That year we lived on Holbrege in a small one-story house with
a patch of dirt in the back Sheila always talked about making a garden
out of. Everybody else on the block lived in similar houses and
during the long summer we all spent weekend days on the small
concrete slabs that were the best anybody could do for porches. I
don’t remember any of our neighbors’ names, only that we sometimes
drank a few beers together and talked about how could it be
this hot already and not even June. I was an adjunct in the English
Department. Sheila was a poet who didn’t believe universities and
poetry had anything to do with each other. She got a job waiting
tables at the Golden Wok and it was there that she met someone, another
waiter. Before she got the job there we used to eat there sometimes.
The Golden Wok was cheap and open late, a big sprawling place
that even when it was filled with people had a way of looking empty.
I left Lincoln the following year and have not been back to Nebraska
since, except for a few times driving across it on I-80. I never stop in
Lincoln for gas. When I lived there I was told that it had once been a
beautiful city. This was before, apparently, they ruined it by building
too many highways, and for a smallish town, even if a state capital,
Lincoln did seem to me to have an inordinate amount of highways.
Still there was the Sunken Gardens with all the flowers in a kind of
bowl and also the houses on Sheridan Boulevard. Sheila and I would
drive up and down Sheridan Boulevard and look at those houses.
Once she pointed to one of them and said, in all seriousness, “Who
would we be if we lived there?” Her bare feet were on the dash. I remember
that particular house. It was big and white with what she
had called a porte cochere. Sheila was from the South and she said
such stupid little outdoor garages were common there. Another time
she said, “Hang the rich by their own petards. My father used to say
that—and he was rich. It means by their own umbilical cords, or
something like that.”
I remember hearing that at one time Lincoln was the licorice capital
of the world. Maybe it still is. Near our house was a little park
with a couple of netless tennis courts and I used to sit at a picnic
table and read for class. I remember reading To the Lighthouse out
there and coming to that moment where Mr. Ramsey, in the dark of
the morning corridor, reaches out for Mrs. Ramsey not knowing that
she’s already dead. It happened, like most things, offstage.