Sam exited onto I-94 and headed toward home. She couldn’t help but feel like a star-crossed co-ed returning to college on the heels of a whirlwind summer romance. She was traversing that excruciating expanse between exquisite heartache and ominous responsibility. It was a most agonizing and sickening space to be—mourning a past and future that were incompatible. As she sped into the dusk, she sat in silence and ached. It was all she could manage.
The 90 minutes of arrhythmic hills, occasionally flatlining for infinite stretches, did little to meliorate Sam’s condition. Veering off Hwy 37 onto Hwy 12 and coasting down the hill toward the Chippewa River felt like an inmate’s bus ride to prison. Granted, Sam had a fool-proof escape plan already arranged, but she resented the time-served she was about to endure.
As many times as she’d crossed the bridge over the Chippewa River at twilight, Sam still reveled in the majesty of the college campus that crowded the opposite bank. In a bedroom community like Eau Claire, the collegians were its parasitic life-blood. They provided the life that sucked all the marrow from the parochial riverside outpost.
While Sam searched for a parking spot, the brave and the clueless undergrads from across the river bobbed and weaved down the gutters and alleys like errant bowling balls in search of the truth that could only be found at the bottom of a $3 pint of beer.
Sam pulled into a spot around the block from her apartment. As small and cloistered as Minneapolis felt, Eau Claire felt downright claustrophobic. Pausing for a beat on the corner of Fifth Ave. and Water St., the first whiff of small-town stench leveled her and jolted her back into her grand-scheme irrelevance. She began to drag her luggage and lug her guitar case down the block. In the process, she dodged gaggles of giggling co-eds, mobs of dudes stinking of testosterone and stale beer, and the occasional couple pretending that there was culture to be had in the bowels of the college town. Arriving at the doorway to her tiny refuge above the coffee shop + wine bar felt the cherry on top of her latest descent.
Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley