Saturday, February 12, 2005

by Jessica Disobedience

Iowa is slow and hot. Time moves like molasses. For every three hours that passes by in the real world, only one hour passes by in Iowa. All there was to do was wander around in the sun, feeling like a surly cowboy, swatting bugs away from my face.

It’s strange to be taken to a friend’s hometown, to meet their family, to see the places where they got in fights and fell in love and slept and ate. In a way, you’re time traveling, they’re taking you back to their past. You’re a visitor in someone else’s photo album; finally being able to put images with the people and places they’ve told you about. The first day, we stayed with Barb, K.’s mom and Katelyn, her sister, and they were so kind to me, and I was happy to be there, immediately a part of the family. K. and I got stoned in the mildewed basement, and sat around on the couch eating cereal and watching cartoons. We all spent time on the back steps, and in the dappled green light of the low-hanging trees, K. and I learned how to grill. We sent up smoke signals of charcoal, and cooked burgers for everyone. K., Barb, Katelyn, and I, all walked across the dusty main street to a little bar. I put quarters in the jukebox to play songs by Patsy Cline and other ladies of old-timey music; and we dusted our hands with blue chalk and played pool. K. and I got our asses kicked by Barb and Katelyn, and the few locals that were gathered around, drinking foamy beer out of plastic cups, laughed at the two city girls. "Yeah, well, we don’t play pool in Chicago. In Chicago we play Bozo Buckets! And we could beat all
of you at that."

That evening, K. and I took the half-full bottle of whiskey we had brought with us, and walked out to a playground structure that stood in the middle of a nearby field. We lounged around on the plastic structure, taking swigs out of the bottle, getting drunk and talking about sex. Locusts buzzed around our heads, and we ducked and squealed, hoping it wasn’t an omen, hoping it wasn’t a Biblical plague telling us that this whole trip was going to be a bust. K. was playing on one of those things where you grab the handles and lift yourself up in the air, sliding from one end to the other, when she heard a high-pitched squeaking noise. Then, a fuzzy brown-and-white ball tumbled out and landed in the gravel. A bird. "Oh God," she said, "He’s still warm. I killed him."

We made him a grave in the stones and dirt, and adorned it with a cross made out of twigs. Then we shouted the words to "Come On Up to the House" at the sky.

Darkness fell so strangely. One minute, it was still light out and the clouds were making shapes of dinosaurs and mythological creatures, and the sun was still on the horizon; and then I blinked and this wall of darkness came down, this absolute impenetrable black curtain, pierced here and there by stars.

And the fields were full of fireflies, blinking, blinking, thousands of them, green and yellow faerie lights across the prairie.

Locusts, and lightning bugs, and night. Time to stumble home, make some food, and sleep.

In the morning, I had a message on my cell phone. However, way out there in Sticksville, Iowa, I couldn’t get a signal on my phone in order to listen to the message. I had to drive twelve miles down the highway, to Decatur City, in order to find out what it was all about. The message was from my mom. My bank account had been overdrawn by about a hundred dollars, and with the bank fees and everything, I was in the hole by almost two hundred. Damn! We’re in a tight spot! I was slightly panicked, but somehow I knew everything would work out okay. It had to. Perhaps I shouldn’t put faith in the hands of a universe that generally has one cruel sense of humor, but that was my only choice. We were being called by something greater than ourselves to continue on this trip.

K. and I took Katelyn to a diner out on the highway in Decatur, a diner that was all the pink and green and white ice cream colors of a fifties diner. I played "Wipeout" on the jukebox, and had coffee and fries.

Then it was back to the basement, to get stoned again. There was a knock at the basement door. "You should come upstairs, we have company," Barb’s voice filtered down the stairs.

We emerged into the prickly heat and daylight of the aboveground world, and found that a panel of local elite women had come over to pay a visit to Barb, as she has been sick. Sure, it was good of them to bring over baskets of food, and presents for Katelyn. But here was this group of rich, perfect women (hair-sprayed hair, whitened teeth, tan skin, and giant gold crucifix necklaces) that had ignored K.’s family for years, and as soon as they find out there is a charitable deed to put next to their names, like a checkmark for getting into heaven, they’re there with bells on. The tan skin and glaring white teeth formed a circle around Barb and prayed for her.

K. and I went to sit out on the porch steps and have a cigarette, as we couldn’t deal with the prayer furnace world that these women were part of. "They’re so self-righteous," I said. "Like one good deed can make up for a lifetime of being stuck-up bitches."

That evening, we drove the fifteen miles to Mount Ayr, the town where K. spent the majority of her childhood and adolescent years. She showed me around the main drag. Mount Ayr was bigger than Grand River. There was a bank, a library, a hardware store, even streetlamps. Most of the town was bars and churches. Work, pray, and get drunk. That’s what we all do. We might work for different things, we might pray to different gods (or not even refer to them as gods at all), we might not be drunk off alcohol. But we all work, pray, and get drunk in one way or another.

We went to the convenient store, where it was 99 cents for a tallboy of Miller High Life. I bought four. I think I just like Miller High Life because the can is ornamented with a drawing of a girl sitting on the moon. She’s far away from the earth, and that’s where I want to be when I drink.

We sat on the porch with K.’s dad, talking about the weather and the locusts, talking about meat and the price of cigarettes. That night did not cool down at all, it was still thick with humidity, even as the streetlamps flickered on one by one, and we clutched cold, sweaty tallboys in our hands.

Jessica Disobedience hails from Chicago, Illinois USA and is a member of the Underground Literary Alliance. "Iowa" is an excerpt from issue #2 of her zine Sad and Beautiful World. Check out her website and contact her via email--jessica (whereit'sat) order her zines.

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