"When the Details Come Back to You; Vera at The Dutchman's"
A pair of electric guitars trade riffs over a tinny radio speaker. Vera walks up the steps on the side of the building and enters a seldom-used door above a screened-in porch. From there she walks down a long hallway with peeling wallpaper and lovely vintage lighting fixtures. At the end of the hall, she turns, walks up a fairly grand flight of stairs, finds a locked door with a key in the lock, unlocks the door and walks out into the courtyard of a 1950's-era motel in the middle of a 2am rainstorm. It feels as though David Lynch might be nearby. She realizes at last whose face is in the faded photograph in her locket.
"Kinda Like The Newlywed Game (Mary After Work)"
Mary used to have a job as a game show host a few years back. She would dress up like a 1950's housewife and ask the contestants embarrassing questions about their ex-lovers. It was only on a weird local station that nobody much watched and even fewer companies advertised on. Her show was on right after one of those local talent shows that was taped in front of an audience at the local high school auditorium, so a surprising number (and assortment) of people saw her. The station got bought out by some big media company, and Mary works retail now. People come in all the time and recognize her without knowing quite where they recognize her from.
"The Alice I Drew After Dinner"
Alice and me, we take turns drawing each other, but no one uses pencils, no one uses paper. The only art supplies are leftover pasta, cat fur, and used motor oil. You pick out the least important things, erase those out of the picture and try and make the stuff that remains that much bolder and prettier.
"Jane and the Channeling of Ambivalent Eels (Homage to Francesca)"
Yes, the photograph. The story has long been handed down in my eel-family, without understanding your fascination. The photograph is a thing that, when we see it on your wall, we take both pride and a prideful eel-revulsion in. Yes, our eel-ancestor enjoys a certain fame, a certain eel-historical relevance, allowing herself to lay curled next to that curled one of your species.
But why is this of interest to you? Do you wonder what both were thinking? Of course, your species sometimes needs to empathize with the pitiable, so perhaps you identify with the sadness your human must have felt, her own misshapen blob next to my ancestor's sinuous beauty? She is so eel-lovely, there in that bowl, next to that odd and bulbous terror.
Of course. We need not speak further. We understand. Such is the truth of culture. You visit our species. Our species visits you.
But oh, what eel-things we endure for this selfish thing that you call your art.
(Drawing based on "Eel Series 1977-8" by Francesca Woodman)
"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.
"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 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.
"Imaginary Vera in an Imaginary Waffle House"
She tried keeping up but one too many trucks and busses and ten p.m. interstate dramas have pushed her down the off ramp and into the black night. So Vera sits alone - scattered and smothered and diced - in a booth while her water glass sweats all over the whole damned restaurant. Her concentration lapses right out the window toward I-95, and you can't much blame it really. Vera thinks a lot about what will come after, and then becomes invisible.
"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.
"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.
"A Steady Belief in February (Kill Devil Hills Anna)"
It's not about me. It's about porch furniture on concrete porches, overlooking a pool or two, closed for the season but holding tight to memories of swimsuit-clad women lounging here long before I was born. It's about an ice machine that struggles onward, dedicated to the concept that my bourbon is only one of many needs for one of many chills, in spite of February. It's about a cold and deserted evening, no moon, and more stars than you'd've thought possible. It's about everyone who's ever gotten up for whatever middle-of-the-night reason, stumbled out their door to find that angry-mom ocean just a few steps away. It's about the dignity that, no matter who I might have brought back to cabin number five's tired mattress from whichever winter bar that I found both open and comforting, I would always be welcome. It's about the place I need to be.