In the short story that I’m working on now, entitled “Twicehorse”, I have my protagonist driving across the country, moving from Seattle to New York State in a wounded, old truck. I’d been working up to the point where he stops for his first night. When trying to find a plausible location on the road atlas for him to wind up, my eyes came to rest on the dot marked Superior, Montana, which seemed a reasonable place, both location-wise and in terms of its anonymity. I knew nothing at all about it, though the particulars of the actual town are not that important for the story. It was just for its location, more or less arbitrary, where a man driving in a slow and ailing truck for a long day might finally stop to rest.
Driving myself all day Tuesday from where I’d stopped the night before in eastern Idaho – this was my second day on the road, returning home to Washington State from a winter spent in Utah, and I’d taken a detour from my usual route through Oregon – I’d forgone, out of impatience, the smaller and more scenic rural highways I’d traveled the day before in favor of the interstate and its speed, and finally convinced myself to stop when the shadows had grown suddenly long, the sun abruptly hidden behind surrounding mountain peaks, and though I knew I could’ve carried on for another hour or two in the remaining daylight, it was beginning to feel as if my nervous system were revolting. It shot signals out in sudden waves of sick anxiety, despite the comfortable rhythm that I’d finally settled into. So I decided that the next decent-looking motel would have to do. I’d noticed a sign some miles back already for a run-o’-the-mill sort of place that promised nothing extravagant, that seemed perfect in fact, and the next exit up was the one to take. It wasn’t until I’d carted my bags into the room that the significance of Superior, Montana, the speck of a town where I’d stopped, occurred to me. I’d come to rest in the same town where I was making my character stop – albeit traveling in the opposite direction – and had done so without knowing it.
It was a fine town for my purposes of waiting the night out, of getting food and rest, all of one small street zig-zagging its way beside and beneath the I-90 freeway amongst mountains and thick pine forest, with nothing in particular to distinguish it, at least to my eyes. The police department stood directly across the road from the motel. The old couple filling in for the absent owner at the front desk didn’t know how to work the credit card machine. But mostly, for myself as for my story’s protagonist, the specific characteristics of the town were unimportant. Whatever else I may have imagined about the location (for the purposes of the story) was not there to be found – not so far as I could see – and it seemed there was nothing especial to be gained in being there beyond a meal or two and a night’s rest. It was the incidence of the name, its spot upon the map – a reference point in my mind, in language, in space – the virtue of its location more than anything else that informs this constellation of events, though one may ask what else is there, what if any meaning is leaned-towards in this index of co-arrangement?
In the story that I’m writing, my protagonist is reading a particularly difficult book of fiction, one that subsumes his actual life. His fictive world is blurred into the road on which he travels.