We Don’t Have That Here
Maude and Mable followed one highway to another from one state to another in an old gold Prius packed to the windows with bags and boxes. They told everyone it was an impulsive decision, the kind that feels right for its bravery and self-honesty. Like leaving a cage you thought was locked, but then one day you tried the door - just to see - and it wasn’t locked, and you could be free if you chose.
When they’d moved to the city, it was young. They were young. There were scavenger-hunt-5ks, and naked bike rides, and Halloween pillow fights in the middle of downtown intersections. They’d been members of every museum and of the botanical gardens; taken art classes, attended concerts and lectures, seen every traveling exhibit. They’d gone to all the sports teams’ games at least once and had baseball season tickets for years. They’d lobbied for paid family leave and gay marriage, against neighborhood school closures and homeless encampment raids.
Now they were less young and their rent had skyrocketed. They’d ridden all the rides the city had to offer. The city had squared its quirks, like the diagonal crosswalks and the eccentricities of the country’s longest boulevard, to be more like a “real city,” forcing their favorite places to close. Their favorite baseball players had all moved on or retired, and their political battles were becoming more like real battles with peaceful marches overrun with violent rioters and combative police. The heat of the city was becoming unbearable, and every day the news reported on the deadly air quality and unsustainably low amounts of water.
While the decision to move without a specific place in mind felt impulsive, but the running away had been coming. A million little papercuts in the form of: “You write pretty well for a black woman.” “You don’t look like a dyke.” “I bet I can turn you straight.” “We live in a post racial world. You should just calm down.” A man spitting on Maude for joining Mable in a line. Someone putting a “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman; It’s the truth, not hate” bumper sticker on their car. The interactions that made being out in the city exhausting. Every day felt like a fight. They began fantasizing about a cabin the woods. Living as hermits, witch women from fairytales.
And then the job Mable had taken for its inclusivity became hostile. Her boss took away her classroom and gave her the vague assignment to “help the students.” He couldn’t fire her for being queer, but he could and did make work hell. Their little city started to rival the big ones in police shootings, so when a security guard told Mable he could shoot her for running on the wrong side of a confusing temporary fence, she knew if it had been Maude he would have. Leaving felt like their only option. But they had no idea where to go. They could not think of a place where the things that made their lives hard didn’t exist.
So, they decided to go look. Be nomadic for a while. They took turns driving and reading maps, like a story chain, each making a decision and the other building off it. They decided first where they could not live.
“No red states.” Maude said.
“Of course. Nowhere that gets over 100 degrees.”
“For sure! And nowhere with more than 3 months of winter.”
“Agreed. No cities larger than 150,000 people. Ish,” Mable added.
“It has to have at least one newspaper.”
“You could start your own.”
“It’d be expensive and wouldn’t likely recoup the costs without pandering.”
“I wonder if there is anywhere where the people get along, and appreciate journalism with integrity.”
“That has affordable housing, and pays its teachers what we’re worth,” said Maude.
“And doesn’t have any bigotry.”
“And has a government that listens.”
“And is pretty.”
“Ask and ye shall receive?” Maude grinned at Mable.
“Dear Universe, please provide us such a place,” Mable said from the passenger seat, hands in prayer position.
“A place where we can be ‘Free to be you and me.’”
Eye rolls and giggles.
They held hope in each new town they entered.
“Cute, but everything is right along the highway.”
“Too far from anywhere.”
“Don’t we want that though?”
“Is this a ghost town?”
“Was this a mistake?” Maude asked.
“No! I refuse to believe all of America has gone bad.”
“Rotten fruit, toss it out.”
“How Rome was lost.”
“Turn it into Atlantis.”
“Bury it like the lost city of Ebla.”
A brightly-lit, green overhead sign announced the exit for the town of Edengrove next exit.
“What are the chances?”
And with that, Maude took the exit and turned right, and then again at the Y a mile down. They followed the signs to a cute, well kept, main street. All the buildings seemed to have a fresh coat of paint. Native perennials accented the abundant greenspace and annuals hung in baskets from nearly every portico. Maude pulled the car over to park in one of the plentiful spaces.
“It looks like that town in Northern Exposure,” Maude said, unsure if that was a good thing or not.
“No snow,” Mable said pleased.
“It’s off the highway. Look.” Mable pointed to an electric truck.
Maude raised her eyebrows in surprised approval. “Quite a few, actually.”
“Do you smell that?”
Mable smiled and took Maude’s hand. “Exactly.” The air was clear and clean. Maude took a deep breath and coughed. “Gonna take a minute to get the bad air out of there.”
The women walked down the street, looking in the windows. An outdoorsman shop with fishing and hiking gear in the window, a couple boutiques with surprisingly practical and fashionable styles, an art collective, a brewery, an herbalist shop, a computer repair shop, and restaurants galore. Through the window of a coffee shop, they saw people working on computers and reading books.
Maude pointed to a non-chain hardware store in a cute Victorian storefront.
“Seems a little gentrified,” Mable said. “Wonder how long that’s going to last.”
Another sporting goods store, this one with more athletic attire and equipment rentals, a bookstore, a music shop with both instruments and records.
“Tourist town?” Maude asked.
People they passed waved or smiled, and no one gave their hand holding any notice. Maude had to stop herself from looking at them incredulously. After the first two people, Mable didn’t even try to hold in her pleasure. She smiled, waved, and said “hi” to everyone.
“Name’s a little on the nose, don’t you think?” Maude said, trying to relax a little. She was a firm believer in too-good-to-be-true, and Edengrove was ringing all her alarm bells. “What are they trying to hide?”
Mable laughed. “Marketing ploy.”
At the end of the little downtown, they came to a market. “You can always tell a town by its markets,” Mable said, and the women entered.
“Good morning,” the woman behind the counter called.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial