Or, in other words, write a story about someone who is at odds with their environment. Some examples are a minister in a political race (okay, maybe not so much), a domestic goddess who switches places with a CEO (that one could really be fun), a Millennial hipster stuck in the sixties, to name a few.
Living in the South, having to deal with Yankees who make a deal about my “yes sir” and “no ma’am-ing”, was the inspiration for this farcical piece.
When Melissa Met the South
Melissa Caldwell blotted her temple with a handkerchief. It was so undignified to sweat, or perspire, as her aunt Addie would say. Her aunt Addie believed every word had a gender—men sweated, women perspired, men tailored, women sewed, men were chefs, women were cooks. She even still used the terms male nurse and lady doctor.
It had been more than twenty years since she had seen her father’s aunt. Even though she’d been five the last time she had been in Pensacola, Florida, she hadn’t remembered it being this hot. The humidity made her feel as if she were walking through a steam room. She stopped at a café to get a cup of coffee—iced, that is—then realized she was a couple of eggs short of hangry.
“Would you like grits with that?” the server, whose nametag read Mandy Claire, said.
“What are those?” Melissa asked, and this little pissant waitress had the nerve to look at her like she was stupid. Well, at least she wasn’t a waitress; she had gotten an education.
“Okay, never mind,” she said with a wave of her hand and a roll of her eyes. “Do you have anything gluten-free?”
“Gluten-free?” Again, the look.
Melissa blew up her imaginary bangs in exasperation. “You know what? Just bring me an iced coffee to start.” Mandy started to walk away, but Melissa called out. “Oh, by the way, do you know where a good Jewish deli is around here?”
“Publix has a really good deli,” Mandy said, then scurried off before Melissa could ask what in the hell was a Publix.
Melissa took that as an opportunity to fish her cell phone out of her Prada bag and call her best friend, Marisol Fernandez. Melissa spoke Spanish fluently, so she chose to be respectful of her friend’s culture by speaking in her language, garnering a few glares from nearby booths. She loved the privacy of being able to speak in code, but she could’ve sworn had she been speaking English, she would’ve been ignored, so she transitioned. Funny, how they were all about “speaking the language”, yet they couldn’t spell worth it a damn. The funniest one she’d seen had been on a church sign that said, “Not haven Jesus in this life is hell on Earth.”
“So, how is Jennifer and Kathy’s wedding coming?” Melissa asked her friend.
The waitress gave her a funny look as she set down her coffee, topped with a copious amount of whipped cream. “Anything else, ma’am?” she asked, seeming reticent to disrupt the conversation.
“Ma’am?” Melissa said, mid-conversation. “Please, I’m not even thirty.” Melissa dismissed her by resuming the discussion on hers and hers bath towels.
The girl looked confused, then went back to work.
A group of people were having some kind of Bible club behind her while she finished her coddled eggs (another thing Mandy had never heard of), and it was making her uncomfortable. She turned around, looking aggrieved. “Would you guys try holding that praying jazz down? It’s really offensive to those who don’t believe. Thank you.” That was how she always got what she wanted—assuming she would get it anyway.
“We’ll pray for you, Sister,” one of them called out, so she sucked down the rest of her coffee, leaving a ten dollar tip. As she looked back, she saw the waitress’s astonished expression. The girl did need some dental work, after all, and Melissa’s inherited wealth was a bit embarrassing. She was like the only one-percenter in this greasy spoon.
A young, Mormony-looking couple holding hands walked by her car, pointing and shaking their heads. “Coexist only works if the others don’t want to chop your head off or blow you up,” she heard the man say.
God, what the Christian hell is wrong with these people? They are so paranoid, Melissa thought. This part of the country bled red, so it was no wonder. She couldn’t wait to get to Aunt Addie’s house. She’d kept in touch with her lonely great-aunt for the past several years, and she’d always seemed like a fairly rational person, albeit old-fashioned. She didn’t know how her aunt stood living in a place that was so damn American Gothic Horror. It was like freaking Pleasantville.
When she reached her aunt’s beach house, she was in awe. The sand was as white as sugar, the gulf vacillating between emerald and sapphire. A wrinkle in the sky divided land from sea, and the sea oats swayed like dancers in love at the end of the night. She even though she saw a dolphin making a graceful arc. There wasn’t anything like this in New York. The Jersey Shore didn’t even compare.
“Melissa?” a sixtyish woman said, coming out in a tank, Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops. An ivory Virgin Mary blended in to the landscape, but the “Marriage is Between a Man and a Woman” bumper sticker did not.
Melissa had always been vocal about her beliefs and non-beliefs, but she had never quite pegged her aunt as a Christian conservative, and yet, here she was, welcoming her into the folds of her embrace like it didn’t matter. It was then that Melissa knew she was in very grave danger here—of losing her heart to this place where it was flip-flips and bikini tops all summer long, where it didn’t snow, but rained at Christmas, and where everything was fried (except peanuts, which were boiled); where there was a church on every corner, and a hobo or Bible-thumper on the other.
Yes, she was, indeed, afraid of falling in love with this lovely place.