Follow the line of the freeway, past the thinning outskirts of the city and into the rural heartland. This is the Midwest at its finest. A light dusting of snow 'cross all things, glittering in cold-edged sunlight and so pure... pure beyond all knowledge or measure. Farm fields, slowly rolling hills, snatches of wood here or there, a crude bordering fence of metal wire interspersed with supporting logs. To each side of the bare county highway, growing lonelier by the mile, there's a small pile of sand. It stretches forward and backward into the distance. Large orange trucks smudged with dirt and grit dropped it sometime in November. Granules under the churning of wheels and wheels slowly spun their way to the side. Now there are these little borders of brown, hanging about at the edges of the brilliant white.

Turn down this road here, shaded among the evergreens, their boughs heavy with snow. To either side there are cheery postboxes marking the obscured driveways to each homestead. Painted in bright colors; red, navy blue, hunter orange, a cheesehead box and a little school house. We'll slow down, to give a better chance of glancing down the driveways.

3268. A well-kept trailer perched at the border of the spreading dead corn field. At a gaudy hotel, trying so pathetically hard to advertise The Midwest: It's not just Where the Nice People Live anymore! Michael Thimmisch cooks meals for bored, withdrawn guests. On lucky nights his daughter will welcome him home with a grin and snide comment. He'll whip up a meal for her that could compare to anything the best city spots have to offer. According to the agreement she is only supposed to see him every other weekend. According to the agreement the payments to her mother that are slowly driving him bankrupt are only supposed to go toward her welfare. He daydreams of returning to see his 'Nam buddies in North Carolina. She cries silently at night because she so much wants and does not want him to go. Her mother meets with a private investigator to have him found and arrested should he try to leave. That deadbeat dad bastard, how dare he?!

We don't talk about those sorts of things

3277. A medium sized house forming the root to a sinewy gravel driveway winding its way back to the street. There is never a quiet moment in the Bareski household. The hallways and living rooms and kitchens are always a-bustle with activity, with the mess of domestic misplacement, with bodies moving and laughing and arguing and never, never silence. Of late, this busyness has lost some of its potency. At the dinner table there are eight places set. There used to be nine. Anna Bareski, oldest among the young, called from her cellphone at 12:10AM to tell her parents she would be a little late from the dance, as she had to stop for gas. Mrs. Bareski thanked her for telling them, " you honey, drive safely!" Her car was found the next morning, door open and corsage neatly lain in the passenger seat, at a gas station two miles from the end of town. She was not.

We don't talk about those sorts of things

3294. Wreathed in snow and holiday lights still not removed, a little cottage reminiscent of its Norwegian roots stands discreetly at the tip of a small hill. Mr. Boyce owns a bakery in town. During the summer, kids skateboarding in the park, daring each other to grind the rail while a wary police officer isn't watching, are gradually tempted away from their midday romps by the delicious smell of warm baking things that drifts from his workplace. It never fails. They always go for the sweetest goods, politely thanking him without irony in the way that only small-town Wisconsin kids can. There are other customers he attracts, with other scents. It is not difficult to hide powdery, white stuff within a kitchen chock full of powdery, white stuff. Everyone knows.

We don't talk about those sorts of things

3303. The large sign in bright, warm colors declaring, "Joy to the World, the Lord has Come!" attracts more attention than the small home to which it belongs. The drab browns and black shingles are a nearly perfect counterpart to the gay celebratory posting; rural aesthetics at their best. Once this little home would host charming Bible study sessions for old ladies' socials and teenagers' youth groups. Once. A month ago the minister to Mt. Horeb Lutheran Church was attending to his tasks in preparation for mass. A parishoner coming early to speak with him found the minister's body sprawled across the office floor, his blood no longer any more use than to spread a growing stain on the beige carpet. Stabbed twenty seven times, with no trace of the murderer. It was not a shock. It was beyond a shock. It was too much for anyone to handle. So the grief was expressed, in subdued discretion, and once they had plodded through the motions, every townsmember pretended it never happened. His widow still goes about the chores she always tried to accomplish before he came home. She is still surprised when no one arrives for Thursday and Sunday prayer meetings. She still cooks two times the portions necessary.

We don't talk about those sorts of things

Welcome to Wisconsin, where everyone will greet you with a smile.

Because we don't talk

about those sorts

of things.

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