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.
She prays for world peace. Then she leans her head against the stone and cries. Because when given her moment in Jerusalem, when faced with holiness, that was what she came up with. World peace. Her prayers were the prayers of beauty-pageant contestants.
What she really wants to ask for is a Coke, because she’s thirsty, and help for her brother, because he drinks too much, and a safe flight home, because airplanes scare her. What she really wants is to see that guy again, the one she’d met in a bar in Tel Aviv. He was from Oklahoma, and so tall that to look at him, she had to lean back on her heels and lift her eyes. She lost her balance then, but he caught her, one arm around her waist. There are Jews in Oklahoma? she said, and they both laughed. Then she leaned her head on his chest.
Now she cries and the stone is rough against her forehead, and warm—from the sun maybe, or the hands that press against it on both sides. Anyone would think she was grieving. But she cries because she’s a tourist, like everyone else. She cries because nearby people are dying, back home her brother is dying, and here she is, thirsty. She cries because she once believed—in G-d, yes, but also in her right to speak to Him, her ability to interest Him. She cries because she’ll never see that boy from Oklahoma again. She cries because she can’t remember his name. She cries because to the left of her, and to the right, everyone else is crying too.
Deborah Willis was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her fiction has appeared in Grain, Event, Prism International, and The Walrus. Her first book, Vanishing and Other Stories, was named one of the Toronto Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2009, and was nominated for the BC Book Prize and the Governor General’s Award. She has worked as a horseback riding instructor and a reporter, and currently works as a bookseller in Victoria, British Columbia.