Kate Wheeler


Kate Wheeler grew up in North Carolina among green things. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and her work has appeared in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading and The Westchester Review. She lives just outside of Brooklyn.


Hate It Here

Alison, Lisen and me on Highway 54, driving west out of town. Alison drives with one hand on the wheel, leaning back in her seat. Lisen rides shotgun, and she and Alison balance their wrists on the edges of the open windows and smoke. When a song we all know comes on the stereo, Alison and Lisen make their thumbs and their first two fingers, cigarettes in between, into guns and pump them out the windows in time with the chorus: puh puh puh –chk CHING- take your money.

It is fall. The highway is empty. We pass the flat brown fields, the tall silent trees. In the car it feels like something is happening. It feels like solitude and company at the same time. James has been gone for six months, and lately I cannot stand to be with people. I cannot stand to be alone.

We are looking for pumpkins to carve and have glowing about the house we live in together. We have been meaning to make this trip for weeks, but things come up. We have work. We have papers due. We are tired. There is some party.

When Lisen and Alison are getting ready to go out at night they take ages in the bathroom, changing sweaters, curling hair or straightening, adding eyeliner. I sit on the floor in the hallway. We can all see each other in the mirror. We talk. When we are hours late, Lisen says, “Let’s go, let’s go, it’s dark at the bar,” and we collect our bags and leave the house.

We are never on time. The longer we stay in this town, the worse it gets. Lisen and Alison have been here for five years. I have been here all my life.

Now, in the car, we pass a sort of shack, brown and set back from the road, a white sign: BOBS TUESDAY BINGO NIGHT BUDWEISER 50¢.

“I’ve always wanted to go there,” Lisen says. “I’ve always wanted to go there for bingo night.”

Lisen is tall. Her hair is brown and golden. She has a mild voice and a mild expression, and when she speaks you listen.

“Let’s do it,” Alison says. “Let’s go on Tuesday.”

“Well,” Lisen says. “You want to?”

We shoot down the road. The bar is behind us.

“It’s all the way out here,” Lisen says. “How would we get home?”

“I’d drive home,” I say.

I drive when no one else can, when they’ve all been drinking for hours. Once suddenly at midnight we were hungry, and I drove Alison and Lisen through town to the dumpster behind the Harris Teeter. Lisen rode shotgun.

“Left lane,” she told me. “Stoplight.”

“You drive better than I can,” I said. “Even drunk.”

We returned to the house with three trash bags full of pastries and bread, poptarts, ritz crackers, frozen pierogies. We stood on the front porch and passed around one cherry danish, left the rest sitting out there for the raccoons.

“We should go to that bar right now,” I say. “Let’s go right now.”

Alison slows and makes a U-turn. We head back to the brown shack of a bar. She pulls over onto the highway’s grassy shoulder and shuts off the engine. We look out.

In the gravel parking lot are three pick-up trucks, shining and silent.

“I don’t know,” says Lisen. “I don’t really want to go in there without a man.”

“What?” I say. “What could happen? It’s four o’clock in the afternoon.”

“Yeah,” says Lisen, still looking.

“We could call Andrew,” says Alison. “He would come out here with us.”

I call Andrew. No answer. I leave a message. We sit in the car and look out.

“It’s just that it’s out here in the middle of nowhere,” Lisen says.

When Lisen is bored or tired and ready to leave a place, some party or bar where we are, she says, “I hate it here,” and we know it is time to move on.

Alison turns her key and the engine makes its low noises. “We’ll find pumpkins,” she says. “And if Andrew calls he can meet us at the bar on our way back.”

We slide out onto the gray road again and drive for miles, quiet. Andrew does not call us back. Not a pumpkin in the North Carolina countryside, for some reason. The car’s stream comes in the front windows and blows over my face and through my hair. I think how we could keep driving and get to the ocean, stand on the edge of the earth looking out over everything.

“I’m turning around at the next intersection,” says Alison. She does, and the golden sun is behind us.

“I’ll try Andrew again,” I say. I do, but he does not answer.

We pass the brown shack bar.

In a few weeks, at some party at our house, when I leave the crowded kitchen early to sit alone in the living room, Alison and Lisen will come and find me there. Lisen will take whatever record it is off the turntable and put on Stevie Wonder, and Alison will take my hands and pull me off the couch. We will dance around the room together, the three of us, our own party. When it starts to rain, sudden and rumbling outside the open door, we will run out into the yard and up the gravel drive and down the hill on the other side, to the creek. Lisen will climb right into the shallow, rushing water and lie down.

“Lisen!” I’ll shout, because the water will be surprisingly rough, but Lisen will laugh, grab onto the stones of the creek bed, and let her legs bob behind her. Alison and I will stand, soaked past help or caring in our clothes, laughing too, and the water will flow over Lisen’s face and her forehead as if it is baptizing her, new, into this world.

Today, in the car, we drive back into town and buy three bright pumpkins from cardboard bins in the parking lot outside the Harris Teeter. We take them home and dig our hands into their cold, clean-smelling guts, put the oven on, toast seeds, spend the evening in the kitchen, carving.