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?