"North of Avon But South of Me; Dare County Lorraine"
Driving down NC-12 with warm salty water in her bathing suit, Lorraine has to go six or seven miles before she finds an empty pulloff. August sweat drips out of her bangs and leaves little lines of unfogginess on Lorraine's glasses as she gets out of her car and waits for the last unsuspecting vacationers to go by.
"Life is a Carnival and Other Stories; Jane Aboard an Imaginary Cruise Ship"
Jane is telling me about her dream. I am an officer aboard a Carnival cruise ship on a voyage up the James River to Howardsville. (Yes, I'm aware of the absurdity of a cruise ship in Howardsville. It's Jane's dream.) A girl named Corinne, who was a pretentious girl who Jane knew in kindergarten, is serving us breakfast. (Yes, it is probably relevant that Corinne was pretentious even in kindergarten.) Corinne is refilling Jane's coffee, but she is also the ship's captain, so she's making sure I know where the creamers are kept in case I ever have to help serve too.
"Once in Tennessee (Sleepy Time Motel Lorraine)"
Motels sleep - sometimes for generations at a time - and then awaken all at once in the middle of the night with a start, stumbling up and stubbing their toes on their way to the bathroom. So you just relax. Just keep your eyes on what you think is holy and don't be looking for ways out of here.
"Watching Steve McQueen Driving Race Cars (Sara in February)"
Chances are taken. A rule is broken. A rite of passage is abandoned. The hotel rooms Sara sneaks up to don't matter - no, not in the least - but sometimes when she lets herself get too used to the good bourbon, the everyday stuff does suffer by comparison. Packages from her mom sit unopened on her kitchen table as a song on Sara's radio asks if she is lonesome tonight. Later she will finish off the last of the good bottle and watch old movies til she falls asleep. Sara has gotten very good at knowing what things are worth.
"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.
"Lost on Route 69; Amelia in the Middle"
Between any two notes there must be at least a half a million symphonies. Between any two trees, a half a million photographs. Between any two roads there are a half a million destinations, a half a million novels between any two words. Between you and me, though, there's nothing but this calm and lovely silence.
"Having an Elaborate Imagination is Often Helpful; Ellery's Recurring Dream"
She goes to the Kroger and buys two packages of crescent roll dough. She makes a twelve inch tall version of the Pillsbury Dough Boy with most of it and eats the rest raw. She puts the little fellow and a Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottle into a little bed that she's made out of a New Balance running shoe box and some old Sears catalog pages. In the morning she and Mrs. Butterworth go to the beach after she's turned the Dough Boy back into a giant crescent roll.
"Much That I Try, I Will Never Keep Up; Vera in Any Random Campground"
After she's done wrestling with her own conscience, she wrestles with mine as well. Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded best friend, she asks me, but before I can give her a thoughtful and honest answer, she's got her dress back on and has started down the gravel driveway to the snack bar.
"The Few Things That Matter (Ellery at Alice's, and Why That's Apparently Important)"
Rhyme. Reason. Words. Music. A consonantic sleep. There aren't many things that really change Alice's face. "I'm content enough", she says to no one in particular. And yes, with the things she's been through, content enough means a lot. "This is not yet a fully developed character", Alice said once. It took me years to understand she was talking about me.
"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.
"The Best Winter Phoebe"
There are tears at night and sometimes during the day, but mostly you just walk past the closed storefronts of this forgettable winter beach, stopping to watch the flickering images from The Price is Right on a teevee in the window of a forgettable winter bar. Walking back on the beach to your hotel, you'll get lost for hours, watching the shells at your feet, conversing with the million or so lifetimes of the tiny animals who once lived in them, and seeing your own face in them. You're talking crazy without making a sound, trading sand dollars and scotch bonnets and olives with the perfect silence. So forget about the person you wished you had turned out to be, and steady your belief in the face you see there.