Nora often wakes up with an odd word running through her mind: peripatetic, or calcify, or hematoma. Not connected to anything in particular, just a sound. And we often make that into a game, where she’ll say a word, and I’ll say a word in response, and she’ll reply, and it’ll go on for half an hour. The replies don’t have to make sense, they don’t have to rhyme or start with the same letter or be a similar category. Blackberry could be followed by peach, or by iPhone, or by Chuck Berry, or by pie…
Last week, on Wednesday, Nora woke up with a random name in her head: Svetlana Yates. I heard that and replied that she was a Russian mail-order bride running a laundromat in Missouri. Nora laughed, and said “How do you do that?”
“Have these stories come into your head like that!”
Well, I have no idea. But I’ve spent the past five days writing it. And as of this afternoon, Svetlana Yates is a fully fledged person, her story told.
How did I know her husband’s name? How did I know her two daughters, and why they’d choose such different kinds of colleges? How did I know that she drove a three-year-old white Corolla, that she smoked three American Spirits a day and kept a tin of mints in her apron? How did I know that the water line tore on Washer 17? I don’t know how any of that emerged. But I’ve been in coin-op laundries before, felt that uniquely greasy-tacky feel of the lint traps after years of fabric softener sheets. I’ve lived in a place like Granby, Missouri, where everything is exhausted all the time, including everyone’s aspirations. And I’ve met people like Svetlana, who had once been children with dreams and who are now 41 years old and resigned to an endless series of unchanging days. If you look at the world around you, stories are everywhere. I just borrow them and put them together in new ways.
When it works, it’s more real than life, one word that draws forth another and becomes a person, a place, a time.