At Todd's house, he climbed into my car with a large black insulated bag full of his medicine and water bottles. It was February 18, 2022. I'd taken the day off work. Todd and I were going to Beaufort County to visit Saint Helena Island.
"I will be getting out of the car and going up to people's houses," I said.
"As long as you don't tell them my job and I can stay in the car," he said. I've known Todd since 1995. We live walking distance from each other and visit frequently, getting brunch on Saturday or Sunday mornings. One Saturday morning, he bought me a new tire when mine went flat in the parking lot of a cafe.
"Alright. Let's roll."
How we ended up on this trip started back on the evening of July 28, 2021 when, according to my diary, I ate Mozzarella cheese sticks at Mom's, hung window blinds, and came home where I scrolled Twitter. I tried deciphering my ex-boyfriend Newt's esoteric tweets. He wrote that he left his door unlocked if "you" want to come over.
"Me?" I thought.
I sat on the end of my couch under lamp light, looking from my phone to my reflection in the brass of the lamp.
"Is he manifesting or inviting?" I wondered.
Tao Lin tweeted, "I recommend 1996—an amazing, disturbing, autobiographical novel from 2005 in which Gloria Naylor writes about being surveilled and harassed by the NSA, who use classified technologies to read her mind and make her hear voices in an effort to induce insanity or suicide."
I rabbit-holed, finding that Gloria Naylor won the National Book Award for her first novel The Women of Brewster Place. She wrote a few novels after that. Her last was 1996, set in Saint Helena, which her regular publisher refused to publish. I'd never heard of Naylor. She looked hardened in the picture from 2007 on her wiki page—glasses making her eyes difficult to see, a deep frown. It seemed ludicrous that a press wouldn't publish the newest book from a National Book Award winner.
The following Sunday, I watched an episode of Manifest and read Twitter. Newt tweeted, "I'm leaving my door open one more time. If you don't come, it's okay." I wanted to accept the invitation, but I stayed home. I ordered 1996 from Amazon and went to bed.
The book finally arrived on October 19, 2021. I tweeted "look what came in the mail @tao_lin" with a picture of 1996 laying on my stove. (I like the stove light.)
On December 12, I tweeted, ".@tao_lin i'm reading 1996, and i just got to her answer about whether or not she has pets! the tension. this is amazing. thanks for the rec"
Tao Lin replied, "amazing book, yes"
A couple of days later, Tao and I exchanged direct messages. I told him about my research into the novel, locating Naylor's exact house on Saint Helena where the gang stalking began. Even using familytreenow.com, I failed to verify whether or not Eunice Simon, the antagonist in the novel, existed. In the novel, Eunice's brother works for the NSA, and neighbors call Eunice "the cat lady."
"she might be completely made-up. she might have a different name," I wrote.
"i'm guessing it's a different name," Tao replied.
I thought, "If she made-up the enemy, the rest of the novel is fiction—it's autobiographical because she lived on the island, grew a garden, and went crazy. But if Eunice Simon exists, the story is all true."
"i live a few hours away. i want to see the house. meet the people who live there. and i want to look for the neighbor," I wrote back.
Last Thursday, I requested the next day off and texted Todd if he would be interested in traveling to Saint Helena tomorrow. He wrote, "What the heck. Sure."
After work, I followed a thread that @CathyCathyFox posted on Twitter about how police in Australia zapped microwaves at their fellow citizens to break-up protests. I just checked that Twitter handle, and the account is suspended. It started, "1. Short thread on LRAD/DEW Directed Energy Weapons against Aus Peaceful Protestors."
I saw video of the machine. It looks like a square, blank cinema screen, raised on a tripod. I watched other videos of a citizen using an EMF reader to detect radiation, which it does detect. One picture shows a girl with a burned and swollen face, turning her eyes into slits. Other people in videos complain of burns, headaches, and nausea.
I also watched a video clip from the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee where Malcom Roberts questions the commissioner of the Cambria police about using energetic microwave weapons on the Australian citizens. The man doesn't answer.
I copied this tweet and texted it to my friend Emma who replied, "How does the police get convinced that it's OK to do that to their fellow man?"
It's coincidental that I found that thread when I did because the American government uses microwaves on Gloria Naylor in 1996.
Later, Todd and I texted to decide when we would leave the next morning. We settled on 9:30.
I got to Todd's house at 10:30 wearing black pants, red shoes, and a black t-shirt that shows the Clintons reimagined in Pulp Fiction.
"I thought we were leaving an hour ago," he said. He pulled the seatbelt across his stomach and offered me a bottle of water.
"Thanks. You wanna get coffee? I slept in, and I thought you'd be running late," I said.
"When am I ever running late?"
"Every Saturday for brunch."
Todd feigned shock. "Lies."
At Starbucks, I ordered a venti bold brew with cream for Todd and a venti hot chocolate with four pumps of vanilla for me. I returned to the car and handed Todd his drink. "I have a request," he said.
"Sure, what?" I said.
"Can we stop by my accountant because they have finished my taxes."
"Just tell me where to go."
"It's on Palmetto in the direction where we're headed."
A mile up the road, I pulled onto a gravel drive and rounded to the back of a small house. There, I stopped next to a drop-off box where Todd retrieved a package. I pulled back onto the road. Todd opened his package and leafed through his papers.
Thirty minutes into the drive, Todd resealed the envelope and lay it on his lap. "Can you believe that I paid $10,000 to the federal government and $5,000 to the state government?" he said.
"That's too much," I said.
"I'm only getting back $2,100."
"You know," he said, shifting his mood, "I have never been to Beaufort County before." It's two hours and 18 minutes away from where we live in Florence County.
"Me neither. Thanks for coming. Can't believe that you of all people have never been before."
"No," he looked out his window, "been to every other county, but we never got down there."
I exited 95 onto Yemassee Highway where the marshland—sea grass growing in plough mud and shallow water—looked more manicured than Charleston County to the north. With cleaner views, the low country seemed wider. Temperatures were climbing to 79 degrees.
"We have thirty minutes left. Why don't you read some of the book aloud," I said.
So I drove while Todd read. In my Honda Civic, his southern voice resonated full of warmth above the road noise. I thought, "He could read books on Audible for a living."
After reading the first few pages, he stopped and said, "For someone who won the National Book Award, the writing isn't, well...it's not my kind of writing."
I laughed. "I love that you're saying that about this book that we're coming all this way to investigate," I said.
Todd shrugged but continued: "'There is a stillness about the place. The sandy soil under your feet, the gentle marsh breezes coming from the east, all seem to speak of eternity. Of quiet. Of calm. I walked those dusty lanes, originally in search of a character, but slowly realized that I had found a place where I wouldn't be afraid to die.' Now, that," Todd said, "is beautiful."
"See? It's a great book."
He read again until we got into the town of Beaufort.
Todd pointed out his window. "That's the original spelling of my family name." His surname graced the main road through downtown Beaufort.
"Let's get a photo of you in front of the sign."
I pulled into a small parking lot belonging to the office of a divorce lawyer. Todd posed in his dark blue t-shirt and blue jeans at the corner of Prince and Carteret. I showed Todd the photos. He said, "I don't like the way I look in photos."
Back at the car, Todd pointed to the green sprigs growing up through the gravel. It looked like someone mowed up a palm, didn't clean the pieces, and covered the mess with gravel. "Those are palmetto saplings. If we had a pot, you could take one home and grow it," Todd said.
We drove by a restaurant called Wren Bistro. "That's fancy. What if we ate there?" I said.
"It's already past lunchtime," Todd said.
"I think we should get to Saint Helena first, and then get something on the way out."
"Robert, don't do this to me!" Todd clenched his fists.
Instead, I followed Siri over a bridge, around a school, on this turn and that turn, until we terminated in the middle of a two lane road under a canopy of oak trees. I got out of the car to take a picture of the canopy. Todd stayed in the car. I posed for a selfie under it. The picture of me didn't look right, so I didn't post it.
"We need to get something to eat," Todd said when I sat in the driver's seat.
"Let's find her house first," I said.
"Where is it?"
"I don't know. I'll put in directions to her house."
Again, I followed Siri down roads, this way and that, around the school once more until the pavement terminated at the Avenue of Oaks.
"It's the Avenue of Oaks, like in the book," I said.
We drove slowly down a dirt road under another canopy of oak branches.
"Now, I like that house," Todd pointed to a new, big construction.
I recognized the new housing aesthetic along the avenue because there's a similar trend in Charleston on James Island. Modern facades and a-frames, only smaller. "Either the rich haven't discovered the area or it's too brown or there's too many feds," I thought.
From the Avenue of Oaks, I turned left on McTeer.
"I'm looking for 61," I said, driving slowly down the narrow dirt road.
"Well, that one's 47. And that one's 50," Todd read off numbers.
I caught a glimpse of a white Victorian, behind tall, thick shrubbery.
"And that number is—"
"That was it!" I said.
"How do you know?"
"I've seen pictures of it online."
I drove to the end of McTeer and turned right on Saltwind, the only other road.
A sign: DEAD END/NO TURNAROUND.
"And there you are, turning around," Todd said.
I performed a three-point turnabout, circling back to McTeer. Across from Naylor's old house, where she lived in 1996, when the gang stalking against her began, I parked on the side of the road. Another sign in front of the house: NO TRESPASSING/CAMERAS IN USE.
"Give me the book. I'm going to see what I can see. If someone asks what I'm doing, I'll show them the book," I said.
Todd seemed giddy.
Book in hand, I walked up the drive. I circled the house. No one answered when I knocked on the door or rang the doorbell. A golden retriever with a white face barked at me from the inside. I wrote a note, including my number on scratch paper, and stuffed it in the door jam.
The backyard stretched 40 yards to Saint Helena Sound. Naylor writes that she planted a garden in this space. Now only grass covered the land. New owners decorated the lawn with two white chairs and a matching table facing the water. Naylor never sat in those chairs. She lived out the rest of her life in the Caribbean, according to her obituary in the New York Times. I hope that it was as good for her or better. Possibly better since South Carolina gets really cold in January and February.
I walked back to the car, hoping the owners would return. Maybe I could at least tell them the history of the house. Writers make pilgrimages to Anne Rice's house in New Orleans—why not to Saint Helena for Gloria Naylor?
As I climbed into the car, an SUV came down McTeer. I waved my hand out of the door. Todd, laughing, said, "Oh, no, Robert."
The blonde driver stopped. Her arm rested out the window. She looked incredibly attractive and fit, wearing a charcoal Dansko zip-up.
I stood up, one foot on the dirt road, one inside. "Hello, I'm Robert McCready. I'm from Florence, South Carolina, and I work for the DMV. I'm here with my friend, researching this book by Gloria Naylor," I said in one breath.
"Elspeth. Nice to meet you. Yeah, I know Gloria Naylor. I read Mama Day. I didn't know when she was here," she said.
"How long have you been on the island?" I asked
"Since '87..." Elspeth trailed off.
"You were here when all the drama of the book happened. I can't tell if the villain in 1996 were a real person. Gloria got into a pissing match with a neighbor. And the NSA got involved. The neighbor lived across the road in a split-level ranch."
Undeveloped woods grew across the road from 61 McTeer.
Elspeth pointed to the road ahead. "This is Saltwind. We have ranches on this road. None of them would be split-level." She rubbed her chin trying to think.
"Maybe it's something that isn't here anymore," I said.
"No, there's nothing like that," she said.
"Maybe it just looked split-level to Gloria. She was from New York. She might not have known what to call the kind of house that she saw."
"I think she might be talking about Wilma. She lived across over that way. She lived to be 90 and died just last year."
"Do you mind if I record this? I'd like to send it to Tao Lin. I won't make it public."
"Yeah, it's fine," Elspeth said.
Elspeth: Her name was Wilma, not Eunice, but she lived here. She probably lived here even before Gloria Naylor lived here. And she lived here until last year.
Robert: Was she tall?
E: She was not tall. She was a tiny lady.
R: Did she have cats?
E: Not in her later years. She had dogs. But she might've had cats. I don't know.
R: Was she a paralegal?
E: Oh. I think, I think. Okay, so when you talk about that then the next house, the next one over used to be Henry and Sam Bister's. Sam was a woman. Henry was a man. He did private investigation work. And she may have been a paralegal. And they definitely had cats. And also dogs. And I could see a pissing match getting started because, you know, Sam was a very strong advocate for her animals. So if there was anything going on like that Eunice might be Samantha Bister who is deceased.
R: Were they brother and sister?
E: No, no. Married.
R: No kids?
E: I think so but older and—
R: Oh, someone's coming through, I'll stand by so they can get through.
E: Samantha was not tall either. And she had red hair. But Henry was tall.
T: Did she have pale skin?
R: What did you say?
E: I would say she had fair skin because she was a red-head. Um, and she didn't go out on the beach and be in the sun all the time. So she wasn't like weathered like me and my fair skin.
R: You look great.
E: Thank you. I'm going to walk on the beach with my puppy. So I'm gonna suspect, and you might almost call that house a split-level ranch because their porch might step down in that house.
Todd and I followed Elspeth to the Bister house on Saltwind. It's across from Naylor's house but on a side road, even more narrow than the main road. If gang stalking occurred, the added traffic would be obvious. I noticed that residents drive SUVs and pickup trucks, bigger vehicles with four-wheel drive that resist bogging down with side-of-the-road or marsh yard parking. Outsiders' vehicles stick-out, like mine.
I parked behind a truck with Georgia plates in the Bister house driveway. When I got out, Elspeth stayed in her car, so did Todd. "You should go to the beach," she said. "It's only for residents, but it's such a beautiful day. I'm going for a walk with my puppy. It's a Great Pyrenees."
She pointed to a path leading to the beach before driving away, leaving me to explore.
The Bister or Eunice Simon house looks like a split-level, though it's only one level. Two different sections of roof overlap each other. Surrounding the property, a chain length fence. A path leads to the front door. Gloria Naylor takes this same path carrying a plate of cookies the first time that she meets her neighbors, asking for help keeping their cats away from her garden.
Inside the front door window, an uninhabited house except for remodeling supplies—a toolbox, some boards, a rickshaw.
I knocked on the door.
My phone rang, I jumped, Todd was calling.
"You need to let them know that a good arborist would put tar on this here branch that they've had removed to prevent rot," he said.
"What?" I said.
"I'm sitting here looking at this tree and one of the branches has been cut off. It will get disease if left untreated."
"No one's coming to the door. I'll let them know if they do."
But they didn't, so I didn't.
On the way to the car, I looked to the tree. A large, circular wound replaced a branch. Todd got out of the car.
"It'll probably fall over now that it's been cut," I said.
"The tree will grow branches on the other side to balance it all out," Todd said, turning from the tree to the beach path.
The beach at Saint Helena Sound looked bright with bits of shells sparkling in white sand at low tide, contrasting against forgotten, wooden docking posts, revealing themselves inch by inch after last season's hurricane.
Todd looked for shark's teeth as I walked in circles thinking, "I can't believe I know the whole story."
"I found one!" Todd said. In his flat palm, I saw an iridescent bit of oyster shell.
"That's not a shark's tooth," I said.
"How do you know?" He turned it over, seeing the hollow side. Todd rubbed his hands together, the sand and bits of shells, drifting on the breeze.
Gnats landed on my neck, dove into my ears, hid in my arm hair. I waved my arms like Sinead O'Conner does in the music video for "The Emperor's New Clothes." Todd collected black rocks that twinkled under the sun.
He offered a handful and said, "Do you want some black rocks from Saint Helena?"
"No, thanks. They might be dolphin poop," I said.
"How do you know?"
"I saw some when I was on the beach with Newt and his family."
Todd broke one of the rocks in half. Then another. He let the collection fall around his leather Crocs.
"There's sea glass," Todd said, pointing.
Sure enough, I picked up a piece of glass. "It's still sharp. I wonder if this would be considered sea glass."
"Any glass that has been to sea and has been rounded by the salt is considered sea glass," he said.
"Well, this one isn't rounded," I said.
Todd squinted at the bright sand. I looked at the boats on the water. Gloria Naylor walked to this beach many times. The water looked too shallow for swimming, too still for surfing. Perhaps she windsurfed.
Naylor wrote that she had watched her friend C.J. running from the plantation house next to this beach. C.J., a professor at Princeton, had slipped on the incline leading to the sand. At that moment, Gloria knew that her friend worked for the government. Field agents had set-up a psychological torture operation in the house from which C.J. ran. People had begun hammering in the house, all day long, every day. Finding Gloria waiting on the porch when he returned, C.J. had said that he was checking their crab traps. Gloria had replied, "In your best clothes?"
Across the sound, lies Morgan Island. People boat up to the edge, watching the rhesus monkeys that inhabit it. They post videos on YouTube and TikTok. I imagine Gloria Naylor rowing out, dropping anchor, and observing the abandoned laboratory monkeys. Is this where she brought treats from her vegetable garden? A sign: WARNING/Federal Project/Restricted Access/NO TRESSPASSING. Did she obey?
Now the gnats bit me, not hard bites, but they itched. Bugs never bothered Todd. "Let's go. These gnats are eating me up," I said.
I followed directions that Siri spouted to Beedos, one of the two restaurants on Saint Helena that Todd googled.
In the Beedos parking lot, I monitored Todd as we tiptoed across the cracked asphalt. Ten years ago, he had fallen in a parking lot as he left the karaoke bar. His phone had skidded under a car in one direction. His arm had snapped at the elbow, bone cutting through skin. The pain had eliminated his ability to walk. No one in the karaoke bar had heard his cries for help. Todd had bellycrawled to his phone to call the police.
Just inside, gas station booths sat along the left side of the restaurant. The cashier's long, blonde hair stayed tightly curled despite the island humidity. Todd crossed his arms, massaging his elbows.
"Do y'all have shrimp and grits?" I asked.
"Only on Thursdays," she said.
"What else do you have to eat?"
She gave me a paper menu. "Were you hoping to eat in? How many will be joining you today?"
I showed the menu to Todd.
"What do you think?" I said. He wrinkled his nose and shook his head.
"I think we're going to try someplace else." I handed the menu back.
On the way out, I spotted one of those take-a-book-leave-a-book libraries in the restaurant. It shelved romances, and no books by Gloria Naylor. I tweeted a picture of it.
We decided against checking out the other Saint Helena restaurant and drove back to downtown Beaufort for supper.
Todd and I walked into Wren Bistro. The host stood right at the entrance behind a podium. He bleached the tips of his hair, looked to be forty, and lifted his chin in the air.
"We aren't open yet," he said.
"We'll just wait in the bar," Todd said.
"I'm only open to take reservations and things like that. Sorry."
Back outside, Todd said, "Well, he sure was rude."
"Yeah," I agreed but didn't care. For once, I felt egoless. Gloria Naylor colored all my thoughts. Do these tourists know about Gloria Naylor who lived across the bridge? How would they feel about the government if they knew the NSA targeted her?
On McTeer, a road whose narrowness makes driving so tight that I had to make room for a motorcyclist during my interview with Elspeth, I thought about the gang stalking. All the drivers coming through Beaufort went over the bridge, onto the island, down the skinny dirt road where Naylor lived. Early in her harassment, before the microwave attacks that made her hear voices, drivers had rotated shifts following the same path down that road. Saint Helena is small and rural with too few residents to support a parade of cars, so it couldn't have been a coincidence.
I followed Todd mindlessly into an antique store, unlatching a safety gate at the entrance. "Must be for a cat," I said to Todd.
A seventy year old man with white hair and glasses behind the counter said, "It's for a dog. You think that would hold in a cat?" He rolled his eyes.
"We just came from investigating a cat lady on Saint Helena," I retorted.
Todd bought a crystal knife rest and received a recommendation for Old Bull Tavern.
I took one step in Old Bull Tavern to shout for Todd ahead of me, "Too loud!"
"What?" Todd put his hand to his ear.
"I can't eat here!"
I left the restaurant.
Todd looked lost, turning from the restaurant, to me on West Street.
"That place is too loud," I said when he came outside.
"I'm hungry," Todd said.
"We have to find a quieter place."
"Let's ask someone where we should eat."
"I think we should just walk until we find something."
Todd called to a lady who looked like Blythe Danner, standing across the street from us. She gripped her dog's leash. Her dog looked like a beagle mix.
"Say, where is a good place to eat," Todd asked.
"Oh, all along this street here," she said, bending her wrist to point at the buildings on Bay Street.
"I don't want to go right to dinner. Let's see the town while it's still light," I said.
Todd and I walked up West and over on Craven. The area reminded me of Savannah if Disney built a replica of it in one of their parks. All the buildings looked like facades. White haired couples sat on cottage porches. Frat brothers jumped into an SUV limousine. Bridesmaids gathered for pictures on the small lawns.
Everywhere looked closed on Bay Street. Something about the height of these buildings reminded me of downtown Nashville. Newt and I attended a library conference in 2020 before the tornado struck. I realized this was only the second time Newt had crossed my mind the whole day. The sun was setting behind the buildings.
"Beaufort isn't as old as Charleston, is it?" I asked.
"Oh, no. Not by a hundred years. It's something that just came up recently." Todd turned to Panini's On The Waterfront. "Let's eat here."
I followed him into the restaurant.
The inside area looked too dark, so I asked the hostess if we could sit outside. When we got our table, Todd and I ordered Bloody Mary's. I ordered a spicy one, and he got the cucumber one. We sampled each other's drinks. His tasted better.
I ordered pepperoni pizza, and Todd ordered the spaghetti and the macaroni and cheese. The pizza disappointed me, all my pepperoni cut into little strips. Where did all the cheese go?
Blythe Danner's doppelganger, her dog, and a man walked in and sat at the table across from us.
"Look, we wound up in the same place," she said.
"What a coincidence," I said.
She sat in the chair next to the railing. The man sat in the chair across from her. The dog climbed under the table. "This is my husband," she said. He looked to be in his seventies. His longish white hair, glasses, skinniness, and sneakers reminded me of a college professor.
"We saw her earlier on the street," I said to him.
"Small world," he said.
"Small town," I said.
"How old is your dog," Todd asked.
"We've had him for five years," the woman said.
"I just got a puppy. He's a chihuahua/golden-retriever mix," Todd said.
The man and wife both said, "Wow."
"It's not mixed with golden retriever," I said. "Some kind of terrier. He's too small for that."
"Well, that's what the people who gave him to me said."
"He's not," I said.
The husband asked Todd, "Where are you from?"
"We're from Florence," Todd replied.
I interjected, "We've known each other for 25 years. Where are y'all from?"
"Nashville," the husband said who kept smiling.
"I'm very sorry to tell you that I might have been responsible for those tornadoes in February 2020," I said.
The man leaned across the table towards me. Still, a permasmile.
"I was there with my former partner, and every morning, I stood in front of the hotel windows, dancing in my underwear. I didn't know that it was a rain dance!" I said
"What a visual," the man said. "How long have y'all been together?"
"We're not partners," Todd said through a smile. Our skinny waitress walked by. He ordered a second drink.
"That's not the only crazy thing that happened in Nashville that year. That man blew up the building on Christmas Day," I said.
"Oh, yeah," the husband said, remembering.
"It was in a van," the wife said.
"An RV," I corrected.
"That's right," she said.
"See, but we've almost forgotten that. The media wants that story swept under the rug. Walter Kirn calls it the memory hole. I think they blew up the servers for the election," I said.
"I think he was just crazy," the wife said.
Todd sipped out of his drink, looking at me over his glasses.
"But the AT&T servers were in there. It knocked out phones all over that area of the country. My friends were tweeting about it," I said.
"And they think the election servers were there," the husband said. His smile, fading.
"That's the rumor," I said. "And it explains why the RV played that message over the speakers to keep everyone away."
"Where do you get your news," the man asked.
"I don't watch any media. I only use citizen reporting from reddit and Twitter. That's where the news gets their news. It happens there first."
She petted her dog. "There are just a lot of crazy people in Nashville."
"There are a lot of crazy people everywhere," I offered. Todd pointed a finger gun at me in support. I said, "What that man did isn't normal because he didn't want to hurt anyone."
"He had a vendetta against AT&T," she said, sternly.
The conversation died. I felt embarrassed because I didn't get to tell them about 1996. The couple shared one pizza, and they waved goodbye as we finished our drinks.
Todd leaned back in his chair. He smiled. "I miss Newt. He was fun. You were fun with him. I liked the way you were with him."
"I miss him too. I was actually thinking about how much fun today was and that I haven't wished that he were with me," I said.
"Maybe he'll come around."
"No, he never will. We stirred up too much drama, took things too far. I reported his bosses to county HR for coercing him to end our relationship."
Todd sighed. "I don't see how you come back from that, bud"
"I know, I know—it was the only move I could make."
After dinner, Todd and I walked down the riverwalk. Beaufort gave people free activities to relax. Families played on swing sets overlooking the water. Most families were white. Everyone looked middle class. No restaurant seemed flashy but none seemed crappy. The most popular swing set featured a family who let people cuddle their massive grey pit bull.
Night lay well upon us. Lots of people were walking. No singles or same-sex couples. The vibe felt festive and friendly. The temperature was falling to 56 degrees. I put my hands in my pockets. Though I'd never be able to share this place with Newt for the first time, I realized that I found a place where I wouldn't be afraid to work things out with him.
Todd and I went into Kilwin's for ice cream.
The owner yelled, "I love your shirt!" On the shirt, Hillary and Bill are coming through a door holding guns. Above them, in Pulp Fiction font: "The Clintons."
"Thanks!" I said. "It's because they killed so many people."
"Where'd you get it?" he said through giggles.
"There's a guy named Fleccas who interviews people on the street, and this is some of his merch."
At 11:18 p.m., in my home, I felt too pumped to sleep. I'd read in 1996 how Gloria Naylor had sipped coffee, overlooking the garden she planted next to the beach, and now I'd been where she had set her novel.
I texted Donald Quist, "gloria. effing. naylor."
And, "she's written one of the greatest, bravest novels."
And lastly, "1996."
He wrote back, "Robert! She's incredible. Her book Mama Day is one of my all time favorites."
He replied to the 1996 text, "Buying it now, not even going to look at the synopsis."
I wrote, "Donnie. i investigated it today in st. helena. IT'S ALL TRUE."
On Saturday, I bought The Women of Brewster Place at Barnes and Noble, the only bookstore in Florence county. They didn't have Mama Day. But the Florence County Library had it.
Newt worked at the library.
I couldn't get Gloria Naylor out of my head. A National Book Award winner lived in South Carolina. We could've been literary friends. Too bad she was already dead and had moved to the Caribbean. If she were alive, I hoped she wouldn't be woke. Maybe she wouldn't be because woke media narratives dismiss gang stalking as a "conspiracy theory." I checked my checking account—broke until payday. Buying online eluded me. I felt full with 1996, and I wanted to top it off with another book Naylor wrote about Saint Helena.
I decided to check out Mama Day from the library. 1996 ends in a library where Gloria Naylor had begun going to escape the microwave attacks coming through her walls. She wrote, "If it weren't for the library, they would have won, because the voices had started chattering without end. And it was always the same thing, over and over again. They wanted me to feel that I was alone and worthless."
The library was where Naylor began writing 1996, which was published nine years later in 2005. It was her last book. She died on September 28, 2016.
I sped-walked across the library to fiction. They stocked every Gloria Naylor book. Mama Day's original cover looked faded from being shelved next to a window in previous years, but I could still decipher magical electricity shooting out of brown hands.
I didn't see Newt or his comrades as I checked-out my book.
At home when I started to read Mama Day, I texted Donnie, "I haven't been to the library in 2 years since Newt and I split, but I went to get this per your rec (since bn didn't have it)."
I sent a picture of my holding the book in front of the dining room window.
He wrote, "Wow! That's a big deal, Robert. I really hope you enjoy it. Also, wherever you are looks lovely."