I reach Fargo still wearing the peach satin dress I had on when I left Oregon. It’s the one with the buttons that pop open if I start to lose it, but there’s nothing in the gray sky or infinite sage hills to provoke this. Except when I’m monologuing about the barista—the shit-fuck. Then I’m sweaty. Then my heart races and a button or two might pop open, but I’ve promised myself not to look. I don’t want to see his purple spotted teeth marks on my nipples. I don’t want to recall my shock when I fingered his cock, no thicker than a chicken bone.
The northern states, their hot dust, are lonely enough without all this.
In Montana, I got out to look in every direction. I took deep breaths, ran between the sage brush to get the blood flowing back into my ass. I picked an armload and piled it through the passenger window. This is good, I thought. A month ago I would have been doing this for the barista, the shit-fuck, now it’s on my own terms. I squeezed the final handful, so its oils scented my palms, then stuffed it into the glove compartment with the plastic gun I’ve been carrying since my heart got broken.
Of course, it was doomed from the start. I was married to a lashy-eyed bike mechanic who would spend his one day off making a loaf of focaccia with little tomatoes he’d dried in the sun.
Beautiful. Understanding. A gem.
Sometimes, there was wine at neighborhood picnics. Sometimes, we’d dance naked in the kitchen, passing a smoking apple. Sometimes, we’d take photos of us, fucking. After all, we got married at 22. We still looked good in photos.
But most of the time, I thought about what was missing.
The barista, the shit-fuck. I picked him up at an espresso cafe, the only game in town. He was its king; his short films were shown every night.
Later, he told me he thought I appeared “together,” which is surprising, considering he was looking right through me.
I came back the next day and the next.
Why would this be anything to see in someone?
I sent him messages via other men. Once, he was camping in the furthest corner of the state. I knew someone who was going to meet him, so I taped a bluejay feather to this man’s thermos, knowing he—the shit-fuck—would eventually see it. Another time, we were walking down dead snake road and I sang him: I want to be your yes-girl, you beefcake.
It was appalling, I know.
We did it only once.
Nothing to do with my being married.
Now, at the outskirts of Fargo, a cop trails behind me, flashing his lights.
I slow onto the shoulder. This is the first time I’ve been caught speeding and the fields are low and dark. I am breathing heavily. The police officer shuts his door and steps to my window. He is a red-haired man with dirt-colored freckles covering his face and neck. His eyes are dull.
He wants to see my license and registration.
“OK,” I say. But when I open the glove compartment, my sage and my plastic gun fall out.
“What’s that?” he asks.
“It’s not real—”
“Not the gun, the green stuff.”
“You’d better come with me.”
I exit the car, following him just close enough so he doesn’t think I’m trying to escape, and soon we are sitting next to each other in the police car. Beyond the windshield is the promise of Fargo’s orange-lit sprawl.
“Five miles over the limit.” He does not look up at me. “Fine’s fifteen dollars.”
“Are you from Fargo?” I ask.
“Yep. You visiting or just passing through?”
“I don’t know, I could be doing either. But if I stayed, I would want to see the real Fargo. I would want to go bowling. Go to a no-tell motel.” I laugh and the buttons on my peach satin dress pop open.
The CB radio exhales a loud breath of static, then a hard female voice: “Got eight heads of cattle at 257. This is Fargo—”
The officer doesn’t smile nor frown, but looks at the line of holes where the voice emitted as I try to close my buttons without either of us noticing. Then, we look at each other, and there’s a long, slow break in the sound of passing cars. The glow of Fargo’s orange-lit sprawl up ahead is sadder than any I’ve ever seen. Neither of us says a word.
Front page image: “Other Half Part 1,” by Jana Anderson
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