The Stranger: Meet the Characters of Magnolia Bluff
June 29, 2022
She’s just another lonely motorcycle rider on a lonely road in a godforsaken part of Texas. She winds up in Magnolia Bluff. It’s the last place she would ever want to stop.
Bliss is a free spirit.
She’s on the open road.
And her motorcycle.
She’s between homes.
Where is she going?
Why did she leave home?
Can’t say for sure.
But in The Great Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Book 3 of the Magnolia Bluff Crime Chronicles, she’s headed somewhere.
It sure isn’t Magnolia Bluff.
She’s never heard of Magnolia Bluff.
No reason to stop.
But her motorcycle dies.
And she’s a stranger in town.
For almost four hundred miles I’ve been tooling along belting out the lyrics to my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs—well, one at a time, of course—any other way would be dumb. I no sooner bark money don’t mean nothin’ to mewhen my scooter shoots out a boisterous belching sound. I like that word: boisterous. It says so many things in just the proper number of syllables. Right now, it means the motor has stopped in a big way. One explosive belch and a horrific stench of manifold-seared oil, and the road comes to an abrupt halt.
I’m surrounded by a boisterous amount of greenery. The only thing breaking the expanse of lime-green, jade-green, pea-green, and emerald—you get the picture—is a mile-wide once-white billboard. Apparently my journey has ended in a place called Magnolia Bluff, Texas. Jeez-looweez. Really? An image forms in my head: a grove of giant sweet-smelling trees under which are seated an anthology of ancient people in rocking chairs, some crocheting and some puffing corncob pipes, forties music wafting on the breeze. Scratch that, there is NO breeze. Nada, zilch, zippo.
I stifle a shiver and rub down the goosebumps that pop up all the way to my toes. For whatever it’s worth, and the fact that I seem to have no other options, I slide off the bike, pluck the wedgie from my cargo shorts, and start pushing, and reading: Welcome to Magnolia Bluff, Texas. Home of Burnet Reservoir.
Underneath is a list of the town’s perks to sweeten a traveler’s expectations, or perhaps to keep them from u-turning and heading back the way they came. The joke’s on them right now, isn’t it, because u-turning isn’t an option for me.
Stretched from one telephone pole to another across the road is a giant banner.
47th Annual Persimmon Festival
I gotta start with a question. What the heck is a persimmon? Is it a sport? Can I sit on sun-heated bleachers and watch persimmons in different color uniforms duke it out on a grass-green field? I’ve heard of festivals featuring a particular kind of flower, bundles of them lined up on long tables and judged by the shape of the display and use of color. Can you arrange persimmons in a vase? I’ve heard of Seafood Festivals where all sorts of ocean-grown food is deep-fried and served in cardboard bowls dripping with grease. Is a persimmon a creature we can roll in breading and dunk in fry-oil? I get no answer for these meanderings, so I leave them for now.
My name is Bliss. That’s it, just Bliss. Most of you folks have probably figured I’m between homes. Long story you don’t need to hear right now. Maybe never, as it’s not very interesting. Suffice to say, all that matters is where I am at this moment.
This morning I woke, as has happened every day since leaving home, with Jimmy Buffett lyrics playing on a loop in my head. I hummed along: I’m nobody from nowhere you’d have ever heard of anyway. Ain’t no city way down there… Hmm. The message seems spot-on considering that billboard, but before I can think too much more about it, I spy another sign attached to the roof of a building. It’s pretty beaten-up by weather: Doyle’s Garage.
I squint but can’t make out the smaller print until another hundred feet have passed. By now I’m sweating like the proverbial pig. If I sag to my knees and crawl toward the crusty once-red but now a corrupt shade of pink building, maybe someone will run out with a moisture-coated bottle of water to dislodge the mud clogging my throat. Seems like all it’s done is rain since I crossed the Louisiana border. My wish doesn’t manifest. What does happen: a car shoots by throwing up a tornado of mud-clumps…so many that the road grows invisible. I slog through the almost-solid barrier.
By now, sweat drips from every crevice, and I enter a wet t-shirt contest I’ll lose even though I’m the only participant. Need I say more? Rivers trickle along the roots of my hair and down into my eyes. My vision is blurred, but it’s easy to tell Doyle’s garage is huge and the yard is crammed with cars of every description. Must be in the right place.
I nearly trip over a pair of Converse-clad feet protruding from under a Dodge Power Wagon about the same color as the garage. The feet twitch. A muffled voice calls, “I’ll be right out.”
“No hurry,” I say because what else can you say at time like this? “Hurry, I’m about to pass out from heat exhaustion!” or “It’s fine, you can find me prostrate against that rusted-out Pinto.” I thought Pintos went out with the Pony Express. I chuckle at my dumb joke, glad no one’s in my head to intercept it.
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