CHAPTER: IOWA By: Laura Winton

A freestanding chapter of a novel I have been working on for decades now.

Laura Winton

It had only been a two months since he had seen Maureen, but to Clark it felt much longer. It was almost as if she had never been there at all, that she had been an apparition, or a character from a movie. Perhaps he had fallen asleep and dreamed all these situations and Maureen had never really existed at all, except as a specter, a composite of all the girls he had dated in college.

Couples were still difficult. Maureen felt guilty more than lonely. Maybe it was childish of her to have run off like that. She had a difficult time justifying it rationally, even though she knew it was what she had to do. It probably seemed like another one of her melodramatic scenes to Clark, but to Maureen, it was the least melodramatic thing she could do. She couldn’t continue the fighting. It wasn’t fair to Clark, and she didn’t feel she had the strength for it anymore. Surely he knew she just needed to get away, “clear her head.” Old hippie that he was, surely he understood. Besides, Clark was settled. Once Maureen felt ready, she knew she could go home and explain it all to him. They could work it out, if they wanted to.

West of Burlington Iowa and south of Des Moines is a Fairfield, a small town of about 10,000, home to the Maharishi International University,with its Golden Domes of Enlightenment, a name which could not help but inspire giggles from Maureen every time she heard it, and in which yogic flying was taught as part of the TM curriculum.

Fairfield sounds like a relatively unassuming little midwest town, full of Main Streets and Court Streets and Broadway of course. Like many farming communities, its economy struggled throughout the 1980s. By the early 90s, if not sooner, it was a hotbed of new age activities, full of vegetarian restaurants and proliferation of Ayur-Vedic clinics. In the 1990s, John Hagelin of the Natural Law Party, a new age quantum physicist began what would become a perpetual run for US President, like Ralph Nader the celebrity consumer advaocate for the Greens and Gus Hall, the head of the American Communist Party who ran for president 4 times and served two presidential-sized terms in prison for being accused of advocating violent overthrow of the government.

The newspaper of Maharishi International University is called The Source and can be found distributed for free among the more liberal pockets and communities of Iowa and so as Maureen was passing through the Great Corn State she picked up a copy of The Source and read through it in spare moments on the bus. Not that there was much reading to be done there, as she found that she was developing a form of travel narcolepsy. Despite all attempts to pull her gaze from the window and into a book, she stared out at the road, the trees, the passing fields. No matter how boring they seemed to her, she couldn’t tear her eyes away. Truckers refer to “white line fever”, the sort of daze from driving miles and hours and days and staring at that white line. Within a 15 minutes of moving on the bus, Maureen seemed to fall asleep anymore, book in hand, notebook or pencil buried down into the seat behind her, next to her, or beneath her.

And so she hurtled sleepily across Iowa, counting corn ears like sheep and dozing off fitfully, never fully asleep but not able to stay awake. When the bus stopped in Burlington, Maureen heard a distinctly un-midwestern sounding voice. “Is this seat taken, Miss?”

It had become Mo’s custom to fake sleep as long as possibly, until every other seat on the bus but the one beside her was taken. She was always ready with her excuse if that failed and someone began tugging on her leg, prepared to tell them that she was traveling cross country, was exhausted, and really need to stretch out. But the sound of the voice coming from the aisle, Indian sounding, of course, caused her to bolt up to see who was asking her. Thus caught, she eyed the tallish man with the robes and turban, an extra from Gandhi or perhaps a Beatles video, tucked her feet in front of her and sat up, leaning against the window so as to indicatethat she was still asleep and not really feeling chatty.

Gradually the man next to her, a Yogi of some sort, she assumed, drew her out with small talk. Staccato at first–short quick statements that invited but did not demand a reply. Isn’t the bus crowded today? Is she a college student? From Iowa? What school did she go to. Eventually, it worked and Maureen decided to be sociable. It wasn’t every day you got to talk to a Yogi riding a bus through a run down industrial railroading town in Iowa. She mentioned that she had seen and had been trying to read The Source and asked if he was with the Maharisihi University, which he was. He began talking to her about Transcendental Meditation and she smiled, thinking how ‘60s and wondering what Clark would make of all this. He talked about enlightenment and bliss, the importance of creating harmony. Despite her cynicism, she was entralled by his conversation. He was so unselfconscious and really believe all of these things, unlike most of her friends–and Clark’s–who talked about it, but didn’t really seem to get it. Most of the time it just seemed like a good excuse for them to get stoned so they could “transcend” the world. The Yogi explained that substance abuse was a poor substitute for TM and that the two should not intermingled.

The Yogi, whose name Maureen never asked, talked to her about her social activism,and how important it was to maintain a spiritual balance, lest her work become bland and obligatory, which would be contrary to the kind of world she wanted to create. She nodded enthusiastically, watching his face intently, and began to notice his hand on her thigh. She froze, still looking him in the eyes, smiling, and wondering what to do. She swore she heard Sexy Sadie throughout the bus and looked around several times, but no one else seemed to hear any music nor be mouthing anything going with the words and music in her head. She just sat there while this man in white robes kneaded her thigh and talked about creating harmony and positive visualization and something about using your whole brain and not having a mind/body rift. After a few minutes, the driver called that Des Moines would be coming up soon. This was all getting too weird and so she decided Des Moines would be as good a place as any to get off the bus.

Before she left, he wrote out her name in Hindi and blessed a set of beads,which he gave to her. Getting off the bus, she would have to scoot past him, and then stretch out in front of him to get her bag from the upper compartment, both of which made her self conscious. His hands did in fact end up on her ass as she squeezed past him, ostensibly trying to help her by, yet she was suspicious. Once off the bus, she dragged her stuff into the dinky little bus station of Des Moines, probably a good mile or more from the heart of downtown, and crammed it into a locker. It was 5:15 already and she thought she’d go get some food and see what her next bus option was. She pulled the beads out of the pouch on her backpack and wrapped them around her fingers sort of like a rosary and slammed the locker shut, pulling the red key out and putting it into her pocket. She went up to the attendant at the ticket window and asked when the next bus would be by into downtown.

“No more buses today. Buses stop running at 5:00.”

“5:00! I thought this was the capitol of Iowa.”

“Yep. Everyone works for the government down here. Goes home at 4:30 I guess.”

“Shit.” Maureen decided to conserve her cab fare for coming back after dark. This neighborhood, on Keo Way, whatever the hell that was, didn’t look too inviting. Despite being able to clearly see and walk to downtown from there, it felt strangely isolated, not at all like she had just stepped off into the largest city in the state, the capitol, for cyring out loud. She stuck her beaded hands in her pockets, looked around to see who might follow her, and headed out the door, for the bright lights of Des Moines.

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