This is the second half of chapter 2 of my novel-in-progress. This will be the last section I’ll be posting online. The rest I will complete privately and eventually try to publish or self-publish (after lots of revision!). 🙂
These are the first three sections:
Finally at 1:30, Mykaela and Atsushi crossed into Missouri, another red Trump-supporting state. They were in the middle of the Mississippi River when they crossed, at least according to the GPS. Atsushi looked up and read the symbols: Flower: Hawthorn, also known as “red haw” or “wild haw.” Bird: Bluebird. Gamebird: Bobwhite Quail. Insect: Honeybee.
They were quiet as they drove past Florissant, across the Missouri River, past Wentzville, Hannibal, Schnuck’s Grocery Chain.
Carrie Underwood sang “All the Ajax in the world ain’t gonna clean your dirty laundry.” Mykaela thought how simple it would be if Emre would cheat on her, if only he had some dirty laundry. She could just leave him, without any qualms. But how could she leave him when he was hurting so much, so devastated by Szonja’s suicide? He wasn’t the same person she’d married, that was for sure, and she’d never felt lonelier than she had for the last nine years, especially as it had dawned on her over the years that Emre had no interest in getting better.
Shaking thoughts of Emre from her head, she asked Atsushi, “How did you meet Chiaki?”
“My band played a concert in college. A friend of mine came to help us set up and Chiaki came along. She loved our music. After the concert, I took her to my room and I sang John Denver’s ‘Sweet Sweet Life:’ sleep pretty darling, do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby, and she cried to the words.” He spoke with tenderness and Mykaela could tell the memory transported him to that blissful moment. “How did you meet Emre?”
“He was a consular officer at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington. I went with an International Group to every embassy party we could find. At a concert in his embassy, I was hovering over the snack table, gobbling down crackers slathered with Liptauer, this very addictive, paprika-flavored cheese spread. I couldn’t stop eating it and he thought my addiction to it amusing. He was quite older than me, 16 years, and he’d been all over the world. He’d been married before, had a daughter, and seemed so sure of himself, so rugged and handsome, with dark thick hair and dark skin, and he had a wry sense of humor. He was more cosmopolitan, more cultured, than anyone I’d ever met.”
Mykaela paused, thinking about the husband she fell in love with. Emre had been most at home in cultures not his own, and he was fascinated by urban and rural homes that people had abandoned for one reason or the other. He loved any kind of ruin. His parents had had to flee their home during 1956, when he was just three years old, during the national uprising; his father was one of the protestors demanding the Soviets withdraw; he and the other rebels were crushed by the Soviets, and soon killed. Emre had survived with his mother and two sisters. He still had a sense of humor, even after such a harrowing childhood.
It was Szonja’s death that ruined him. It made Mykaela sad to think of it. Now Emre was overcome by gloom, much like that movie they’d watched together on one of their first dates: Gloomy Sunday. The worst thing though wasn’t his overwhelming gloom, but his failure to engage, with her or with anyone.
On the long straight road leading away from St. Louis, Mykaela thought she’d never seen a more ugly corridor. Suburban sprawl for miles and miles: Kohl’s, Bob Evans, Ross, and every other cheap chain in existence.
Signs about religion got to Mykaela more than anything. Real Christians Forgive Like Jesus. She did agree with that, but that wasn’t how most evangelical Christians behaved these days. She mused about how much she had really forgiven Emre. Had she forgiven him for falling into his bottomless hole of despair, and had she forgiven him for his emotional abandonment of her?
The green-field landscape dipped and rose slightly around them. Two billboards, in succession, near High Hill, Missouri:
EVERYONE THAT IS FOR ABORTION
HAS ALREADY BEEN BORN
“Do you think a woman be allowed to choose abortion?” Mykaela asked.
“I think so, as long as the man agrees. It’s a decision for two.”
They passed Mark Twain Lake, New Florence, Williamsburg. And then another series of billboards:
ROAD TRIP TRADITION – OZARKLAND – FUDGE
CHOCOLATE HEAVEN – ROAD TRIP CALORIES DON’T COUNT
“Should we stop for chocolate?” she asked.
“If you like.” He seemed unenthusiastic, so she continued on. She didn’t need it anyway.
The land was barely changing around them, flat farmland but still some groves of trees, and slow gradual climbs. Mykaela missed Virginia’s beautiful rolling hills, green fields and tall broad leaf trees, its varied landscape.
More glaring billboards scarred the landscape: LARRY’S BOOTS & APPAREL. PASSIONS ADULT BOUTIQUE. ROCK GARDEN ANTIQUE BARN. CLUB VOGUE – GENTLEMAN’S CLUB. ARTICHOKE ANNIE’S ANTIQUES. SATIN STITCHES SEWING & EMBROIDERY.
Among more redbuds were signs for the 25th Annual Testicle Festival. Mykaela couldn’t resist her own curiosity, so she when they pulled off at the next rest area, she Googled it: “Olean Testicle Festival to celebrate 25th anniversary,” said the headline in the News Tribune.
She told Atsushi they’re breaded and deep fried cattle testicles. Apparently they also come from lamb, bison and — in Olean’s case — turkey.
“Testicles, what does it mean?” Atsushi asked.
“They’re the male glands; it’s how you reproduce. They produce sperm and testosterone.” Atsushi still looked confused, so she pointed to her crotch and said, “You know, the male parts.”
He laughed. His laughter was rare, but when he laughed she liked the musical sound of it. “They have a festival for that?”
“I guess so. I’ve never heard of such a thing. It’s crazy.”
Redbuds continued to follow them as they crossed Missouri. Camping World RVs and Xpress Liquor & Smokes beckoned. Jose Jalapeños offered Mexican food and Cracker Barrel promised Mom-approved Meatloaf. Huge billboards lined the road for wineries, with bold lettering in brash colors. Mykaela thought how Virginia’s wineries advertised themselves with class and discretion, on blue signs with unobtrusive white letters. Farm equipment suppliers offered their wares: Bobcat with its compact loaders and excavators. Sydenstricker John Deere with its tractors, combines, windrowers and balers gleaming in yellow and green.
It was a long slog through Missouri, and Mykaela wasn’t impressed. Mykaela and Atsushi sang together with the playlist, “Always have to steal my kisses from you,” and Mykaela wondered fleetingly what it might be like to kiss Atsushi. It didn’t matter; he seemed to be irretrievably in love with his wife, even despite her alleged “obesity.” She probably wasn’t even obese, at least not in American terms. Japanese obesity was rare in Japan, so what he called obesity was probably just plumpness. Besides, she was married to Emre, and they had been happy once. He was the father of their children, well, sort of; at least the father who raised them if not their biological father.
They sped by signs for Lake Lotawana and Lake Tapawingo. Odessa. Boonville. Prairie Home.
Blake Shelton sang, “We’re buzzing like that no vacancy sign out front” as they passed the Lion’s Den Adult Superstore. At the same time, they passed a billboard: BUZZED DRIVING IS DRUNK DRIVING – DON’T CHANCE IT. Fireworks could be bought at PYRO CITY and at FIREWORKS SUPERSTORE.
Mykaela wondered, with the suggestive lyrics about buzzing and the signs — adult stores, drunkenness, and fireworks — whizzing past, if she could ever feel sparks with Atsushi. He seemed so mild-mannered, she couldn’t imagine it. He didn’t seem like the kind of man who could be ruled by passion. She didn’t know if she even had it in her herself.
They passed eateries and gas stations – DQ, Stuckey’s, Valero – and towns with names such as Sedalia, Houstonia, Knob Noster. Giant red and yellow irrigation sprinklers reached across the fields.
They passed a sign that promised: SUICIDE IS PREVENTABLE. Mykaela thought how it really wasn’t, especially if a bystander didn’t know it was coming, or the person was addicted to drugs and liable to do anything. How Szonja, before the heroin, had played the flute and loved her two cats, and had been the gentlest of girls, yet she had gotten in with the wrong people. While high one day, she leaped off the scaffolding around the 72-meter-high dome of Esztergom Basilica, holding hands with her perpetually disgruntled boyfriend, as if they could fly.
They continued on past Grain Valley, Buckner, RV Central, Brass Armadillo Antique Mall. Missouri, as it seemed, was yin and yang all at once, brash and boring, against abortion but full of adult superstores, crowded with speeding eighteen-wheelers and slow-moving farm equipment, offering secret gentlemen’s clubs and over-the-top fireworks stores. It was the most boring landscape she’d ever seen, and the most disturbing. Mykaela wouldn’t be happier when they could finally leave it behind.
It wasn’t until 6:00 when they finally reached Kansas City, Kansas, their destination for the night. They moved into their separate rooms in a Comfort Inn on the outskirts of the city, with only fast food options in the vicinity.
Over dinner at Taqueria Arandas, a low-key fast food Mexican joint, Mykaela and Atsushi enjoyed Coronas with limes stuck into the bottle necks. They talked about all the people they’d encountered during the day, people young and old, whose cars were packed with all their belongings, heading west.
“It’s the American dream, to head west,” Mykaela said. “For the young ones, I bet they’re heading to Colorado where cannibas is legal.”
Mykaela’s jeep looked like these packed cars as well. The trunk was filled with her and Atsushi’s suitcases, jackets, hiking shoes, bags of art supplies, and Atsushi’s guitar, which he’d brought all the way from Japan. In the back seat were Lena’s things all jumbled: a lamp with a faceted glass orb at its base, two mid-century modern rose-colored chairs, a bulletin board filled with Lena’s hodge-podge of recipes and lists and food photos, and a pile of her older cookbooks. Lena’s butterfly collection and her lacrosse stick were also jammed in with the rest.
At dinner, Mykaela asked Atsushi to tell her about Jiro. While she ate her Camaronesa la Diabla, he told her about his son, while his taco salad sat untouched.
He told her Jiro loved a game called Kaodokus; it was similar to Sudoku but used partial smiley faces instead of digits. The smileys could have three possible shapes and three possible mouths, for a total of nine unique combinations.
Mykaela didn’t understand even Sudoku as she was horrible with numbers, so this smiley face version didn’t make sense, but she didn’t interrupt for an explanation.
Atsushi said that Jiro would sit absorbed for hours in the game, especially when he was out in his little greenhouse. He always took along matcha, a hot green tea, and he loved anything flavored with matcha: mochi, or glutinous rice cakes, soba noodles, green tea ice cream, matcha lattes and other Japanese sweets. Jiro could entertain himself in solitude for hours, but he also loved to play basketball with the neighborhood friends. He liked to pull pranks on his friends, telling them that a typhoon was coming or that he heard they were in trouble with the school principal. Sometimes he put on his jacket backwards in class because it got laughs from his friends.
After a few minutes of quiet, Atsushi admitted it saddened him that he had always worked long hours during Jiro’s childhood. He had barely seen him except to tuck him in at night and sing his favorite John Denver songs or Warabe uta, traditional Japanese songs much like nursery rhymes.
Mykaela ordered a second Corona and nursed it as the listened to Atsushi. She yearned to sense his heartbreak, but it seemed elusive. He seemed to her a solitary, impenetrable man, no more conscious of himself than a cloud floating through the sky. She could sense at moments a shadow self to him, but it dissipated as soon as it was within reach. She wondered if he could ever be truly knowable.
She pulled the lime out of her Corona, sucked on it and puckered her lips, then downed the rest of the beer. She hoped it would put her into a sleep so deep, she wouldn’t have room for dreams.
Missouri: endless farmland and suburban sprawl.
“ON JOURNEY” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about the journey itself for a recently visited specific destination. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.
In this case, my journey to Colorado from Virginia, where I began my Four Corners trip, took three full days of driving. Here, I continued writing the first draft of a fictional road trip novel. This post is the second half of chapter 2, which covers day 2 of the road trip. The actual sights seen along the road trip are real, but the characters, conversations, and events are fictional. My writing goal for this road trip was to write a novel about the road trip keeping in mind the following:
- “Bring a character to…” Invent characters and take them along on the journey, keeping a journal from the main character’s point of view. After the trip, write a novel or novella of the trip putting those characters into the tale (in the vein of Jim Harrison’s The English Major, and inspired by a creative writing assignment to keep a journal for a fictional character).
- Pick random titles from poems or short stories as titles for each chapter and let those titles inform the tale.
Include the link in the comments below by Tuesday, August 14 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this challenge on Wednesday, August 15, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be my last post of my novel-in-progress as it will take me a good year to write and will go through many iterations. My next post will be on my actual journey to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. This will be non-fiction.
This will be an ongoing invitation, once on the third Wednesday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!