Visualizing the place a story happens–and sticking to it–seems like it should be easy.
Homefront is pretty consistent when it comes to the larger place–the state of Tennessee and, more specifically, a military town in Tennessee. Everything I imagined re: Tennessee came from the memory of living and driving there. The map was in my head. (When you’re a cab driver, you get to know your way around town really well. Main roads, side roads, back roads, country roads, alleys…)
Once the larger place is determined, there’s also the smaller place: the living space.
Here is where I was less consistent.
Ian deployed in February of 2003 while I still lived in Fargo. (I visited Clarksville the week before he left so I could see him off. Here’s me being very helpful while he packs to leave the next morning).
When I left Fargo four months later for Clarksville, TN, so I could be there when Ian came back to Fort Campbell, KY (minutes away), this is where I ended up living. It’s a triplex, and my door was the one on the far left.
[Photo courtesy of Google Street View. I used to have my own picture, but it died with the old hard drive.]
Because this is where I spent seven months of Ian’s deployment, you would think this is where I would choose to have Mia live.
Her outdoor surroundings–that is, everywhere she drove once she pulled away from her curb–were true to Clarksville. But as soon as she stepped onto the plot of land upon which her dwelling had been plunked, she was here:
For some reason, my imagination insisted on sticking Mia in my Fargo apartment. Or, on moving my Fargo apartment to Clarksville.
Because my memories of Fargo are still vivid (I lived there for seven years), having Mia move around that apartment was easy enough while she was inside. All I had to do was remember my time there the first four months Ian was gone. Dredging up the emotions was absolutely no trouble.
And maybe that’s why I chose that apartment for her. Ian and I had, after ten years of bad timing, finally decided to be together just weeks before he found out he would deploy. In that apartment, this brand new love combined with fresh deployment loss was powerful.
So, following her around in there was no problem. Having her step outside and away from the curb, however, meant being thrust into a time/space shift that, in my mind, looked something like the spinning camera shot in a movie to illustrate dizziness.
Mia spends a lot of time outside the apartment driving her cab around Clarksville and hanging out with Donny Donaldson, but she spends just as much time inside. Here’s a look at where she lives:
Entering the apartment/entry hallway.
I open the door and pull Donny in. Rain water rolls off his hair, drops to the floor.”You can’t just scream at someone’s door,” I say.
“I have to go, anyway.” Denise stands against the hallway wall.
“Donny,” I say. “The living room is right through there. I’ll be there in a second.”
He dismisses her and says to me, “Thank you.” I hear him grunt when he falls onto the couch.
Denise backs against the wall and holds herself. “Mia.”
“Do you think William knew?”
Almost everyone sits at this table with Mia. Safia drinks coffee from a yellow mug while Mia sips on vodka.
Olivia takes a seat on the bench and clasps her hands, waiting for Mia to wash a mug and fill it with coffee.
Brian smokes an obnoxious-smelling thin cigar at the table when he stops by Mia’s apartment to pick up a lighter Denise left one night. He plays with an orange pepper on the miniature pepper plant (the one on the table!).
Denise and Mia don’t sit here, but they do hang out in the kitchen, each leaning against a counter while they talk.
Mia also sits alone at that table, writing an apology letter to Jake:
Late April, and already July humidity straddles the spring heat. I wipe at a moisture ring with my sleeve cuff, back, forth, back, forth on the table with the clock’s tick tick.
The sheet of paper in front of me says “I’m sorry sorry sorry so so sorry.”
During the scene mentioned earlier, the one with Brian sitting at the table with his foul-smelling cigar, Mia leaves him there and pretends to look for the lighter in her bedroom.
I look in the mirror, put on just enough lipstick to moisten, but not so much he’ll be likely to notice.
I hide [the lighter] in a bowl of makeup–old lip gloss, old mascara, the lipstick I haven’t worn in full force since the party.
In Homefront’s opening pages, Mia leaves Jake at the hangar the day he deploys. When she comes home, she walks around her apartment, notices the emptiness, the quiet.
I leave the bag on the counter and go to the bedroom. Jake’s towel from his shower half-covers a torn condom wrapper on the unmade bed, sheets and comforter flung to the center. I pull up the blankets so Chancey doesn’t drag litter where I sleep and throw the towel in the closet.
I sit on the bed and pull out the letter he handed me before walking away.
Don’t let it ruin us, M. You know I love you. You know it. Take care of yourself and know that even if you don’t write me, I’ll be writing you.
I read it, then read it again.
Some time later, still wearing my coat, I fall asleep.
Good news reported on TV gives Mia hope Jake will be coming home soon. Hours later, the news isn’t good. In fact, it leaves Mia thinking troops will never leave the Middle East.
I hug the curtain until the cheap, plastic rod springs off its metal hooks nailed to the window frame and clatters on the tile. I angle the window blinds to block out the blue sky and all the light and lie on my side by the heater, my knees pulled tight to my stomach. The discount-store throw rug is plusher than I thought, even downright comfortable.
I pull the curtain over me and tuck it under my chin and, with my fingertip, rub a cotton-nylon rug loop one way, then back again. Over and back.
This is where I am and this is my rug and this is my–
“Mia! I will call the landlord. Or the police!”
“I’m okay,” I say, but nothing comes out, so I say again, louder, “I’m okay.”
I hear her go down the stairs. I imagine her in her sun-lit apartment eating a piece of toast or a banana, dancing in her living room.
What’s it like seeing the author’s idea of what a place looks like compared to what you might have thought it looked like? Does it muck up your visualization, or is it more like you’re getting a tour of a person’s home?
What else would you like to know about Homefront that’s behind-the-scenes?