Tom was not in town, so come Friday Carolyn ate dinner at Winston’s with Sam and Marcia Lee. Sam was Carolyn’s closest neighbor, and Marcia was about to be. They were soon to be married, and Sam lived across the street from Carolyn in a house-trailer. Back then they wouldn’t have been Sam and Marcia Lee yet. She would still be Marcia Tiernan. The home across from Carolyn was to be their first home after the honeymoon. He rented the land from Mr. and Mrs. Tiernan, who lived in the farmhouse also across the street. They planned to build a home there, of course, not live in a trailer house. Marcia still had three months of college to go. She was studying a two-year program in accounting at Charlottesville Community College.

Carolyn’s next nearest neighbor was the farmer a half-mile down the road. He was also the bus-driver for the Walkerville schools. Most farmers in the area also have paying jobs, unless they’re “big time” farmers. You’re a big time farmer if you can afford to keep a family and not be white trash, with nothing but your farm and your bank debt to support you. We’ll not get into what “white trash” is right now other than to say its being poor without style. Or the wrong kind of style, but that’s getting into what I said I didn’t want to get into.

From Carolyn’s red brick house to the city of Walkerville is six miles. This is a twenty minute bike ride, an hour walking, or forty-five minutes by tractor. In the first four miles you pass ten other houses and farms. First, across the street from Carolyn, is the Tiernans’ place. Out back of the Tiernans’ farm is a big sinkhole filled with junk: things thrown out when farmers clean their barns or farmers’ wives finally throw out the broken dishes. It isn’t an official junkyard. You must be friends with the Tiernans to use it.

Another five minutes or so by bike is the Walkers’ old place. They’re not the same Walkers who supposedly founded Walkerville, at least, not as far as they nor anyone else knows. Walkers in this part of the country are about as common as Smiths anywhere else in the states. By this time most of the Walkers you’ll meet are the sons and daughters of the slaves of the original Walkers, but these Walkers are white. The Walkers are a nice couple. Since Carolyn’s too old to date their son, she doesn’t mind visiting them once in a while.

Next on down are the Wilsons. They’ve got a big old black dog with a bigger bark that’s half the reason Carolyn carries the thirty-eight special her dad gave her. The dog’s been trained well enough not to go out onto the road but it lets every passing vehicle and bicyclist know that the same is expected of them. They are not to enter his territory, which begins exactly where the road ends.

Another half mile or so up are the Martins. They live down a long dirt drive. Their house is hidden by trees and a small hill. They have as much privacy as you can get in a small town but in their case privacy itself becomes gossip. Past the Martins, Walkerville Road curves east towards Walkerville. From there you pass the Randolphs and Lees and the rest until you come into Walkerville itself. The road curves again round the lumberyard and there’s the street light. On one corner is the post office, the other the five & dime, then the drug store, and the beauty shop, right next to Winston’s. Bike up the street past the other street light and that’s the school.

That’s how Carolyn gets to her job every morning it doesn’t rain. On Friday evenings she drives right back into town and parks behind Winston’s, or down the street a bit if the parking lot is full. (Winston’s parking lot holds six cars if the drivers were sober when they parked, fewer if they weren’t.)

Winston’s is the only place within the Walkerville village limits geared for ‘young adults’. Across the street, the Parker House serves their parents, and down the road a block, if they measured by blocks in Walkerville, is the Dairy-Freeze for their children. Downtown Walkerville is only five blocks long, just enough to have a stoplight, so there isn’t much point in using blocks as measuring points. The people who live there never have to say that so-and-so lives three blocks down anyway. You just say that’s where so-and-so lives. You don’t have to be told. You know. The only people who don’t know are kids and outsiders. Kids will get the expanded directions: “down that street aways” if so-and-so lives in town, or “north of town” if they live outside of town. Outsiders will get a variation on the street address if anyone remembers it, or the wrong street address if they don’t. There are no Thomas’ Guides for small-town America. Believe me, I’ve looked. I’ve driven trucks all across the East and as far west as Ohio, and I learned pretty quick that if you ask where “145 West Eagon Street” is in any town not large enough to have a map, all you get is blank stares. Better to ask for the Shop ‘n’ Save Supermarket. If you’re lucky someone will remember that that’s the real name of the supermarket on the west end of town. Nobody knows it as the Shop ‘n’ Save, of course, it’s just “Andrew’s,” because everybody in town knows everybody else, and Andrew is the guy that owns the Shop ‘n’ Save. Towns like ours, you don’t choose between shopping at the Shop ‘n’ Save or the Thrifty Saver, you choose between Andrew’s or Frank’s. And you have your reasons that go beyond the advertised prices.

Winston’s is a bar and a restaurant. The full name is “Winston & Federici’s Fine Wine and Spirits Family Restaurant.” Winston bought Federici out three, four years before all this stuff happened. Federici went to the big city (C-ville) and started a chain of take-out pizza joints (with a name like that he didn’t have much choice). Winston’s Family Restaurant has a separate door if you don’t want to go through the bar. Most of the time anyone who starts not wanting to go through the bar ends up just going to the Parker House within a year anyway. But the separate entrance does allow Winston to rent the restaurant to local groups for meetings. If you are ever part of a wedding party in Walkerville, you will eat at the restaurant side of Winston’s after rehearsal. Small towns have monopolies that you might not understand if you’re from a larger city. It makes life easier to plan.

The reason they have a restaurant attached to their bar is that they have to. It is against the law in Virginia to sell more alcohol than food. Back when progressives were first flexing their muscles in American politics, back when they first decided to end all vice whether the vicious wanted it or not, they set their sights high: alcohol. The saloon. The most sinful establishments in America, they said, serving the most sinful objects. This was no advertising ‘sinful’ made from sugar and chocolate. This was the devil himself. Demon rum, God’s worst enemy and Hell’s best friend. “All we have to do,” they promised, “is make it illegal to use this drug, and men will walk upright, women will smile, and children will laugh.”

But before they got the amendment passed that let them make it outright illegal, they tried to regulate liquor out of existence. Remember “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”? That’s a pre-prohibition saying. The progressives passed, among others, laws requiring saloons to have free food on hand. Saloon owners, of course, kept the free food flowing only so long as the customer kept drinking. There ain’t, after all, no such thing as a free lunch. Anyway, when alcohol prohibition finally flopped for good, and before heading on to greener pastures in the marijuana fields, prohibitionists managed to pass a variation on this in the Old Dominion requiring that not only should “saloons” have food on hand, but they have to make at least as much money from this food as they do from their liquor. Thus, Winston & Federici’s Fine Wine and Spirits Family Restaurant.

The bar has a pool table hidden in the back, and a plastic dart board. Wednesday nights are karaoke nights, and Saturday mornings from 9 to 2 PM. Plastic darts have come out of nowhere to sweep through even small bars across the United States. The conquest happened quietly. Somewhere, someone realized that competitive drunks and sharp throwing weapons were a dangerous mix. It was a rare intelligent observation. Most of the time even the pool balls end up zinging through a fifteen-foot danger zone around the pool table. Karaoke, on the other hand, took a lot longer to reach the inner sanctums of small-town life. It was originally ridiculed as one of the stupid things city-folk do, but some country-folk traveled to the city and liked it. So it was brought back, relatively intact except it now does mostly country music and a few standards. Those who haven’t tried karaoke continue to ridicule it as a city-thing, but their number is dwindling. This particular night however, with Sam and Marcia, was a Friday night, so there was no karaoke, and in any case they sat in the restaurant side of Winston’s.

Carolyn arrived first: she wasn’t married, and her boyfriend was out of town. Couples always fall back to the punctuality habits of their weakest member. In her case it was Tom; in theirs, Marcia. This left Carolyn vulnerable on any rendezvous. Since arriving early was a vulnerability to be hit on, the couples she met with never considered it a real problem. She needed someone more reliable than a West Virginia trucker anyway, they figured.

Since she’d arrived first, she sat at the bar for a beer. The back of the bar was covered in signs and bumper stickers advertising the lack of credit at the bar, ways to hide your alcohol breath, and the political orientation of the bar’s owners.

Sarah Williams was behind the bar tonight with her husband Chester. Sarah was Nathan Winston’s daughter. She graduated from Walkerville High a year after Carolyn. She’d failed out of college after a year but tended bar pretty well. She had received an “Intensified Nursing Assistant” certificate at the Piedmont Technical Education Center, and her father wanted her to get an Associate degree in Nursing, but she preferred tending bar with Chester.

“Beck’s, Sarah,” said Carolyn. Beck’s was the closest thing to good beer they had, and Carolyn had unfortunately picked up beer snobbery at the university. God knows why, nobody else did. Most people would drink whatever they got their hands on, even Coors Lite.

“Here you go, Carolyn. In for dinner?”

“Yeah, Tom and Marcia’ll be showing up in a few minutes.”

Sarah got Carolyn’s beer and while it was pouring grabbed a cigarette from where it was wedged in a corner behind the bar. Sarah sucked on it once, put it back, and came over to Carolyn.

“I’ll start a tab then,” she said as she handed Carolyn the beer. “How’re the kids treating you?”

“Reckon the kids are fine, it’s the parents I can’t stand,” she replied. “How’s Tony doing? In a few years I’ll be complaining about you too, won’t I?”

“Reckon so. He’s sure growing up fast. Gets into everything now. Left him alone for about an hour yesterday and come back, and the sugar jar’s spilled all over and he’s sitting in the middle of it with sugar all over his face and the biggest smile.”

“Shoulda whupped him for that,” said Chester from the other side of the bar.

“You hush, Chester,” she said good-naturedly. Then back to Carolyn, “So how’s that boyfriend of yours doing, girl?”

“Delivering up north,” said Carolyn. “How’re your boyfriends?”

“Now girl, you know I ain’t that kind,” said Sarah, quietly.

Chester snorted. “Sure you ain’t. Every guy comes in here gives you the eye and you don’t appear to have any problem with that.”

The poke was delivered without malice, and Carolyn laughed. Homely Sarah didn’t have any such problem to worry about, but you couldn’t tell it by Chester. He was real good for her self-esteem.

Sarah’s face colored red, but she smiled. “Now, Chester,” she started, and then “Well, look who just walked in,” said Sarah, saved.

“Hey, Miss Purcell,” came a male voice behind her.

Potential suitors were at a big disadvantage if they already knew Carolyn, but not on a first-name basis. All day long ruly and unruly eleven- to twelve-year olds called her “Miss Purcell,” and she didn’t feel like dating any of them. Why Mike didn’t consider himself on a first-name basis was anybody’s guess. They’d known each other since childhood. Everyone knew each other since childhood.

“Hey, Mike,” said Sarah.

As potential suitors go, Mike was relatively inoffensive. Winston’s has Red Dog, Busch, and Busch Lite on tap. Mike always ordered Lite.

Here’s the scoop on Mike Holden: One of the stickers behind the bar read “Credit is like sex. Some get it, some don’t,” and Mike was the kind that don’t. He graduated with Carolyn in the Walkerville High Class of ’82 ten years back. He works on the assembly line at the Ruckersville Pie Factory. The shop provides free defective pies to the workers, and Mike had taken longer than most to grow tired of them. His mom was a secretary in the office buildings and had in fact been the reason he got the job in the first place.

“Hey, Mike,” said Carolyn. She took a drink of her beer. “How’s your mom, then?”

Mike and Carolyn’s fathers had been close friends since before time. They had each been the best man at their weddings, and Mr. Purcell had been lead porter at Mr. Holden’s funeral. That had been twelve years ago, when Mike and Carolyn were still in high school. Mrs. Holden had taken the job at the Pie Factory a year before Mr. Holden died, because they wanted enough money to send Mike to college. After Mr. Holden died, she kept the job to survive. She threw herself into her job, mostly ignored her son, and watched exactly four point five hours of television every night.

Mike learned to prefer it that way, because when she did try to talk to him, she always asked him who he was dating. He wasn’t dating anyone. He’d stopped trying. Even Sarah in her worst depression never went out with Mike. And he did ask. The only dates Mike ever had were one with Carolyn, when they were both eight, and one he’d paid for down in Charlottesville. Neither went well.

“Still on my back,” said Mike. Then, to Sarah, “I’ll have a Lite.” Mike was watching his figure, at least in public.

Sarah already had it ready for him. He sat on the stool next to Carolyn and placed his pack of cigarettes and matches on the bar. He took a drink from his Lite and lit a cigarette.

“Heard you were dating that new girl over in Purchasing,” said Carolyn.

The Pie Factory was implied whenever you mentioned a department without a company. Carolyn had heard this from Marcia, who had heard it from Sam who had heard it from Byron Patteson, who occasionally freelanced at the Pie Factory and had heard it from Mike’s mom, which put it squarely in the realm of wishful thinking. Mike’s mom had seen the two talking for three seconds longer than most women talked to Mike.

Mike turned a bashful red.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Where’d y’all hear that?”

“Oh, just around,” said Carolyn. “You know how people talk. So who are you dating, then?”

“Ain’t dating no one,” he said, and took a deep drink from his lite beer.

Believe it or not, it is not out of the ordinary for a twenty-nine year old man to be living with his parents. Not common, perhaps, but not strange. There’s no point in buying a place until you know who you’re going to be living with. But Mike wasn’t going to be living with anyone, leastwise anyone from around, so everyone figured he ought to just go ahead and do it alone or head to somewhere else. His only other option was to become a schoolteacher, and he didn’t have the education for it.

This was an equal opportunity viewpoint. Everyone had thought Sarah was going to end up living in her parent’s home until she moved out on her own, and then Chester came along.

“You sign on the Martin place?” asked Carolyn, knowing full well he hadn’t.

“Aw, mom still needs me,” said Mike, and looked up at the television.

Mike’s mom didn’t like Winston’s. The television in Winston’s was a 13-inch color job so old that it didn’t even have remote control. The bartender had to reach up and change channels when channels needed changing. There was a footstool right underneath it for the bartenders (mostly Sarah) who couldn’t reach it. The bumper sticker just underneath the television read “Our money is OURS, not THEIRS.” Mrs. Holden would have approved of the bumper sticker, but not the lack of remote. A woman needs full control over her television watching. And that of her family’s.

Until now, the television had been displaying reruns of “Cheers” to no one’s particular attention. But when Sam and Diane were cut off prematurely by news from New York City, Carolyn turned her head up to watch.

A car bomb shook the World Trade Center today, collapsing walls and floors, igniting fires and plunging the city’s largest building into smoke, darkness and chaos.

Police said the blast killed at least five and left more than 650 injured. Hundreds were treated at hospitals and the rest by rescue crews at the scene.

The victims have not been identified, and authorities warned that more bodies might be found as the search went on.

On a day of high drama, tragedy and heroism, there were a thousand stories: rescuers digging frantically for victims; soot-streaked evacuees groping for hours in the city’s tallest buildings; a woman in a wheelchair carried down 66 stories by two friends; a pregnant woman airlifted by helicopter from a tower roof; and the tales of many others stumbling out, gasping for air, terrified but glad to be alive.

Among the most poignant was that of a class of kindergartners from Public School 95 in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Caught on the 107th floor observatory, they took all day to walk down, singing to keep up their spirits.

Many put moist towels or handkerchiefs to their faces to protect them from the smoke. Others remained in their offices, hoping for rescue. As smoke seeped in under the doors, some broke windows to get air. Dozens of people were trapped for hours in elevators frozen between floors, including more kindergartners.

The bomb, placed in the underground parking beneath the trade center’s 110-story twin towers, sent cars hurtling like toys, blew out a hundred-foot wall and collapsed several stories, creating a crater 60 feet wide that reached deep into the bowels of the parking structure.

Witnesses reported a blast of incredible force—bodies hurtling through the air, cars wrapped around pillars, people trapped, people burning.

“Holy shit,” whispered Carolyn. “When did this happen?”

Sarah looked at her in surprise.

“Hell, girl, it’s been on the news all day! Where you been?”

“Teaching,” she said, “then I checked my e-mail, then I came here.”

“E-mail,” Sarah said with disgust. “You gotta watch more TV, girl.” Then Sarah’s tone softened. “Tom wasn’t in New York, was he?”

“Yeah, he was,” said Carolyn, “but he’d never go in the Trade Center, that’s tourist stuff.”

Marcia Tiernan walked in from the restaurant side of the bar.

“We’re here, let the party begin,” she yelled to Carolyn. “Bring your beer and let’s eat!”

“We’re going to be in the other room,” said Marcia to Sarah. “You come join us later.”

“Sure enough,” said Sarah.

“See you later,” Carolyn said to Mike, and she walked into the other side of Federici’s with Marcia.

Mike watched her as she walked away. Sarah watched Mike.

“You ever think of moving down to C-ville?” she asked him, then took a beer to Bob Greene down by the dartboard.

Bob’s a farmer. He works days at the Pie Factory. He’s got three kids and a long-suffering wife. Bob’s a nice guy. She’d be long-suffering no matter who she was married to. And if he hadn’t married her, he’d have found someone else just like her. He needed to feel like he was supporting someone.

Didn’t stop him from coming into the bar every Friday night during the off season. Bob was talking to Hugh and Ryan Sutherland. Hugh’s been married eighteen years. Ryan’s a “gentleman farmer,” never got married, still hangs out with the one or two women his age that never got married.

“It’s all part of their religion,” said Bob. “Those Arabs will do anything for a virgin.”

“I thought Christians did the same,” said Ryan. “Isn’t Mary a virgin, too?”

“Yeah, but I mean,” said Bob, “their leaders promise them that if they die for the cause, they’ll go to a heaven filled with virgins to sleep with.”

“So they do what their leaders tell them to do,” said Hugh.

“Like the pope,” said Ryan.

“Exactly like the pope,” said Bob. “That’s why we should never have let the Catholics run for office. We should never of let ’em vote in the first place.”

“This is what it leads to,” said Hugh, looking up at the pile of rubble on the television.

Over the pool table in the back, Walkerville’s chief of police was telling Walkerville’s head volunteer fireman a story. Walkerville has two police officers, besides the chief. If one of them gets sick, they just do without. It’s mostly appearances anyway.

“It’s up towards midnight and I’m up the hill on the north end of town,” he said as he lined up his shot, “and I see this station wagon parked overlooking the river.”

“Two kids inside of it.”

“You got it,” he said.

“You know what they were doing,” the fireman said.

“That’s just it, you’ll never guess in a million years,” said the officer.

“Playin’ tiddlywinks?”

“Pretty much. He’s reading a book. She’s knitting a sweater.”

“You’re crazy.”

“No, but I thought they were. I pulled up next to them real quiet like, and walked up to their car. It was Hugh Sutherland’s daughter and Mrs. O’Neil’s son, you know, the kid played pretty good basketball a couple years ago.”

“Sounds like he’s settled down a bit.”

“Don’t believe a word of it,” said the officer. “I knock on their window, and he pulls it down completely unconcerned. I shine ’em in the face to make sure they haven’t been smoking nothing. Leaned down over the car, and asked, ‘How old are you two?’

‘And he says, with a perfectly straight face, ‘I’m twenty, and in ten minutes, she’ll be eighteen.’”

“Get outahere.”

“That’s what I told them.”

Hugh’s daughter left Mrs. O’Neil’s son a year later to join the army, and never came back.

Back over on the eating side of Federici’s, dinner was meatloaf and gravy for Sam, lasagna for Marcia, and baked trout for Carolyn, all washed down liberally with beer. Sam had just got another raise. He worked for Cubit Communications down in Charlottesville, in network programming. Computers. Marcia had already spent most of it on furniture which wouldn’t fit in their house trailer anyway. She was already planning ahead for the house they’d build in its place.

Cubit Communications was not based in Charlottesville, that was just one of its branches. It was the only branch in the South, in fact. The company was based out of Washington, DC. They had a bunch of other branches in the Northeast and Midwest. Their biggest were in St. Paul and Minnesota. They made lots of networking hardware and software, including one of the most popular e-mail programs on the net, “Carroll,” named after the pseudonymous author of “Wise Words About Letter Writing.” Sam was telling Carolyn that they were coming to market with a product that would make it easier to provide “Internet” service in rural areas, such as Walkerville.

“Pretty soon you won’t need to call long distance to get your e-mail,” said Sam.

“I love e-mail,” said Marcia. In fact she never used it and didn’t really understand it—beyond realizing that it was paying for her new house.

“I have to admit I’m looking forward to checking the chat lines out when I get home,” said Carolyn. “See what the take is on the bombing.”

“Hey,” he said, “you want to take bets on the wildest conspiracy theory on the net tomorrow?”

“Not on your life,” said Carolyn. “but I’ll bet it has something to do with the TLC.”

“TLC?” asked Marcia. “Tender loving care? You can get that on the Internet?”

“Tri-lateral commission,” said Sam. “Too easy. I’ll bet it also has something to do with covering up the theft of INSLAW.”

“The Kennedy files were stored in the Trade Center,” said Carolyn.

“The Ark of the Covenant,” said Sam.

“Hitler’s brain,” said Carolyn.

“Y’all are weird,” said Marcia. “Who wants Hitler’s brain?”

“I don’t think we have that today,” said the waitress, who had just popped in to ask if they wanted any dessert. Her name was Joan Sutherland, Hugh’s kid. She was an 18-year-old varsity cheerleader at Walkerville High. “We’ve got apple pie, though.”

They all three started laughing.

“I’ll come back later,” said Joan.

Sam looked at Carolyn.

“You think it was one of us?” he asked.

“No,” said Carolyn. “What do most people here care about the World Trade Center? The United Nations, maybe. What would our people need with that kind of revolution today?”

Sam snorted.

“You should hear the people I work with,” he said.

“Yeah, but you work in computers,” said Marcia. “Computers make everyone rebels.”

“Including me?” he asked.

“Not if you know what’s good for you,” she replied, smiling mischievously.

“Sometimes it’s hard not to be a rebel,” said Sam. “You just gotta read the news.”

“Everyone’s saying it was Arabs,” said Marcia.

“Could be,” said Sam. “We’ve certainly been sticking our nose in their business long enough.”

“You almost sound like you’re justifying it, dear,” said Marcia.

“Of course not,” said Sam. “It isn’t approval to say that some things always follow others. If we’re going to play the part of world police, we’ve got to face up to the possible consequences.”

“We should probably make it illegal to get explosives,” said Marcia. “I heard that on the radio today.”

“Hell,” said Sam, “we can’t do that, we’ve got powerful explosives available everywhere. We drive them every day. Maybe we should just make it illegal to bomb trade centers.”

“It already is,” said Marcia. “It doesn’t work.”

Carolyn hid her laughter with her napkin. Marcia was nice, but she didn’t always think about what she said.

“Hmm…” said Sam. “Why not?”

“Criminals don’t follow laws, silly,” said Marcia.

“Who are the laws against explosives going to be aimed at, then?” he asked.

Marcia took another bite of lasagna and asked Carolyn whether she preferred curtains with or without lace.

Now, don’t get too worked up by Sam, or too attached to him. He’s a bit player in this story. She’ll dump him soon enough, and he’ll likely move to the city. If you’re from Los Angeles or New York, you might not consider his thirty mile drive much of a commute, but it’s a big one for the country. He’ll be much happier in Charlottesville.

If you want to get worked up by Marcia, go right ahead. But she’ll be disappearing as well. She’s already got a male friend in DC she’s been seeing too much of.

“Lace,” said Carolyn. “You can hang things from them at Christmas. That’s what my third-graders use them for.”

“We really need more gun control laws,” said Marcia.

“Why do you think so?” asked Sam.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Marcia.

“Sure,” said Sam.

“It’s an emotional decision,” she said.

“I don’t see how we can let people die over emotions,” said Sam. “Gun control kills.”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” he smiled. “How about the Cavaliers, hm?”

“I know it’s irrational, but I just can’t live in that world.”

“A safe one?” he asked. “All scientific studies have shown that higher firearms ownership and legal carry mean safer neighborhoods.”

“I just don’t want to talk about it!” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, and hid a grin in his napkin. “Think we can take Georgia?”

“What do you think, Carolyn?” asked Marcia.

“Well, I reckon if laws against murder don’t work, laws against firearms aren’t going to do any better,” she replied.

“I said I don’t want to talk about it,” said Marcia.

“We can definitely take Georgia Tech,” Carolyn said, smiling. “Alexander alone could take Georgia.”

“One Cavalier is worth nine Yellow Jackets?” asked Sam.

“When it comes to winning, one great man is worth nine average men,” she said.

“We all have it in ourselves to be great,” said Sam.

“I feel that way,” said Carolyn, “but I’m not sure what it is I’m great at.”

“I don’t think everyone is great,” said Marcia. “Look at us. Look at everyone else in this town. I mean, look around. The stupidest things are of great import to them, and the things that really matter they could care less about. How many of the people in this bar even know who their congressmen are? Are we really the same as everyone else?”

“No,” said Sam, “and they’re not the same as us.”

“Maybe they’re just better at dealing with a mediocre world than we are,” said Carolyn.

“Maybe they are the mediocre world,” said Marcia.

“So go ahead and name your congressmen,” said Sam.

“That’s beside the point,” said Marcia.

Joan came by and asked if anyone wanted coffee and dessert.

“I could use some coffee before we drive back,” said Sam.

“I’m way past dessert,” said Carolyn. “But I need coffee.”

“Coffee,” said Marcia.

“I need to use the restroom,” said Carolyn. “I’ll be right back.”

“Me too,” said Marcia. “See you in a bit, Sam.”

In Winston’s, to get to the bathroom you walk through the kitchen and say hello to the cooks. Why not? You know them. Carolyn had taught the youngest. The fry cook waved at her. He was still holding the fry pan and spilled grease on his foot. Then he hopped about smiling, his hair flopping inside his hair net.

“Ow! Fuckin’ stupid—sorry, Miss Purcell. Ow!”

Carolyn waved back and stepped into the room marked “Ladies.” Marcia followed.

“See what I mean?” said Marcia.

“About what?” asked Carolyn.

“Never mind.”

“Can you believe Sam about those nuts in New York?” Marcia asked.

“You should be careful,” said Carolyn. “I think he cares about civil rights.”

“He can have his rights or he can have me, but he can’t have both,” said Marcia. “My feet are killing me,” she continued, and took her shoes off.

“Why not leave them off,” said Carolyn. “This isn’t really the place for high heels.”

“Everywhere’s the place,” said Marcia. “You should try it. You might find someone other than truckers—I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”

“Dahling,” said Carolyn in a mock accent, “Ah’ll trade you an engineer for a trucker any hand you call.”

“Not me,” said Marcia. “A woman has needs.”

“Yes,” said Carolyn. “One of these days I’ll figure out what mine are.”

“You wait too long girl, you won’t aspire to marrying much better.”

“And if I don’t marry at all?” asked Carolyn. “To what can I aspire then?”

“You don’t want to do that, do you, darling?” asked Marcia.

Back at their table, chief of police Scott Whitcomb went over to talk to Sam.

“Hey, Chief, what’s up? They got that new computer system in for you yet?”

“We can’t afford a new squad car, I doubt we’ll be getting anything like a computer anytime soon. Sam,” he said, “you know Carolyn pretty well, don’t you?”

“Uh oh,” said Sam. “you tellin’ me someone’s interested?”

“A friend of mine,” said Chief Whitcomb, “he’s a nice guy, I guarantee. How serious is she on that trucker friend of hers from West?”

“I don’t know, Scott,” said Sam. “I only really know her through Marcia and her parents. Mike’s known her all his life, you know, although I think he’d be biased, he’s got a crush of his own.”

“She seems like a nice girl,” said Chief Whitcomb.

“Seems like it,” said Sam. “Not our type, though, right Chief?”

“Right,” said Chief Whitcomb, slapping Sam on the back.

“There going to be any fallout with the trade center bombing in our little town?” asked Sam.

“God only knows what laws are going to get passed,” said Chief Whitcomb. “But unless you’re Arab I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“One of the best coders I’ve ever known is from Iran,” said Sam. “He works in the DC branch now. I think they’re wasting his talents as an administrator.”

“Iran. That’s Arab?” asked Scott.

“Well, as far as anyone here is concerned, yeah,” said Sam. “He flew F18 fighters against Iraq when he was eighteen years old. He used to go shopping and there’d be hangings. They practically automated it: they’d get a big crane, tie the victims by their neck to an I-beam, and raise it up.”

“Jesus,” said Chief Whitcomb. “I’m glad I live in the United States.”

“So’s he,” said Sam. “When the revolution succeeded, the first thing the Ayatollah did was ask people to turn in the weapons they’d used to overthrow the Shah. After most people had done that, he asked them to turn in their neighbors who hadn’t turned in their weapons. Finally, he started sending in troops to machine-gun families suspected of not turning in weapons, or bring them to the cranes, or both.”

“Now I’m doubly glad I live here,” said Chief Whitcomb. “That would never happen here.”

“Yeah, that’s why he came over. His father was suspected of planning a coup and was set to be executed. He smuggled his dad, his mother, and the rest of his family to France. Then he came to the United States four years ago. He already speaks English better than you or I. Do you know he can recite the entire bill of rights by memory? He says he learned it as a teenager from a Boy Scout manual. And that he could have been imprisoned for having it. He told me he thought, ‘no way could this be true! There is no such thing as a country that would write into law that people can have weapons to protect themselves against tyranny. That’s when I decided I had to come here,’ he said, ‘to live in a country so devoted to freedom.’”

“We could use more Americans like that,” said Chief Whitcomb. “I don’t think I could even tell you the first amendment by heart, let alone the whole bill of rights.”

“I could get you the first five if I haven’t had too much to drink,” said Sam.

“Oh, here come the girls,” said Chief Whitcomb. “I’m going back to the bar. See you later, Sam.”

Sam grabbed him by the arm.

“Have a seat and stay a while, Scott! She won’t bite!”

“Hi, Scott!” said Carolyn. “Is Sam trying to set you up with someone?”

“Ah,” he said, startled, “no, how, no, how are you, Carolyn?”

“Pretty good, kids keeping me busy.”

“The sixth-graders keeping you busy?”


“Scott was just telling me he likes to shoot,” said Sam.

“I didn’t—” muttered Scott. Sam kicked him under the table.

“Yeah? Sam and I go out on the back forty every weekend or so,” said Carolyn. “We’ve got a little range of cans and bales set up out beyond the old farm.”

“If you’d like to come I can give you a call next time,” said Sam. “We’re going out tomorrow, aren’t we, Carolyn?”

“Reckon so,” said Carolyn.

“Sure,” said Scott, “I’d love to.”

“You men,” said Marcia, rolling her eyes.

“Thanks, Marcia,” said Carolyn with a wry grin. “Would you like to join us?”

“No, I’ve got some things to do tomorrow,” she said.

“She doesn’t really shoot much,” said Sam. “That’s her only flaw.”

“Sam shoots far too much,” Marcia shot back. “That’s one of many.”

“How’s the job going?” Carolyn asked Scott. “Anything crazy happen recently?”

“Nothing like that happens around here,” said Scott.

“This is a nice place to live,” said Sam. “Marcia and I have thought about moving down to the city, to be closer to my office and maybe some movies,”

“And theater,” said Marcia.

“And theater and other night life,” said Sam, “but I think this is a better place to raise a family, and we’re near enough to C-ville to get there anytime we need to.”

“Country life is better for children,” said Marcia.

“It isn’t too bad for adults either,” said Sam.

“I miss the city sometimes,” said Carolyn, “but then I drive there, or to DC.”

“It’s enough to visit,” said Scott. “Hell, Culpeper is enough city for me most of the time.”

“We had a kid today, his parents just moved up from Richmond,” said Carolyn, “he was angry because he’d had to leave his friends. That’s understandable. But he hates everything about country life. For some reason he’s fixated on cows. Hates them. Couldn’t understand why there are so many of them. I asked him if he wanted some milk and cookies with the rest of the class, he said yes, and I told him that’s why. We had a little mini-lesson in where food comes from.”

“So now he likes cows?”

“No, now he hates milk.”

“Ha!” they all laughed. “Well, he’ll get over it,” said Sam.

“Or eat dry cookies from now on,” said Scott.

“Are you sure it’s okay to teach children stuff like that, that young?” asked Marcia.

“Stuff like what?” asked Carolyn.

“You know, cows and milk, animals and meat.”

“I’m afraid all the kids out here already know it,” said Carolyn. “It’s only the transplanted city kids that don’t. I think it’s a bit unhealthy to let kids believe that foods magically appear at the grocery store.”

“Listen, I have to go,” said Scott.

“Yeah, it’s getting late for us too,” said Sam. “It’s way past Marcia’s bedtime, I need to get her back to Charlottesville tonight.”

“I’ll see you all around,” said Scott.

“I’ll call you all tomorrow about shooting,” said Sam to Carolyn and Scott. “Sure you don’t want to come, Marcia?”

“You should try it,” said Carolyn. “It’s fun.”

“No,” said Marcia, flashing her a bad look. “Not now. Probably never.”

Marcia, Sam, and Scott left out the back. That’s where Sam parked his top of the line ’92 Ford Taurus. He brought Marcia home and tried to stay with her, but “that’s somethin’ else about cows and milk everyone knows,” she laughed. Sam returned home and dreamed of Marcia. Marcia fell asleep dreaming of lace curtains and angelic children.

Scott lived just two blocks down. He walked home and dreamed of action movies with Carolyn Purcell as the lead female.

Carolyn drove her five miles to 192nd Avenue and the forty acres she called home. The sky was bright with stars and there was a hint of frost in the air this February night. In the bright moonless winter sky behind Carolyn as she drove home, Mars hung high over the Allegheny Mountains of the Blue Ridge, piercing the side of Gemini in a long, slow, ecstatic dance to the finish. Carolyn slept and what she dreamed of those nights I never could discover.

They chose three in the morning because Arthur had heard that you are most likely to get into an accident if you are driving at three in the morning, and he had a strong suspicion that if they were to find the Earth at all, it would be by accident. — Jerry Stratton (The Shopping Cart Graveyard)