Rich Rice from Tulsa

by Rebecca Makkai

Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.

Carl’s roommate, Rich Rice, had gone home to Tulsa for spring break. There were six of us in Carl’s room, with jobs or low funds or sex plans, staying on campus, trying not to think of The Shining as we walked home each night past abandoned white message boards, past forgotten laundry. There was no TV. No one cared about the party we’d been invited to by the drunk townie at the Harris Teeter.

Jen, Laing’s girlfriend, rooted through Rich’s desk. She said, “What the hell kind of name is Rich Rice?”

Carl said, “Swear to god, he never talks.”

Jen found a framed photo. It was Rich, three brothers, two gray parents, and six matching Christmas sweaters. “Wow,” she said, and though I hated Jen, hated her for dying her hair red and taking diet pills and flirting with our sociology professor, I laughed along. Matching sweaters, red and white. Rich and his brothers looked alike: perfect crop circles of brown hair, pale faces. Jen said, “I thought he was from Tulsa. Why would they need sweaters in the desert?”

Poor Jen had Tulsa confused with Tuscon. We mocked Jen relentlessly while Carl drew a map in the back of his Mandarin book. Laing laughed hardest. He hit her with Rich Rice’s pillow. He found her ignorance charming.

I said, “At my Montessori school there was this wooden map of the U.S., and when the teacher wasn’t looking we’d use Oklahoma as a gun.”

Dolph said, “My uncle went to Oklahoma when he got divorced.”

Jen wanted the crowd back. She lined up Rich’s things on his bed: photo, calculator, seashell, shampoo. She said, “Who the hell is from Oklahoma anyway? What kind of person is from Oklahoma?”

We pawed the things. A museum of Oklahoma. None of us had any idea.

Rebecca Makkai is a Chicago-based writer whose first novel, The Borrower (Viking, June 2011), is an Indie Next pick and has garnered rave reviews in O Magazine, BookPage, and Booklist (starred review) among others. Her short fiction will appear in The Best American Short Stories this fall for the fourth consecutive year, and appears regularly in journals like Tin House, Ploughshares, New England Review, and Shenandoah.