Thursday, February 11, 2010

Land of Dreams



After Mike's second DWI, when he came out of treatment, he and Linda decided he should quit his job at the railroad, take early retirement if they'd give it to him, and the two of them would open their own business in a nice little neighborhood shopping hub.

It was Linda's dream, and Mike figured it was long past time for a change.

They called the place "That Special Occasion," sold balloons, cards, candy, small, mostly corny, gifts.

It hadn't gone well from the start. There were so many things they hadn't really thought about, thought through, and there was the competition from the big one-stop outfits and shopping malls and the internet. Linda didn't want to hire anyone --didn't think they could afford it-- so for at least the short term it was just the two of them.

For the first few months absolutely nothing happened. There was plenty of foot traffic in the neighborhood, but day after day they sat there playing cards and monkeying around with displays. The Yellow Pages advertisement would make all the difference in the world, Linda insisted.

It didn't. After only nine months they were already having problems with creditors. Mike started drinking again, on the sly. When Linda caught him he said he was bored. The location was lousy. They should have considered that. They were practically hidden in the middle of a block, and customers had to drive down an alley to find their parking lot off the back of the building.

Shortly before the first anniversary of their opening they were sitting on folding chairs just outside the back door. It was almost 4:30 on a beautiful summer afternoon and they hadn't had a single customer all day. They were both smoking; Linda had quit for three years, but had recently taken it up again. Mike got up from his chair and started pacing.

After they'd sat there in silence for what seemed like ten minutes, Linda looked up at her husband and said, "We're not gonna make it, are we?"

And Mike, looking off across the empty parking lot, said, "It sure doesn't look like it."

And then everything just fell apart, and two years later he was living with his brother out in Lakeville and she hadn't seen him in over three months.

Linda was working third shift as a motel clerk, and one night she was sitting there at the front desk in the dark hours, listening to the radio, a talk program, and all of a sudden there was Mike's voice.

Every time you drive or walk or ride your bicycle down some street, he was saying, you should make a point to look around and notice all the little businesses that are just about everywhere you look.

He said, Everyone of them businesses is somebody's dream. That's somebody's whole life there. People trying so hard to make something work, something maybe they've always wanted for themselves. Mostly just average folks, I'm talking about, not some big corporation. I wish sometimes people would think about that sort of thing when they go out to spend their money, think about all them people trying to make a go of it, some of them with their whole lives on the line.

There was a pause. The host was momentarily silent, and then Mike said, That's just what I wish, I guess. Something like that. That's all I really have to say.

The man on the radio thanked him, and Mike was gone.

Linda sat there in the quiet lobby of that motel and she cried quietly. She laughed, too. She was so damned proud of him, because that was just not a thing she would ever in the world expect Mike to do, to call on the radio like that.

She turned off the radio and sat there for awhile. And then, like so many other nights, she just felt sad and lonely and started intently watching the dark for the first signs that another morning was, in fact, coming for her.

7 comments:

  1. This one kills me. It feels like every small town I've driven through in the past ten years, with the giant Wal-Mart squatting on the outskirts of town.
    - Sarah

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  2. Agreed. What makes it worse is that it was a collective decision on the part of a nation to gut the little downtowns that sustained us all for centuries. This is a beautiful story.

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  3. The fact is all you libs can go to socialits europe if you want to buy your bread from a bread shop and you're meat at meat shop and so on here in AMERICAN every thing is more conveint we have one parking spot for all of whay u coud want and cheaper to.

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  4. I love this story. You have always written from the broken person's perspective. I relate to this view, some people don't. It reminds me of the short story writers we read in High School. Closed stores make me sad. I hate seeing them.

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  5. Thanks for the kindness (and the provocative endorsement of the American way). I'm in an inconvenient place at the moment, and am contending with a dodgy internet connection, but I'm stockpiling more of the usual nonsense, and will start dumping it here as soon as I get settled.

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  6. This is beautiful, Brad! Even more moving for being so simple and spare.

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  7. Sitting at work dreaming. What a lovely story. Thank you.

    -Lupa.

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