no place like home, right?”