Pushcart 2014: Robert Long Foreman, “Cadiz, Missouri” from Agni #75

I never had much use for Cadiz. I don’t mean the port city in southwestern Spain, though I’ve never had any use for that Cadiz, either. The one I have in mind is at the heart of America, and despite the way it’s spelled the residents pronounce its name like “callous,” its z become an s that hangs limp from their tongues. If you say it the Spanish way, they correct you.

Did you ever live someplace that didn’t suit you at all, but you were stuck there for some period of time, so you turned on it with a venom you didn’t know you had? I think that’s what’s happened to Karen, the narrator of this story. She comes from Boston, but she’s in a small Missouri city because of her husband’s job, and she really, really hates it. Between the cave crickets and the brown recluse spiders, I don’t blame her. But she hates the neighboring town of Cadiz more.

I see some interesting writer’s choices in this story, and it’s a good thing, because I found it difficult to continue reading. Not that the reading itself was difficult, but the story seemed to go nowhere, I disliked the main character and I was indifferent to her situation; I almost resented spending the time to read it. I wonder if it was a more successful story than I realized, since it the story created for me the experience it sought to narrate.

I would say that I regret not seeing more of Cadiz when I had the chance, but there was nothing to see there – except doomed houses. They weren’t worth looking at until we found out they were doomed, and by then it was too late…..The whole town was destroyed in minutes – minutes I had spent fearing the same ruin they suffered, even as they suffered it. Having seen nothing of interest in Cadiz when I was there in person, now – through my TV and computer screen – I could not take my eyes off the place.

Karen becomes a voyeur of the suffering of others when Cadiz is destroyed by a tornado, a tornado that just bypassed her town. This doubling happens several times throughout the story; it may be the most interesting thing about it. And the doubling extends outside the story itself: I sound like Karen, dissing Cadiz, except I’m Karen, dissing the story about Karen. I’ve got myself in a little metafiction world here.

Not only are the towns doubled, but Karen herself is doubled (besides being doubled by me, the reader). She and her husband meet a couple from the razed Cadiz; I don’t know if Karen even realizes that Claire is her doppelganger, the she she could have been had the tornado taken a different path. Both, Northeast natives, hate Missouri, both are there because their husband’s jobs forced the move, neither wants to discuss the tornado or the devastation. The only difference is: Claire was in the eye of the storm.

It wasn’t until Claire offered a peculiar objection to Missouri that I started to think something else was going on here: “How old is the oldest building? Not even two hundred years, right?” I know what she means (I love New England for its sense of history; and how do people live without bricks and cobblestones?) but, first of all, 200 years is not an inconsiderable amount of time; I grew up in an area of South Florida where most of the buildings were about 50 years old. But even worse: this is Tornado Alley we’re talking about, and I’m not sure what construction was like back in the 18th century, but it’s possible the buildings just didn’t last through many changes of season; under the circumstances, it seems callous. Which, coincidentally, is how Karen says “Cadiz” is pronounced.

I’m not sure what the point of this is. I’d thought it was a human-indifference-to-humanity story, but Claire brought a twist; even when its her own humanity, she’s indifferent to it. Then I ended up indifferent to the story. Like I said, maybe more successful than I thought.

But don’t make me read it again. And don’t, whatever happens, make me move to Missouri, ever.

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