"Among the Problems of Being Alice (Last Week in Manchester)"
Just being beautiful isn't enough, of course. She lays on the couch in the front room (not the one in the back room; that one has a different purpose), trying to look meaningful. But just like every time, she's forgotten how much the cushions swallow her body, so she ends up feeling dramatic and silly. Still, she gets better at this each time. It's not something anyone explained to her, really, but she's got her routine down. You get here, you settle in, you try and find something to talk about. Alice sort of knew one of the other girls who used to come here, and sometimes she thinks about bringing that up, but then Nidra went off to play in a bigger city, so maybe that's not a good conversation starter? So she drinks her bourbon, turns on her charm, and holds her pose. She smiles wryly to herself. Most people just don't appreciate the challenges of being a muse.
"Squeaky and Clean; Jane at the Palm Leaf Motel"
She sings real good harmony but for some reason she can't ever quite find the melody. Me and Marina we got that sweet kind of soreness deep deep in our bones that comes from having just one sip too much bourbon one too many nights in a row. I'm in an imitation La-Z-Boy and she sleeps at my feet on cheap motel shag carpeting.
"Vera Channelling a Colorado Diner Waitress"
I hear the voice of God. It comes over to my table and tells me about the winters here. It refills my coffee and says yeah we get some snow but the next day its all blown to North Dakota. The voice of God says you want patty or link and I think of harmonies and angels and Patsy Cline.
"A Change of Scenery; Martha Near Where She Grew Up"
Trees, they're always moving. People have it confused, wondering whether that falling oak makes a noise when they're not around to hear it, but the trees know it's not just about the falling. Sure, they sway in the winter winds, smaller ones moving every which way, bigger ones subject only to the serious gusts. And we see that. And maybe hear it if we get still. But we don't see them get up in the middle of the night and walk around. They change places. They hike up hillsides. They walk to the other side of the forest, even. Like me, trees sometimes need a new vantage point.
"Treading Lightly; Once Upon a Vera"
Vera writes a short story (slightly based on fact) about her mom working for the Hubert Humphrey presidential campaign in 1968. It's not a sci-fi story, but apparently the story is so well-written that it accidentally alters the historical canon. Humphrey wins, history changes, several of her friends are never born, and she marries a girl named Cynthia who she had been best friends with in third grade, but who previously had died when Vera was eleven. Also, Instagram has never been invented, but her hamster Judy goes viral on Pics-O-Pets (which has been invented), and she (Judy, not Vera) is elected as a U.S. Senator from Delaware, so Vera has to spend most of her time crafting policy positions for her. So be careful what you write.
"Interacting With the Public Can be so Draining (Alice After Work)"
Alice works weekends at the museum of wild animals who have been trained to play possum on command. She doesn't actually train them but is a tourguide who talks about each animal and its personality. People often ask her why the museum doesn't have actual possums but Alice always ignores the question and instead tells the story about Rory the iguana who loves concord grapes.
"On a Much Needed Break From Work; Vera on a Random Sunday Night"
Vera is having a dream in which she has a job doing the voiceovers for the dreams of the famous and the infamous. After a sip of hot tea with lemon, she speaks into the microphone: "...But Jared turns his back to Ivanka, instead turning his attention to Tina Turner, who is watching the news wearing nothing but a pale green teddy and stark white bunny slippers. He fails to notice Ike in the kitchen with a shotgun". What's not clear is whether she's aware of the fact that, at the same time, I'm doing the voiceover for her dream.
"The Turtle Ponds Near Sherando (Monterey Long Ago)"
Monterey tastes the water flowing into her. Monterey is a pond all overgrown with vines and bushes and water spiders. Monterey has a muddy bottom. I call her name and irritation ripples across her face.
"Jane Differently, Once Before Near Covington"
In dark dark woods haunted songs are coming in staticky from a public radio station in Roanoke. The power's out but a chilly rain glows at the window. In ten years I'll hear that voice again and I'll think about those songs and I'll feel that chilly rain against our skins.
"Out Front; Vera Hoping for Deliveries"
This'll help. I promise. What you do is, you just wake up and write. Doesn't have to be anything good. Doesn't have to be good at all. Just open your eyes in the morning and put some words down on some paper. Don't put them on a monitor. Or worse, a phone. Put the words onto paper. Nobody's got typewriters anymore, and that would be too much trouble anyway. Just get yourself a good pen and a good notebook, and slowly fill it up with any old words that you happen to see walking past. And you don't even have to look at those words, if you don't want. I promise. Just putting them on the paper is going to help a lot.
"With No Attention to my Agenda (Kate's Friend Ameila, Probably on a Tuesday)"
You know, you can take your toe, and draw a line in the sand, and you can dare whoever you damn well please to step over it. You can be as strong, and as willful, and as smart, and as beautiful as anything that ever walked this December beach. But in spite of your best efforts, in spite of your skillful designs, and in spite of your better judgement, there's a salty ocean wave who never even notices as she wipes the best of your intentions out into that gray ocean.