This particular passage is why I decided to air out this WIP this particular week.
Fintan stood on the front steps and drew a deep breath before going into his house. The mail carrier drove up behind him and dumped a pile of catalogs in their box. Now Fintan knew time was wonky. The mail may come rain or shine, but it never showed up in the boondocks much before noon. He trudged out to the box to retrieve the junk, went around the house to the back door so he could toss it all in the recycle bin, and walked into the kitchen.
His mom was washing dishes. She turned to him. “Where’ve you been?” she asked brightly.
The clock on the microwave read 11:25. So it really has been hours.
He couldn’t tell from her tone if he was in trouble so he decided to answer truthfully. Mostly.
“I went for a run. Longer than… expected.”
She’d turned back to the sink. So. Not mad. Just curious.
“Oh?” she prompted.
“Yeah, went up past Orchard Pond.” On an impulse he added, “Did you ever hear about a cave up there? Just off the road maybe a hundred yards?”
“Cave? Not an old springhouse?”
“Would have been a really big spring,” he mumbled in response.
“Oh? Well. No. Don’t think I have. But then, you know I’m not big on trudging through the verge.”
He did know. Ellie was almost pathologically terrified of the verge. She seemed to be convinced that Nature was out to get you — whether by insect-born pathogen or phytotoxin or snarling jaws — and that it would jump out at the unwary. Even the rooted varieties of menace. Plus she just couldn’t abide dirt, and nature was full of the stuff.
Watching his mom scrubbing the remains of a pancake brunch (where is the Boy-fiend anyway? shouldn’t he be hovering?), Fintan realized that he’d missed one meal already today and time was nudging up on lunch. Actually he couldn’t remember when had he last eaten. They hadn’t got to Gretchen’s and had not bothered to eat before because… free food.
So something like 24 hours ago? Plus or minus whether you count hours that your body apparently skipped over.
His mind was full of this as he bent over the kitchen table to grab an apple from the wooden bowl that he stocked with emergency food. (Gretchen had been right on that one. In the Sanchez household, Fintan did most of the shopping. He just couldn’t make his mom work all day and then come home and try to magic a meal from an empty fridge. The take-out options in the boonies were not abundant.)
“Mallory was here.”
They both let that hang there.
Then Fintan rallied and went on the offensive. “She broke up with me.” Not strictly true, certainly not the complete story, but it did a neat job of turning his mother’s sympathies slightly more in his direction. He watched her shoulders fall and knew he had about ten seconds to convince her that it was all for the best and no he didn’t need a box of tissues and a quart of heartbreak chocolate ice cream (well, maybe I’ll take that).
“Mom. We haven’t been good for forever.”
“Really, I don’t think we’ve been good. Ever. Or not since we were… dating.” (Almost let more out there than was prudent.)
“No. You haven’t been.” She placed the griddle she’d been rinsing on the drain rack and turned to face him. “I’ve felt so helpless. I could see you making all these mistakes. Both of you. But I had no idea how to say anything.”
Ellie had always been forthright with Fintan. He deeply appreciated being treated like he had a brain.
“So the question now is. . . Do you want your best friend back and what will you do to get there?”
She smirked and nodded but was apparently waiting for an answer. An answer that Fintan didn’t have. Yet.
“I don’t know. To either.”
She nodded again and went back to the dishwashing, seemingly disappointed in his answer. He wanted to give her something more, something that would explain why she had to lose a girl who was almost a daughter to her. (Indeed, Ellie was more of a parent to Mallory than the people who shared her surname. Mallory’s parents still seemed surprised that there was a young person living in their house.)
“I do want my best friend back. I just don’t know if Mallory is that person anymore. Doesn’t feel like it. She’s so… angry… and mercenary… and not interested in anything anymore. I don’t even know how to talk to her.”
His mother made a noncommittal noise of acquiescence.
“I don’t love Mallory though. I never have. I don’t want to spend my life with her — whether she stays like this… alien… or whether she mutates back into old Mallory. Either Mallory wants, has always wanted, to get away from here, and I don’t know that I want to leave. I mean yeah, go off to college and all that. But maybe I like it here. Maybe I don’t want to chase money around all my life and eat canapés with people I loathe. Does that make sense?”
“Maybe I don’t know what I want.”
She turned and studied him a moment.
“No dear. You sound like you know exactly what you want. You sound like you’re embarrassed by wanting it though. You know, it’s perfectly acceptable to like where you grew up, to like living in a small town even. I know you’re bombarded with message telling you to despise all this. But if you don’t like the people with the message, why would you care what they think?”
Damn she’s good!
She draped the washcloth over the faucet.
“I might point out that I stayed too. And it was not the easiest thing to do, making my way as single mom in this place. But I love it here. Here is where I belong. Even with all the frustrations and limitations.”
She shook her head and smiled ruefully at the memories of frustrations and limitations.
“But my family name is on buildings and street signs around here. Where else d’you find that sort of connection? I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
He felt unaccountably teary after that. To save him the indignation of crying she folded him in a quick hug, grabbed a spoon from the draining rack, and opened up the freezer.
“I think you need this.”
She handed him the spoon and a pint of Häagen-Dazs. Chocolate, pralines and caramel.
There needs to be a better word to express gratitude.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021
So much feeds into our unrooted way of thinking. I believe much of it will need to be jettisoned before we can make a culture that is localized and small and basically communitarian. Just the idea that you can’t enjoy where you currently live is ruinous to rooting. Think about all the messaging that goes into that. Constant pushing of wealthy urban and near-urban lifestyles as the only worthy aspiration. Constant pushing of the idea that kids should leave their home towns for something better. Even the constant pushing of tourism — because you can’t entertain yourselves or truly love being where you are in your small lives.
This is all done to funnel the labor pool into small geographical areas for the sake of employers who want to pull the most productivity out of the smallest payroll and to concentrate the market for goods into a one-stop shop. Monopolies need us to live in large, homogenized blobs of humans the better to sell large, homogenized product streams. Monopolies fall wherever there is local variety. So Amazon needs you to be a drone. Work drone. Shop drone. In a huge colony of drones.
But given our current state of dysfunction in every las thing, I think it’s reasonable to say that humans don’t do droning very well. This is not natural. It’s not healthy. It’s not living. And I also think a reasonable path out of droning is to localize. Become native to your place. Be rooted in your own particular patch of soil. We are unique and individual through community, not through separatism. Corporations know this; they are doing everything in their power to disrupt it.
What do you think? Are you happy where you are? Do you love what you do every day? Or any day? Do you want to get away? Or maybe do you want to find a place you never want to leave?
The rules of engagement: No rudeness. Absolutely nothing foul. Also nothing personal. If you want to talk direct to me, there is the contact page linked on every post. Send me email. I like it. Most days.