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.
I was moving from the mess in Alamogordo to Pine Bluff and needed someone to drive my second car, a coughing ‘90 Volvo. My wife and three children had flown on ahead. I told them that one of my students, a man named Walt, was driving with me, but that was a lie. Walt wasn’t driving —Papercrane was. Papercrane was our twenty-four-year-old neighbor who was now pregnant with a child I had been told was mine. I had my doubts about that fact but the truth is those doubts weren’t very strong.
Just past Broken Arrow the sun had almost set. We were flanked by fields so alive with prairie dogs that I wished my children had been with me to see. We were otherwise alone on Highway 165 when behind me, in a flash, the Volvo jerked onto the shoulder and stopped. I’d been suspect of circumstance here, Papercrane so swollen with child and all, and now, my hands shaking, I felt the worst of my fears had been realized. I executed a slippery crossing of the grass median and turned back.
The Volvo’s front windshield was shattered, a hole the size of a skillet punched in above the speedometer. The driver’s door was open and from it I head Papercrane say “My God!” again and again and again. Shards of glass glimmered across her sweater. Blood trickled down her forehead. In the passenger seat a shivering prairie dog bled onto the map of southeastern Oklahoma and in her hands Papercrane held the intruding agent: a huge white owl.
“He just… boom!” she said. “What the fuck! And he had that!”
“You OK?” I said.
Then the bird lunged out of her hands and onto the heaving prey beside it. He turned. The face of that white beast scared me and I’m ashamed to say it now, but in a rush I kicked the door shut.
“Hey!” Papercrane said, and a strange sound began to emerge: it was the owl fluttering violently from within. There was no exit, though, not until Papercrane opened the door. But Papercrane didn’t open the door. She wasn’t even yelling any more. I didn’t know what she was doing, because I was backing into a cornfield, afraid of the life enclosed therein. It was only the sound of something trapped, something now trying to escape, that echoed out there, dissipating into the darkening landscape around me.