“Don’t go too far,” the woman at the Diamond Door Health Spa said as I tied my running shoes. “These things happen fast.”
Oh, but it’s a sparkling day with yellow corn, chartreuse soy, and more corn; battered barn, shuttered farmhouse, corn; plucky red house, still-water pond, corn. I feel a title coming, Secrets in the Corn.
No, someone already did that.
Above me, a drift of clouds the color of aluminum slides in, thick like icing. Perfect for the new book, Secret Admirers, when Gisele despairs that Percy has disappeared. A feeling like a cloud surrounded Gisele, choking her personal sun.
Wind up, trees bowing, blue consumed by a hungry gray.
I’ve got to remember this—it’s perfect for Percy after he returns from his secret open-heart surgery and overhears the rumor that Gisele has married his brother. Running, hurting, his newly mended heart slashed anew, Percy dashed Lear-like into fields the color of overcooked pork.
Is that thunder?
A moss sky?
No, moss is all wrong for Percy. Above the slush fields, a teal clearing in the clouds brought Percy to his knees.
Can my readers tell I am not from this place? I hate the pancake land, the blanched towns. I was dumped here by my only love, who followed an amethyst-eyed vixen to hilly San Francisco.
On the other hand, this vapid flatness has been useful. It gives permission. On a fallow flat field, Percy will be able to see Gisele in the distance, and she’ll run to him, even though she’s wearing four-inch heels and a ten-gore satin dress with a ballet neckline, having deserted her own wedding. In San Francisco, she’d trip on a crowded curb and survive. But here, blinded by tears, she’ll drop into a fast-forming sinkhole and die before his eyes.
Wait, is that a funnel? A real funnel?
Dive for the trees? The red house? Where are the generous neighbors like the ones in Secret People?
The farmhouse then?
No answer. No matter: the place is dark and flimsy, like the outhouse in Secret Lives, where Mimsy died in despair after the duke left her for the perky interior decorator.
Turning, searching. “Help!”
And—oh—there she is, red hair whipping. Mimsy.
“Ha!” she says. (I really should have made her more articulate.)
“You made me ridiculous. You killed me in—a dark place. My niece read that book.”
“Love killed you.”
“He didn’t love me.”
“You didn’t know that.”
“But you did.”
She has a point. So do the husks flying, now branches, bushels, barnwood with nails.
“Is that what you do—create and kill dreams?”
Who does she think she is, accusing me? She’s not real. Nonetheless, I need help: “Forgive me?”
She descends into her storm cellar.
A real gust throws me against a real pigsty.
Up. Running. Fences fly by. Hide under the bridge? That didn’t work for Miss Hartsung (Secret Sinners), who waited at the Bluemoon Bridge for the lout Moribundy to return with her long-lost baby as the waters rose and Miss Hartsung—never mind, the point is: Miss Hartsung’s soggy fate wasn’t the bridge’s fault.
Skip the bridge. I’ll run. Dianella outran the tidal wave in Secret Scores. Of course she had two Olympic medals, plus expertise in weaponized tomatoes and geopolitical concerns about punitive tariffs on imported shower gel. Sadly, she later chose the wrong man and became a fat chocolatier in Akron. That’s when Princewood, my editor, announced I should rethink how I treat my heroines.
Oh, the black wind, there’s no synonym; wheezing scream, bad rhyme; the roar of a train, possibly overused. Running, panting, ducking debris.
Midwest niceness—that’s what Princewood wants. Sentimentalist. Fool. Reader of literature. He wants Gisele to live even after she tumbles into the poisonous sinkhole, evidence of the Superfund site her true love has been hiding. Princewood knows nothing of my audience. My people adore me. It’s true I’ve never talked to them, but I see them, sun-dried in summer, admiring smiles in the Piggly Wiggly.
I bring them coves of obsession. Doomed wealth. Sex they can’t have. Truth, where dreams go splat all by themselves. Mr. Princewood, Truth is my brand. My people understand this. That’s why they send their girls to get my autograph.
Finally, the front porch: safe. Although the door won’t open. And the woman in the window is shaking her head.
Image Credit: Shade and Darkness – The Evening of the Deluge, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1843)