She put the girls to bed, Becky Jr first, then Sue. The boys had been tucked away hours earlier by their father. It was late in Wisconsin and Americana Fever, her favorite bluegrass band, was about to play on the livestream. Becky Sr pulled out her pair of stream Goggles and laid down in the rickety Ikea bed she and Maverick, her husband, shared.
Maverick was out in the fields still. It was late, dark, but he had things to do — an amateur star-photographer, his work had attracted attention from a few big institutions out East. He had a few big commissions from an art collective in that needed high fidelity Mid-Western sky for their “Blanket the Sun” installation that’d be showing in the City in a few weeks.
Becky Sr had never left Wisconsin; Maverick had grown up in California, spent some time in New York City, then Detroit, then the plains of Wisconsin looking for new territory, he said. He had friends from both coasts that would come to visit, occasionally. They seemed thin, pale, worn-down, energetic, a weird mix of over-zealous and unmoored jadedness. They slept out in the barn, in cots Maverick had installed up in the crawlspace above the machine shop and tractor storage.
They didn’t keep animals. The barn, built in the 60’s by Becky’s grandfather, got quite cold in the winter. Mav had insulated the corrugated tin roof — R22 rated pink padded stuffing, stuffed behind painted plywood sheeting. It had arrived on the weekly delivery truck a few years back April, several large baling rolls of pink fluff wrapped in brown paper. They had a small mining rig that hummed all night, driven by the wind when it was windy and the sun in the daylight. In the winter it doubled as a heater, keeping the space warm enough for the steady-ish stream of visitors that seemed to relish ‘roughing it’ for the cold season, at least as much as they enjoyed frolicking in the fields during the sunnier months.
They didn’t bother putting it up for let on the Internet, it got plenty of use from the myriad sea of overlapping Group Chats. Mav seemed to be endlessly fielding requests for time from far afield.
It’s good to get out of the city, they’d say, citing the latest buzzed brouhaha about Nigerian princes that had sent their newsroom into a tizzy or some unbearable heatwave that they were missing by being Out of Town at that very moment. How did they know what they were missing, Becky always thought but never asked. It didn’t seem polite.
The cuckoo clock, an heirloom no one had wanted but that Becky had inherited all the same with the house, chimed in the front parlor. It was 8p now, 9p Eastern, 6p Pacific. Americana’s players were mostly out of the coastal cities; they came online together once a week to put on small performances for their fans — all 40,000 of them. The players knew some of the regulars, the ones that had been there forever. It was more of a practice than a performance, exactly, but everyone had a good time.
Becky adjusted the goose down pillows and slid further under the quilt her grandmother had made her mother, Becca, over half a century ago now. Priceless heirloom, with a few unraveling edges badly in need of a good airing out. It’d get one, come springtime. The screen lights dimmed then brightened in her Goggles, indicating that the performance was about to start.
Mav would be out for hours yet, waiting for the Milky Way to hit its nadir above the big Wisconsin sky.
The players had assembled onto a raised stage platform. Becky, a long time viewer and season ticket holder had a good view from the second balcony. The players’ avatars were a motley collection of large stuffed foxes and vaguely Japanese characters with wide eyes and perfect, porcelain skin. Today the banjo player took cues from both camps, wearing miles of crinoline petticoats and the face of a blushing panda. The costumes changed but the masks stayed the same. The announcer was wrapping up his weekly spiel, always the same jokes about ‘timeliness’ and ‘finding your seat’. They got laughs every week, just the same.
As the musicians started in on their first number, a quick tempo polka-crossover made bluegrass, Becky noticed an avatar sliding into the seat next to her, a drunken fox. He waved silently at her, she recognized him from last week, and smiled back.
Mav woke her slightly, hours later, lifting the Goggles off her chest, gently sliding them past her face, his hands smelling faintly of wet earth and bent grass. He kissed her forehead, then slid in beside her in the darkness, falling deeply into the mattress, asleep.
The clock began to chime, one, two. Then the house was still, the high pitched whine of the miners a faint to color to the expansiveness of the absolute still plain Wisconsin mid-February night.
Image credit: Denny Moutrayu