Excerpt from LOST WYOMING

Here are the first 1,000 (well, actually 943) words of LOST WYOMING.

 CHAPTER 1

Disappointment plied its campaign against Maggie Winslow with vigor, determination, and a shrewd understanding of the power of persistence. Its early forays swirled around her ankles, easily shaken off or kicked away. Undeterred, it billowed upward and clung to her, like creeping ivy on a reluctant wall, dogged and relentless, a sticky miasma no less blinding or malign for being invisible. Its next incursion, Maggie feared, might swallow her whole.

Dank, discouraging disappointment. Maggie sounded the words in her head, hitting the Ds hard and taking pleasure in the resonance even as the real thing threatened to swamp her like the humidity that had coated Chicago for nearly a month. She longed for more colorful emotions-if not the glowing silver-rose of exhilaration, then the ruby-red of fury, the black-bordered bright orange of fear, the deep indigo of regret. Even the vinegary green of bitterness might at least be vivid. Disappointment was so boring, all but colorless, at most the faded, sickly tones of old Polaroids, evocative of nothing but nostalgia and loss.

Maggie felt older, and far wearier, than she thought a twenty-eight-year-old person ought to feel. She seemed to be stuck in a sort of quarter-life limbo, trapped between a past that teetered uneasily behind her, its pleasures discolored by disenchantment, and a future that loomed ahead, in every direction a crouching gray mass poised to pounce on and devour the last skimpy shreds of hope she had left.

Was she supposed to be able to believe, still, that something wonderful was on the horizon?

She sighed and stopped tapping her fingers on the frayed arm of the wing chair in which she sat waiting for Steve. He was incapable of arriving anywhere on time, and she was incapable of arriving ten minutes late and saving herself the frustration of waiting.

The wing chair had once been the perfect combination of comfort and support. Maggie had spent countless hours lounging in it, talking to friends, sipping tall, nonfat, no-foam lattes, occasionally eating a scone or a chocolate bar. Now the chair felt deflated. Maggie shifted her position, looking for a still-plump spot, and noticed pulpy stuffing oozing from between the tired, stretched threads of the upholstery's seams. The stuffing was a disgustingly organic yellowy beige, as if the chair, while still alive, were very, very ill.

Was anything ever all it was cracked up to be? Chairs deflated. Thrills dimmed. Work excitedly sought and found paled into drudgery. Food of such surpassing deliciousness that each mouthful was a sensation dulled with familiarity into mere fuel. A love once capable of imbuing everything with beauty and buoyancy withered and became powerless to deliver even compatibility, let alone joy.

Maggie pulled her laptop out of her soft, battered black leather messenger bag and set it on the low table between her chair and its companion, likewise a sad reminder of previous perfection. She opened the computer and waited while it booted up. When it finished its mysterious coming-alive operation, she joined the wireless network the coffee shop boasted of on every sign, and went to the dictionary she'd bookmarked.

Disillusionment: "To be freed or deprived of illusion or belief."

Exactly. The idea that life was full of delights just waiting to burst into flower had turned out to be nothing but an illusion of the inexperienced, a hopeful belief, wishful thinking.

Why, Maggie wondered, did people even have the capacity to anticipate delight, and the desire to experience it, when things so consistently fell short of actually being delightful? Life was always failing to deliver on its promises. Did it know what it was doing, leaving so much to be desired?

The coffee shop's door clattered shut. The closing mechanism had been broken for weeks, and the door imitated a shaken box of jagged metal chunks every time someone entered or left without babying it back into a closed position.

Steve wasn't the person who had come in, but through the window, Maggie saw him about halfway across the plaza that separated the coffee shop's building from its twin. Like the other people walking in the plaza, Steve appeared to be moving through a wavy, slightly out-of-focus version of normal air. Unlike them, he looked crisp. He walked smoothly, confidently, bouncing a bit on his insteps with each stride. His hair was neither flat nor frizzy; he had the glossy, floppy kind that behaved properly even in summer's humidity. He carried nothing.

Maggie watched him, feeling as she had for three weeks as if she'd inadvertently let something slip away with him.

She thought they might sleep together on a business trip, but it hadn't happened. After a day of meetings, they went out with a group of people for dinner. Dinner turned into a tequila shot competition at a rowdy bar. Too many shots later, Maggie and Steve stumbled giddily back to their hotel.

He joked about what a lightweight she was, holding her arm and insisting on walking her to the door of her room. She opened the door and turned to say, Stay?Instead, she looked into his smiling face and heard herself say, Thanks. G'night.

Apparently unsurprised, he squeezed her arm gently before he let go of it and loped off down the hall. Maggie backed into her room and closed the door, not bothering to double-lock it or use the chain. For much longer than seemed reasonable, given how woozy she was, she lay awake, dressed, on the still-made bed and wondered whether he would have stayed if she'd asked and why she hadn't. 

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