He was a little guy, five years old maybe, and I know his name was Carson because all around, people were calling out “Go Carson!” as he was shaking his butt on the concrete pad that doubled for a dance floor. Carson was wearing a safety orange t-shirt and yellow sound protecting headphones, but he had the beat. We’d made eye contact a few times, I was bobbing my head along with the music and then, he reached out his hand to me and I got up to dance with him, my heart singing just a little less loud than the band. We bounced for a few minutes, he held up his palms to mine, and then, he was done with me. He pointed to my chair, and to another woman, and I did that thing where you mime your heart being dropped on to the ground. Everyone in front could see I’d been thrown over for younger and prettier, and they all laughed at me. With me.
It was so sweet, as was everything about the evening. I met Mike, a local guy, a poet, at the Midwest Writer’s Conference in Munice, Indiana, a few days before. My face must have given me right away — when he told me he was skipping out early on the last day of the conference to see live music in a corn field, it took him less than a minute to invite me along. I hesitated. I had to be up very early for my flight out, and I wasn’t sure if I was making a mistake by skipping the faculty after party. But this is what I do — I go into the world to find new things, and this was new to me, and I said yes. We agreed we’d cut out at the break and off we went to Wilson’s Wines, over country roads past barns with quilt squares on the side and old farm stores and fields and fields and fields of corn.
At the farm it was soy that year, not corn, and Mike was sorry I couldn’t see the corn, because it’s prettier than soy, but the low crops meant that I could see the big bright sparks of fireflies. We got there early and set up the camp chairs in front, next to Bill and Samantha — Sam, for short. We drank rhubarb wine, pink and sticky and sweet and not quite cold enough. Bill was troubled that I’d not had Wick’s Sugar Cream Pie — “It’s just up the road there,” he insisted, but it was too late in the day. “Are you coming back? You’ll come back, we’ll make you a cream pie,” he said, and Sam agreed, and I believed every word they said, I’m quite sure they meant it. I would not have been surprised had they insisted I stop by their house the next day, there would be pie and Sam would make it just for me.
“So, whaddaya think, Seattle?” John Wilson runs the show, he’s a big goofy guy, tall and gangly, and he was tracking the weather on his iPhone, showing me where the storm was, insisting we’d be fine, even while I pointed to the flashes in the sky to my left.
I told him the truth, that I loved everything about it. I loved being surrounded by the farm’s outbuildings in the sticky heat and I loved talking with Shay Hill, the guy who played the ukulele and the cajon with the opening duo, and I though I didn’t love the flavor of the wine, I loved that I was drinking rhubarb wine, and I especially loved it when Jennie DeVoe, the headliner, played an excellent cover of John Hiatt’s Cry Love. “He’s a Hoosier,” said Mike, and I admitted to being a big John Hiatt fan. I watched people dance and I wondered where all those lesbians could have come from, given where we were, and I danced with Mike, and a woman named Beth thanked me for trekking all the way out there. “We’re not all rednecks,” she said, even though I’d made no such accusations.
It rained, not enough to stop everyone from dancing, and then, it rained harder, big fat drops, and the sky lit up with great white streaks of lightning, and once, I saw sparks fall from the sky. “We gotta call it,” said Jennie, and she apologized, assuring us it wasn’t just about their gear, but also about the lightning that was more and more frequent and right on top of us. I wasn’t sorry, I wasn’t forced to ask my host to leave early, plus, I hadn’t had enough, so I was leaving wanting more. We drove back into town under the strobes of intermittent lightning.
“No one comes to Munice,” said my friend Kelsey, the writer who’d made the case for me to be a guest at the conference. “No one.” And for days, I thought, yeah, here I am in a hotel on the main drag and you can’t walk anywhere and the coffee, oh, it’s criminal, and I thought Seattle lacked diversity but this, oh, this is white. But then, I danced with a little boy to some solid rock and roll and I had a little pink wine, and the sky lit up in flashes of blue white light and there was that wet concrete smell of rain. And I wanted to have another day to drive around the country, to run my hands over the tassels of corn and to stop in little turnouts and farm stands and to have homemade sugar cream pie.
Back in my hotel room I dug up some John Hiatt tunes on YouTube and genuinely regretted that I was leaving the Midwest so soon.
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