They had a wilting poster of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen on the wall, a dirty fish tank with blue LEDs, blue-green algae and no fish, and the lazy chin-strap stubble beards of men who’d been men for long enough to call themselves men and no longer. In the bathroom, the towels smelled like toast and I wiped my hands on my jeans.
Where you from?
Does it matter.
Where’s that at?
New Year’s Eve, 2002. Clusters of apartments in the style of the cheap roadside motel, almost all of them emptied for the winter break but for those of us with too far to go, or no one to go to.
Either, he said, you’re an exchange student or on a sports team. Head tilted like an expectant German Shepherd, fingers precarious on either side of the beer bottle’s neck as it swung gently on his drunken axis, he awaited confirmation. There was no other reason, the reasoning seemed to go, for someone like me to end up in a place like this, and I’d always remember how they sold themselves short for no other reason than when they went home, people did it to them, too.
Baked into its wheatland hills with three feet of snow, the flags hanging limply from the porches of the houses behind university were whipped in the nighttime snowstorm. The South, disoriented and alone in a night terror, snow goggles adorned and irredeemably far from home, found its home here. The Midwest, wandering away towards the ocean until it stumbled into Washington and realised it had gone too far: this is where it ends. And me, halter-neck top tightly tied, hoop earrings, too much flare on the jeans, one semester completed, nearly nineteen. What do you think you know about this place?
Lose the accent, he said and I’d relay the story in years to come as an example of flyover state intolerance but nobody ends up summa cum laude in the mechanical engineering programme at the University of Idaho and is the type of redneck I pretended he was.
On the hulking nineties stereo, the space between grunge and the political rock opera that came two years later was filled by angry bleached-blond Detroit rap.
I’m just messing with you, he said.
They named the town after the capital of Russia. It smells like cow shit when you drive in from the west. You can be up to your eyes in pinot gris on the streets of London and every now and then, you’ll miss it with every bone in your body.
Jane Copland has worked in both Seattle and London, primarily writing about technology for her personal website and the blogs of her employers. Her work has appeared in the London Independent Story Prize and in a Tandem Press short fiction anthology in her native New Zealand. Janecopland.com / janemcopland on Twitter.