I just gave away my last map. Its legend shows a for a restaurant and a for a hotel. The map was in my glove box where I’d never in my life kept a glove. I could get another map, or hell, just go make one, and with a less blasé legend.
I’d gone to Home Depot, intent on buying what apparently was our town’s last outdoor chaise lounge. I’d called around. The last one in stock, the last month of summer in what was probably the last year of my mother’s life. The chaise was for her. To “lounge” outside watching the birds was, at 90, her favorite pastime.
And there it was, as promised to me on the phone, the green-cushioned chaise in the patio section. It looked perfect. Except for one thing.
The man sleeping on it. Soundly sleeping.
Sleep of the dead, I was thinking, staring at the End-of-Summer sale tag hanging eerily near his foot like a toe tag.
We can give him the boot, someone said suddenly.
I turned to see an orange-vested woman tip her head towards the sleeper.
Are you the one who called? she asked. Her badge read Shirl.
I nodded. Those stains on the man’s jeans looked like blood.
Someone else will grab it if you don’t, Shirl said.
I believed this. It’s for my mother, I told Shirl, buying myself some time since there was still the problem of the sleeping person. In my mind he’d acquired something like squatter rights to the chaise.
Then out from from the Home Depot ether sphere came the store’s deus ex machina. Aboard a shiny silver wheelchair. She was an elderly woman who looked—with her tiny tight grey curls—very much like the elderly woman for whom I was buying the chaise.
Is he real? she asked. Just as my mother would have. The obvious question. The one I hadn’t even thought of.
Shirl and I just shook our heads in that way that probably looked like no but meant yes.
The elderly woman pushed a button, and her chair buzzed ahead, all shimmery. Then she stopped, leaned down, and tugged gently on the man’s shirtsleeve. Time to wake up and smell the roses, she said.
Taking his time, inching his back over little by little, finally he was eye to eye with the wheelchair woman. Roses, he repeated softly.
Then he saw the other two of us a little ways off. Roses, he said once more as he sat up. By the time he’d gotten to his feet, Shirl had nabbed the sale tag and handed it to me.
I paid for the chaise and, as instructed, drove my car to the pick-up door. I had just opened my trunk when the sleeping man, now brightly awake, appeared.
Hi, he said, recognizing me, but we were both savvy enough to say nothing about the chaise.
I wonder if you could tell me which way the river is, he said. I’m all turned around today.
Sure, I said. In fact, why don’t you take my map. Hold on a sec. It’s in my glove box.
He smiled and watched me walk around my car and dig it out. Glancing up, I saw he was forming words with his mouth but no sound came out.
I spread open the map. The river weaving through the center of our town zigged and zagged in bold blue. We stared at it. I mentioned how it had jumped its bed a thousand times way back when. If that story had been in the map’s legend, we’d be seeing here a river, there a river, everywhere all at once a river. A thousand lines, a thousand colors.
No, I had not altered the legend on the map I gave him, but the maps I love most deserve better legends. So I must make them. The job I give myself is an invented one all about invention.
The map was not a fair trade for the chaise, of course, but Here is where we are, I told him, and marked an X for us and There’s the river.
And it’s still right there? he asked, poor guy, puzzled or possibly still thinking of those roses.
I put my finger into the river next to his. Still here, I said. Still right here.
The Map | A Gallery by Nance Van Winckel
All images of modified maps are copyright Nance Van Winckel; images may not be copied or otherwise used without express written consent of the artist. Click image to view in larger size or to begin slideshow:
Nance Van Winckel’s newest books is Ever Yrs., a novel in the form of a scrapbook (Twisted Road, 2014). BOOK OF NO LEDGE, an altered encyclopedia featuring these maps, will appear with Pleiades Press in November 2016.