Sunday, June 8, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Away

A family at their wits end - a mother and two daughters, say - driving from an untenable situation to an unknown, uncertain, undesirable future - get onto the wrong farm-to-market road at night, and the car breaks down. Their cell phone has no service. So they sleep in the car till it's light enough, and when they wake up see, what they couldn't see at night, that they are right outside a small town called Away.

It's a peculiar town, but not in a frightening way. The fact that they don't have any money to pay the guy at the garage doesn't keep him from hauling it in: "S'okay, no guarantee I can fix it anyhow. May as well take a look." The lady who runs the diner has a sign in her window for a waitress that's so old it's sun-faded; may as well give the mother the job. The pay's lousy, but is in cash (worn silver and gold and paper with odd designs and old, old dates on it, but the local storekeepers accept it and in fact it all circulates all over town over and over and over again, the same coins recognized as they go from hand to hand) includes use of a little walk-up apartment out back, so they have a roof over their heads.

Not every house has electricity; those that do, use generators ingeniously designed to be fueled by a number of different fuel types. The garage is also a blacksmith's and has facilities for fixing horse-drawn vehicles and flivvers, and the mechanic himself drives a '57 Chevy. Nobody delivers gasoline to his ancient pump, and yet if anyone needs gas it always has some. The old lady at the diner cooks on a wood stove. The whole place is a cobbled-together hodgepodge, people with odd accents, individuals from many different backgrounds but no identifiable ethnic subpopulations, technology and styles and attitudes from different eras, and yet it all meshes together, somehow, peacefully.

The car never gets fixed, the phones are all landline and all connected through a central switchboard that isn't on the national network, nobody's heard of WiFi, nobody takes a newspaper; the little circulating library has a limited number of books from incunabula to paperbacks; but the mother ceases to care. Her kids are fed. She has a roof. Maybe she starts dating the mechanic. She's able to relax and takes up something that used to interest her.

But the girls are the only kids in town; or, if there is another kid, he was born here. What to their beleagured mother looks like a refuge, to them feels like, and is, a trap.

Away is where people go when they're at the end of their ropes and need a place to stop stressing and just be.

Away is the opposite of where kids need to be.

Kids always leave Away. Or else they stop growing.

But once you leave, you can't get back. Until and unless you're at the end of your rope...

I kind of needed Away myself, when I thought of this, and couldn't put a plot together because I personally needed a rest, not a plot. I had a certain amount of fun planning the households, though.

It's basically a Twilight Zone episode; but a TZ episode would be ending right at the point that the kids need to start the crux of the plot.

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