MARCH 2009

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Dear Amelia Earhart:
By Sean Lovelace, Jan 10, 2009

I saw you Tuesday evening. You were alive. And right here in Alabama, this little college town, inside this bar I know, this cave-like dive (greasy dart boards, ceilings of smoke, 75 cent plastic cups of draft), the type of place grad students draw to like iron filings to a magnet, to escape the undergraduates and the southern sun, and you were sitting there—only not on a bar stool, but atop this tall stack of deflated tires—and I said, “Wow, I bet you were something at Hide-and-Seek. The playground champ, right? I mean the Mozart of hiding. The Michael Jordan. Most people think you’re dead.” And you just shrugged, and offered the whole bar a round of Coca-Cola, which was politely refused, since we graduate students are nothing if not dedicated drinkers of beer. You seemed sad. I mean your posture, your shoulders; the way they embraced gravity.

I understand. We all sometimes wish to soar away, and I am likewise aware of the gravity of this world. It’s my marriage, as you’ve probably surmised. I usually don’t talk about it; it makes people uncomfortable. I see them shift on their barstools, their eyes skip away. They look at their beer bottles, pick at the foil labels, glance at the TV above the bar, mumble things like, “I don’t know” and “I guess I never really....” So I don’t mention it, unless I’m really drunk. Like last night, with Udo.

Udo Groen is man who works at the local chemical factory, Q & O, a place where Quaker Oats ships their wheat chaff and cornhusks and everything left over from cereal production, and then they mix it all in these massive cauldrons, with sulfuric acid, under incredibly high pressure, and create these new chemicals, insecticides and polymers and so on.

“I’m not really supposed to tell you how they do it,” Udo said. “I signed these papers. Quaker Oats don’t want you to know. They don’t want you thinking chemicals and cereal in the same brain. I say, screw them. I signed a fake name anyway. I signed Larry Mullen Jr.”

Udo loads railroad cars, but also plays in a U2 tribute band (he’s The Edge) and enjoys graduate school bars. At nights, after his long shift of pumping chemicals into tankers, he trades his hardhat and safety glasses for an Army jacket and a pair of Doc Martins—he basically pretends he is a graduate student, which is a sickness, in my opinion, but he listens to me when I’m drunk. So.

“Marriage?” Udo said, and lit a Lucky Strike.

“The institution of, personally,” I replied. “I have this idea my marriage is like two cars, two cars in two separate lanes, driving down the same highway. Sure, my wife and I notice each other, pass back and forth, give each other space—try not to tailgate, cut each other off, but still, we’re in two cars. Not the same car, see? And I have no idea who really is in that other car. I might be curious, might take a peek through my bug-swept windshield into hers, see the glow of a cigarette, a silhouette, her face, lips, saying something, but I’ll never know: the thoughts or dreams, or even what music she has on. Or is it talk radio? I mean some people like talk, and some music, and with others it’s just silence. Complete silence. That seems important, you know? You pass a car and you see what kind of it is, the exterior, that’s all. And what’s that? Nothing. That’s my marriage, two cars driving at high speeds, heading down the highway, together, in one way, but obviously very, very separate. Very alone.”

Udo cracked open a roasted peanut and said, “Well...at least it’s the same highway.”

“That’s not my point.”

“Both in cars. Both driving. I mean nobody’s hitchhiking here.”

“Really, really not my point.”

Udo scratched his chin. He said, “A person could use their cell phone. Or maybe pull over at a rest stop, one of those big-ass truck stops. They certainly have cell phones there, and DVD players, Pringles, yogurt. You ever had that yogurt with the cookie dough? It’s excellent, the texture.... Or maybe this, sure, get the one car and drive really fast and get next to the other car, right up alongside, and just yank the wheel right into it—KABOOM!—a huge gasoline fireball! That would solve that shit, pronto.”

“Not even close to my point, Udo.”

He took a pull from his beer, studied the ceiling. “Did you see that wreck in the papers last week? That semi? It was full of little piglets, little babies, and it flipped over and all these piggies dumped out and running free all over the highway. And they started jumping off the overpass. They just leapt right off the bridge. Can you imagine?”

“I’d rather not. Let’s drop the whole subject.”

“I just thought it was wild about those pigs. They were caged up, heading to slaughter, like all and every pig, and then, wow, they’re free. And they didn’t even know what to do. They just couldn’t handle it. And so they jumped.”

“Again, can we drop the subject? I’m asking here.”

Udo said we could drop the subject. Then he said, “You want a beer? How about a Guinness?”

I shook my head. “I never drink dark beer in the summer, or light in the winter. That’s the sign of an amateur.”

“Right, right, I can see that. How about a Corona?”

“I’ll take a Corona, no lime.”

“No lime, obviously.”

Udo ordered us two Coronas, and we drank them in almost-silence. I say almost since everyone else was laughing and crying and talking too loud and Fleetwood Mac was on the overhead speakers and the TV was showing an infomercial, some B celebrity on an exercise bike, no, sitting still, an anchor woman, cable news, a story about a jet rising from an aircraft carrier, an explosion, no, no—I squinted into the tobacco smoke and rubbed my eyes—it was a curling wooden ramp, a screaming teenage crowd, two grown men riding tiny bicycles, somersaults, and Udo kept humming this U2 song, some tune I could barely make out....

It was either “Desire” or “One.”

For much better, or for much worse, Amelia:

Sean

Sean Lovelace is at seanlovelace.com. He publishes here, there, everywhere. He just won the 2009 Rose Metal Press Short Short Fiction Chapbook Contest. He likes beer and nachos and reading a river.

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