It is ten at night in China Grove, NC, and the stars have risen over the fields to fill up the country sky. I am still unemployed, and spending a few days with my friend Elizabeth, in the place where she grew up in. This may not be everyone’s idea of excitement, but I am still a tourist to the South, and every corner and vast road bordering the country side, every handful of dust has something to offer my eyes. Me and Liz are red in the cheeks from lying in the sun all morning and tired from our thrift store shopping spree around town. There is no air conditioner in her house so her mother has placed two fans in each corner of the living room. This artificial breeze will hopefully let us sit under the heat of a summer night and watch a movie with her grandmother, who lives two houses away from hers and has driven to visit us. We have just finished eating pizza, and Liz is working on her orange sherbet while one of her Mom’s five cats rests on my lap. Nobody knows how to connect the DVD though. Everyone was expecting the other person to know how to do it. This means that instead of a movie, we are going to have to TALK to each other. Oh boy…
Liz’s mother is the first one to get up and try to fix it. She disconnects the cable behind the TV set to connect the DVD and instead cuts the Cable off, leaving us staring at a huge screen of black and white dots.
“Mom!” yells Liz, “Get out of there! Let me do it.”
“But it was starting to work Lizzie!”
“Sure it was Mom.”
Liz puts her orange sherbet down and proceeds to turn on the DVD player.
“Leave it on channel three!” yells grandma.
“Shut up and let Liz do it Mom!” answers Liz’s Mother.
“You shut up! I’m giving her instructions.”
“Aw, my orange sherbet is stuck in my throat now cause you’re all yelling dam it. Grandma, you fix it.”
The cat has woken up by now and one of its ears is pulled behind its face. Liz’s grandmother gets up and unsuccessfully begins to change channels in hope of finding one without those black and white dots. By then I can already feel Liz’s temperature as it starts boiling. Her mother suggests we should call Liz’s brother; the only guy who understands how to connect a DVD.
“Mom! If you call Jonathan he’s gonna want to come over and watch the movie with us, and he’s probably gonna be drunk. And he’s gonna want to invite his ass-hole friends over too!” Liz yells from the couch.
Her grandma keeps on changing channels and I sit there in silence hoping there is more sherbet so that I can, at least, get to eat ice cream tonight. At some point her mother turns around and notices me.
“We shouldn’t be yelling in front of guests, you know.”
“ Aw! But Carolina doesn’t care!” answers Liz. I sit there nodding at everybody and petting the cat that is about to jump out of my lap, to go hide under the bathroom sink.
Thirty minutes later, Liz finally managed to connect the DVD after scanning through the instruction manual, which had been sitting on the TV set all along, and that nobody bothered to ever open. This saved us all from painful attempts of making small talk to each other. We watched the movie, and by the time it ended, Liz’s grandmother was asleep on the couch with her mouth open, and her mom kept dozing off and waking up.
As we prepared to go to bed, Liz’s mother was fully awake again and grandma had lighted a cigarette, they were addressing each other:
“Mom, have you decided if you’re going to give Jonathan a piece of land? He IS your only grandson after all. You know how he wants to be independent and install a trailer house over there, near the barn.”
“I’ll think about it dear.” Responded grandma as she puffed cigarette smoke.
“Mom! Why would you want Jonathan to live by himself anyways! He’s just going to invite his ass-hole friends over and their all gonna sell drugs in grandma’s piece of land!” added Liz.
By then I had finished my ice cream and there was not much more to do, except maybe go crawl under the bed, just like the cat had done one hour ago. Liz’s mother raised her voice:
“So that means that you won’t share any land with him, does it? That’s what you always say when you don’t want to help us out Mom. Just like you have been doing all your life Mom, all this land and you give it out to your boyfriend and nothing for the family!”
To this, grandma raised her voice even more, “Like if you ever helped me out to do anything with the land after pops died!” She grabbed a piece of pizza and threw it towards Liz’s mother. To this, grandma grabbed a slice from the open box, and threw it back at her daughter. It missed her, and landed on the cream colored carpet.
“Mom! Grandma! Stop acting so immaturely dam it!” yelled Liz.
By then, in my attempts to remain invisible, I had grabbed the latest copy of “Better Homes and Gardens” that was sitting on the table, and I pretended to be very interested in one of its articles about interior design. Liz was getting more and more nervous as she yelled at the top of her lungs:
“DO YOU NOT NOTICE THAT WE HAVE A GUEST OVER HERE!”
“Liz, I don’t mind.” I answered.
“We all know that you don’t mind Carolina! BUT STILL! That was really good pizza and its all on the floor now, all thanks to them!”
One hour later the two ladies had calmed down after taking their nightly doze of Valium and Liz was lying in her bed after a shower. Her mother was talkative and flipping through a photo album with me, showing me baby pictures of Liz in cute outfits. The TV was left on but I fell asleep in the couch a while later, and don’t really remember how.
The next day Liz showed me around her town narrating the story of her life in various acts: “See over there Carolina? That is the fence in were I busted my head open when trying to escape to my friend’s house without my Mom’s permission.”
She kept on pointing out places to me: “This is the gas station I told you about, where they would sell us beer when we were sixteen. And see that huge house over there Carolina? A few years ago, when it was still in construction, me and Blake would park in that spot and do it in the back of my Volkswagen.”
“Wow” I would reply, or “Interesting!”
The day after that we would be heading back to Charlotte listening to The Gossip and driving with the windows open, and everything would keep feeling stuffy and ugly afterwards: My life in the city, the suffocating heat and the asphalt. I always thought I was a city rat, but something about Liz’s childhood and something about China Grove kept making me smile, all those miles and miles of green, and I remember when I used to think that these type of landscapes were boring and stale. I understand it know, in every handful of dust. I do.