The Spring Issue of Midwestern Gothic marks the 3rd anniversary of the journal, and it seems like with every new issue I’m continually surprised by the fact that we’re still doing it and that we’re still growing. The number of people interested in fiction and poetry fro the Midwest just continues to expand, and Rob and I couldn’t feel more blessed to have the opportunity to share the amazing work of the people who have been struck by the region as much as we have.
One of my favorites from this issue was Rocco Versacci’s short story, “Not in Kansas Anymore.” About a man driving through America’s heartland from Kansas into Missouri – the piece is a potpourri of Mid-American culture. The random tourist traps, the people completely disconnected from reality, the sense that you’re stepping back in time the further you drive away from civilization. I camped in the Ozarks for a few days last autumn, and this story completely echoes my experience. I’m continually fascinated by these hidden pockets in the Midwest that are off the beaten path. I’m sure if you took these folks and transplanted them somewhere else, everything would seem utterly foreign and strange to them as well. Part of what intrigues me about the unfamiliar is the dissonance that occurs when characters without perspective are made to look in the mirror. Here’s an excerpt:
I’m creeping through a construction zone. A bulldozer, small in the distance, hangs onto the hillside like a beetle on a turd. The road crosses over a highway up ahead. As I make the final crest, a pickup truck with a flashing yellow light appears in front of me. Goddamn it, I think. He’s going to send me all the way back. As we pull up alongside each other, I brace myself. The driver doesn’t even look up. Just drives on by.
Ten miles to Golden City. I imagine shining spires reaching up into a cloudless sky, roads paved with bars of gold, waterfalls and fountains overflowing with shimmering coins. I keep looking up ahead for the glow, but all I see are ripples. The road ahead is becoming a sine curve, undulating up and down as it disappears into the horizon.
I’m in Cooky’s Café in Golden City, a definite contender for Most Ironically-Named Place on this trip. No shining spires, no gold bars, and most definitely no glow.
East of Pennsboro, the sine curve has metastasized into an ECG readout for someone in cardiac arrest. Steep climbs in my lowest gear followed by sharp drops where I hit thirty miles per hour or more and then back uphill again where I’m shifting for all I’m worth. The climbs and drops turn sharply through wooded hills, occasionally leveling off but not for long before I’m climbing or dropping again.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Ozarks. When I crossed the desert a few weeks ago, I felt small amid sprawling, wide-open landscapes and ageless rock. But there were clear skies and long lines of sight. Perspective. Here, trees shoot up on either side of me and clasp their leafy fingers together to hide the gray sky. The road ahead and behind me bends into hills and curves. I don’t know where I am. Wait, yes I do. I’m Dorothy, crash-landed in Oz.
A memory. Halfway up the stairs of my house, trying to catch my breath. Week three of chemo? Week four? On the stairs, I can see partway into my bedroom. There’s a slice of blue just visible above where my nightstand is. It’s a card from my boys. Marker drawings on construction paper. Inside, a message. Dad you are as strong as a great white shark.
Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic : Spring 2014 – Issue 13 and for the rest of the story and many others inspired by the Midwest.