"The Definition of What Is and Is Not Acceptable (Vera's Dream After the Big Concert)"
In her dream, Vera is relaxing in the creek after her concert. It went really well, and her manager, Sean Connery, is telling her how great she did. But as he's talking this duck swims up underwater and grabs onto her thigh with its weird, fully openable beak. She's trying to figure out what to do about the duck as Sean is saying he has some people who came tonight who want to meet her, and she looks over and sees Bob Dylan standing on the dock fishing while David Bowie is leaning against the boathouse smoking a cigarette (in his white suit from the Let's Dance video). But the duck is not letting go of her leg. It's not super painful, but still, there's this underwater duck with a weird beak attached to her thigh. She's trying to get the duck to let go of her leg, even though neither Sean nor Bob nor David can even see what it's doing. Is strangling a duck still inexcusable animal cruelty if you get to meet David Bowie, she wonders? She tries to get the duck to just let go, but of course she ends up making a scene and all anybody can talk about then is the duck, not her amazing musical talents. When she wakes up there's a weird bruise on her thigh and a strange man in her bed. But not any of the ones from her dream.
"Above Abandonment, Alice"
From a certain altitude, she drifts through a rainy evening, looking down on an empty house. She can't tell if the house is abandoned, or if maybe there's just not been anyone home the last few days. Alice hovers for a time, trying to keep an eye on that sweet little house, but after a while her attention shifts to the light in the western sky.
"The Triggers (Good and Bad); Linda and the Burdens of the Past"
She finds herself spending less and less time getting ready for work. And really, there were never really dragons to slay. No mountains to climb. And certainly no pearls to clutch. Linda does what's expected. She tries to keep her head down. But there's a certain smell from a certain baked good from a certain restaurant kitchen that brings on her tears. Too many memories of too many evenings with too many bourbons. But what she doesn't know yet is that six months from now that exact same smell with bring on tears of joy. For reasons not all that different.
"The Benefits and the Burdens of Going Too Fast (Vera Earlier This Month)"
Vera's car has a live turtle as the speedometer. Normally he just sits there peacefully, but when she goes over the limit, he turns, looks here in the eye, and slowly shakes his head disaprovingly.
You might think you belong with Vera, but don't think for a minute that's the same as belonging to her. It goes without saying that she doesn't belong to you.
"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.
"When You Don't Have Cable, PBS is the Highlight of Your Evening (Documentaries and Red Wine and Vera)"
Sure, there aren't as many people watching her as some of the women she works with, but she knows hers are the "desired demographic". She unrolls her napkin and arranges her silverware, and Peter Coyote narrates her every move. In front of her eyes, images move move slowly, panning from one side to the other, with an artful intention. The waitress clearly hears Meryl Streep in her voice when she orders her bacon cheeseburger.
Sure, it's true that when she turns to confront him, he's never actually there, but Vera knows that Ken Burns is making a documentary about her.
"Storm Shelters (Jane in Another Lifetime)"
"Try imagining a place", Bob Dylan tells her. It's become an acceptable thing that if the details are pretty enough, the logistics don't really have to make sense. She and I are doing a cover version of "Hey Jude", but neither of us really knows how to play the instruments. A girl with an Easter basket gathers ribbons out of strangers' hair. I am good at the harmonies but no idea what the lyrics are. She buys two packages of bottle rockets at a roadside fireworks stand, goes home alone and set them off in her bedroom. Bodies jump in then climb out of a very blue pool. It's a picturesque but unsettling moment.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"Breathing At Last (Jane, Recently)"
In my dream, I know it's a dream. I'm watching a video, and I know it's a video, even though I'm watching it in my eyes, not on a screen or on a teevee. The dream/video starts with the last light of the end of the tunnel disappearing, as the train rounds a corner inside the tunnel. Then just occasional flickers of light and sparks on the walls of the tunnel. Then, completely without warning, the tunnel ends and light floods the lens. After so many years in the dark, there's brightness all around me. The train is rolling along a beautiful cliff above a western river. My lungs have fresh air in them for the first time in years.