This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.
“Chase, 72, and Zigler lived together for 10 years. In December 2010 though, Zigler died in his sleep at age 67. Instead of letting go of her good friend though, Chase ended up keeping him in the chair in which he died.” Jackson (Mich.) Citizen-Patriot
Sometime after you’ve made it beyond the worst of the worst, you arrive in Jackson. Jackson is halfway between Here and There, but for you this is it. Jackson is where you live now. Park, walk around. It looks a little stunned, this town, a little shaky. Streets a mite too wide for the traffic. Downtown, five blocks of buildings that have all been through too many incarnations to matter. At one end sits the Carnegie Library, like a dowager whose money used to run the place.
At the other end is a kind of plaza at the feet of a tall, shiny structure topped with a corporate logo. It looms over the lesser buildings like the motivational speaker who strides into a windowless conference room at the local Best Western in his blue suit and brilliant smile, eager to tell the sparse crowd how their lives could change. A shrine, this building, but the new god blew town one night. Nobody believed in it anyway, or if they did, they’re getting over it. Everyone’s getting over it here. Don’t think the place has given up, though. Jackson doesn’t give up. Jackson has acquiesced, which is different. Jackson goes on.
Downtown gives way quickly to gray and brown houses on small lots, a beauty parlor called Shear Magic or Images, a package store. In a small white house on Cooper Street a woman watches NASCAR with her boyfriend, who died two years ago. “I didn’t want to be alone,” she says. “He was the only guy who was ever nice to me.” He could always make her laugh. She keeps him clean, she says, he doesn’t smell. They’ve lived together ten years. “It’s just that after so many bad things happen to you, I don’t know.”
Out at the west edge of town lies the little municipal airport. On a rainy evening drive along its chainlinked perimeter, out beyond the runway. In the fog the lights are vague. Nothing is flying tonight.