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.
An overhead fluorescent panel flickers and they awake in a gray concrete room. It’s a perfect cube: the walls fifteen feet long, the ceiling fifteen feet high. It is empty except for a small rectangular cardboard box in one corner.
“It happened again,” says Ralph, sitting up.
“You gotta be kidding me.” Van rubs his forehead. He has an enormous shiner. “Hey—I got a shiner?”
Ralph shakes his head. “That mean no?”
“It means I cannot believe it happened again.” Ralph sighs. “Of course you have a shiner. It’s only about the size of a cauliflower.”
Van moans. “This the type of thing could only happen in Enid, Oklahoma.”
Ralph stands and approaches the wall. “Why you bothering?” says Van. “You know there’s no doors to this room.”
Ralph palpates the surface, feeling for cracks. Van is right, of course. There are no doors.
Moaning again, Van staggers to his feet. He picks up the cardboard box, opens the lid, and flips it over. A thousand puzzle pieces spill to the ground. Every piece is slate grey on both sides, the exact same hue as the walls and the floor.
“Might as well get started. This one looks even harder than the last.”
Ralph nods. They sit on the floor and start sorting through the pieces. But Ralph’s heart isn’t in it.
“Sorry,” says Van. “What I said.”
Ralph doesn’t respond. “About Enid.”
“Enid has problems,” says Ralph, looking up sharply. “I know that. But our problems are bigger.”
They work on the puzzle for several minutes. Ralph, to his amazement, finds two pieces that fit together. The light flickers. The room goes black. Ralph sighs.
Van moans. “We get outta this one,” says Van, still feeling for the pieces,
“I’ll never say another word against Enid, Oklahoma.”
“Yeah,” says Ralph. “That’s what you said last time.”
Nathaniel Rich is the author of The Mayor’s Tongue. His second novel is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.