Thursday, April 20, 2006

Winesburg, California

It was so small a town that it was not officially a town at all. Somewhere between 500 and 750 residents, depending on where you imagined the boundaries to be. The kind of town where everyone might be expected to know everyone else. And perhaps that was, in general, a valid expectation.

But he had lived there just over 20 years. With his wife. With his children, before they had grown and gone their ways. With a succession of hard-luck dogs and seemingly immortal cats. And he knew hardly anybody:

The next-door neighbors on the left were the Raiders: David, who maintained the park across the street; Linda, whose death from a cat scratch, of all things, the whole town knew about several days before our protagonist heard of it; and two sons, Chris and Jason, who were grown and mostly gone, but seemed to hang around quite a bit.

Beyond the Raiders were the Linds: Marcia and her husband whose name he couldn’t remember on a bet, and their two daughters, one of whose names he should remember because she’d gone to school with his older son, and their one son, whose name he couldn’t remember ever having remembered.

Next to the Lindss was a Mexican family whose names—even their surname—he did not know. He and the father of the family nodded and greeted each other affably if they ever met on the street.

And the last house on the block in that direction was occupied by people about whom he could have told you absolutely nothing. Except that they apparently owned a boat.

The next-door neighbors to the right were the Stewarts: two parents, two sons, one daughter, and one dog. He knew all their names, even the dog’s, but could never seem to remember all six names at the same time. Father: David. Mother: Heather. Older son: Coleman. Younger son: Emerson. Daughter: Evie. Dog (a mongrel bitch with an ugly disposition): Morgan. David was handsome and enterprising. Heather was gorgeous and carried a pregnancy as gracefully as any woman he’d ever seen. The kids were all blond and blue-eyed. And reasonably polite. And he disliked them all with a quietly growing intensity.

Next to the Stewarts were the Scandrets: Clyde, Gail, Cailin, Gracie, and Kearan. Or Kirin. Or something that sounded like a brand of Japanese beer. He referred to the kid as Bud when he referred to him at all. He found the Scandrets—by virtue of their distance, mostly—less irritating than the Stewarts. But only just.

Beyond the Scandrets lived the widow Ryan. Twenty years ago, she had not been the widow Ryan; she had been Mrs. Tom Ryan. But at some point, Tom died of something, and now she was just the widow Ryan, no other details available.

At the end of the block to the right lived an old couple whose names he might once have known but had long since forgotten. They were accomplished busybodies, and he disliked them more than the Stewarts and the Scandrets put together.

Who else in town did he know by name?

His arch nemesis, Jim Riley, lived on the corner of Railroad and Second, in a house that would have suited Bo Radley.

His son Ned’s friend Nick’s parents lived on Fourth St. He knew the family name, but could seldom remember it.

The Cranfords, Don and his wife, and maybe some of their kids still, lived in the big house at Llano and Third. Don did something having to do with fertilizer. Apparently something fairly lucrative.

The Fergusons lived on the corner of Hatton and Third. Sandy, the mother, helped raise guide dogs for the blind.

The clerk at the post office was named Cecilia. She didn’t actually live in town, but maybe you could count her, anyway.

That pretty much did it, as far as names went.

Who else did he know, even by sight?

There was the Catholic priest, who was always out walking his Dalmatian.

There was the guy across the park, who sometimes rollerbladed with his dog. His wife was a tall bleached blonde with just a little bit of a pot and very long legs that she was clearly proud of.

There was the couple on Hatton Ave. with all the religious and “happy family” bumper stickers on their minivan.

And the young mother on Railroad, whose toddlers played in the yard a lot.

And the lawyer on Third St., who seemed at once sad and friendly and a little addled, whose son was killed in a freak accident in the park one day.

And the friendly Mexican guy who lived across the street from the religious minivan and who owned a Siberian Husky that he couldn’t begin to control. He was drawing disability for a heart condition and spent a lot of time making firewood.

Not a lot of people to know, after 20 years in the same place. And what might have bothered him most, if he had given it any thought, was that it did not bother him at all.


Blogger J. Robert Dexterheimer said...

very derivative

10:08 AM  

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