Mr. Fun Hog
There they were, two young women standing by the side of the road with their thumbs out. They weren't warmly dressed, considering that it was December, in Maine. One of them had green hair. They looked to me as if they were in trouble, or about to be. I pulled over, thinking, better me than someone else. The world was full of characters.
"Can you take us to Augusta, ma'am? The Middle Road?" said the one whose hair was not green.
"Yes, of course, I'm going right past there," I said. "Climb in."
Soon they were in the car and we were driving west. The smell of pot wafted from the women, and I thought about the fact that my purse was on the floor in the back next to Green Hair.
"Wow, lady," said the girl next to me, looking at all the equipment in the minivan. "You sure have a lot of stuff. What is that, a guitar?"
"Synthesizer," I said. "I was playing at a Christmas party at the Samoset Resort last night. I was sitting in with the Roy Hudson Band."
"Whoa, I know them," said Green Hair, suddenly impressed. "You play with them? They're great. The Roy Hudsons used to play at Colby when I went there."
I glanced in the rearview mirror to get a better look at her. Something in her voice was familiar. "You used to go to Colby College?" I said. I was about to say, I'm chair of the English department there, but hesitated.
"Yeah," she said. "A couple semesters, a long time ago. Couldn't hack it."
It was possible, although not certain, that Green Hair was named Ashley LaPierre, who'd been a student of mine back when I was a man. Looking at her now, all I could think was, wow, she's really changed.
The class Ashley had been in was Love, Literature, and Imagination, the introduction to fiction, poetry and drama for non-majors. I loved teaching that course, and sometimes did it as a great big lecture class where I stood at the front of the room and sang. We read a wide range of stuff, most of it having to do with people trying to find the courage to do something impossible. We talked a lot about the journey of the mythic hero, about the slaying of dragons and the attainment of illumination.
I used to stand there at the lectern in my coat and tie, waving my glasses around, urging students to find the courage to become themselves. Then I'd go back to the office and lock the door and put my head down on the desk.
Ashley LaPierre had dropped out of Colby in the middle of that semester, which broke my heart. I remembered she'd been a fine writer though, shining in both my class as well as in Richard Russo's fiction workshop.
Now, six or seven years later, Ashley--assuming it was she-- didn't seem to recognize me, which wasn't a surprise, seeing as how I didn't use to be female. I was wearing blue jeans and a coral knit sweater. My long blonde hair fell just above my breasts.
"So what are you girls up to?" I asked.
"We was walking into Augusta," said the one next to me. "Pickin up this pit bull."
"I'm Jennifer, by the way," I said.
"Stacey Brown." The other girl didn't introduce herself. Stacey punched in my lighter.
I wanted to say something about how we didn't allow smoking in our family, but decided not to. The car was full of amplifiers and sound modules and monitors anyway, and I'd just spent a night playing songs like Hey Bartender and Mustang Sally for a bunch of tattooed millworkers. It didn't seem like the time to start lecturing these girls on the dangers of nicotine.
"You live around here?" I said. Ashley was looking out the window.
"We live on a farm," said Stacey. "We got five cats, three hens, one rooster."
"Nothin'," said Stacey.
Excerpted from She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan Copyright© 2003 by Jennifer Finney Boylan . Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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