LIZZIE MARSHALL got out of Wyoming because of David Summers. He was the tall British guy who holidayed at Teton Village where she worked. David’s visits made tolerable all the rest of her workdays, spent measuring tourists for ski boots and snowboards, taking photos of couples posing against the slopes, and explaining to everyone who came through that it’s against the rules to a) drink beer on the slopes, or b) take pictures of bears if you see one in the summer, or c) do anything involving bears, and even though that ought to be pretty obvious, she thought, half of the time they got drunk or did something terrible with a goddamn bear anyway, and what can you do, who even knows.
David was in America getting an MBA at the University of Colorado and liked to go on ski holidays in between semesters. Even though Aspen and Vail were literally right there where he lived, David insisted that the ski slopes of Teton Village in Jackson, Wyoming were the sophisticated man’s choice: beautiful, famous, less of a tourist attraction. Lizzie argued that nothing in Jackson was beautiful and Wyoming was famous for nothing, besides maybe Dick Cheney being from there and the time when Lizzie’s dad took a picture with Harrison Ford at the library, and that wasn’t even Harrison Ford, just an old man with an earring. Wyoming was not worth visiting and David was insane to do so, Lizzie told him. Regardless, he kept on visiting. And when he couldn’t visit, Lizzie would drive the eight hours south to Colorado to see him. A year later, when David finished with the MBA, he asked her to move to London with him and she said yes. She thought about Wyoming, and she said yes to David again, and then yes yes yes.
“You’ll do anything that guys tell you to do,” complained Lizzie’s co-worker Justin when he heard she had quit. On his days off Justin rode an Arctic Cat snowmobile emblazoned with pot leaf decals around in circles at Togwotee, and invited girls to go for rides. Lizzie had never done anything Justin had told her to do.
On her last day at work, Lizzie was bored like on all the other days, and rested her elbows on the desk by the cash register, wearing holes in the cotton of the maroon uniform. The radio died and Justin dug into the wiring while she gazed out the window at the snow falling gently on the slopes, the pine trees, the clouds moving lazily over the mountains and all of that picturesque stuff that she was generally pretty happy to putting behind her.
Justin offered to buy Lizzie a farewell Jager Bomb which she declined, and presented her with a gift: a fridge magnet with a picture of a rodeo cowboy atop a bronco, and the phrase EQUALITY STATE printed underneath. Lizzie said thanks and put it in her coat pocket.
“Remember this,” he said. “Don’t forget who you are. You are Laura of Jackson. Or Laura of Wyoming. What sounds better?”
“Neither of them, also, it’s Lizzie.”
“Yeah - Lizzie - right! I totally do - I do know what your name is. I must have been thinking of somebody else. I don’t know who.”
“You know this is it, right?” she said. “This is goodbye forever.”
“Well, you will always have a place here,” he threatened.
Lizzie hadn’t thought twice about giving up her place in Wyoming. Yeah, her parents were still living there, and being apart from them would be sad, but if she were entirely honest with herself, she hated Wyoming, always did. She hated how her identity was tied up with a place so provincial and small. She drove herself crazy daydreaming about how much she could have done with her life by now had she been born in a place that was part of the world. She wished that in London people might mistake her American-ness for, like, New York American-ness, or even mistake her for English after a time, because she didn’t know much about England but it at least felt connected to something. Just the thought of living there made her feel connected, too, like a dulled part of her brain all lit up like a tower of sparks, electricity surging through new neural passageways where there was potential for things that were different and greater and now attainable, now, finally, possible. This was the beginning of a new life, and one week into it David dumped her.
Lizzie and David landed in London at seven in the morning, local time. From Heathrow they boarded the Piccadilly underground line, which to Lizzie’s delight, terminated in a stop called Cockfosters.
“Well, that is obviously the best,” Lizzie said.
“What?” said David. “Oh. Sure.”
David celebrated his thirty-fifth birthday not long after he and Lizzie settled in a Belsize Park flat. David’s sister Becky volunteered to plan a birthday party, which Lizzie acceded to since she knew nothing about England or the things that were done in it. Becky’s idea was to meet David’s friends for a Sunday roast in a fancy Hampstead pub, then to adjourn for a walk in fancy fancy Hampstead Heath. His friends, besides Becky, included a Scot, Connor, who David described to Lizzie as a “good egg.” It was important to appreciate that he was Scottish, because David had drilled into her on the flight the distinctions and intersections between the United Kingdom, Great Britain, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and Lizzie hadn’t totally internalized it all yet, but she did know not to refer to Connor as English, because for as good an egg as he was, that would be really bad, just really bad, just pure dogshit. There was another friend, Ian, about whom David said there was nothing worth mentioning.
That small crew was already at the pub when Lizzie and David arrived. Becky got up from the table and greeted Lizzie with a hug.
“You’re from the States!”
“Yeah,” Lizzie said. “Wyoming.” Over Becky’s shoulder she noticed a sign pointing to an upstairs ‘Romney Room,’ which struck her as strange.
“I don’t think I know anything about Wyoming! What’s it like?”
“It’s…” Not the very first thing she wanted to talk about. “It’s like… it’s like nothing. It’s literally nothing.”
“It can’t be like nothing,” Becky insisted. “What would you do - what would I do if I went there, what would you recommend?”
“I don’t know. You kind of have to make your own fun. I don’t know if you’re outdoorsy, but yeah, you can go up to the mountains, or to Yellowstone, to hike, and you can hunt or fish or whatever, or you drive around. There’s a lot of open spaces and forests and mountains stuff like that. Really just a lot of that stuff. People, not so much.”
“Wow, it sounds kind of exotic.” ”It’s - sure.”
Ian stood up too, and shook Lizzie’s hand. “What do you think of Obama,” was the first thing he said to her.
“I don’t know.”
Ian nodded. “Interesting.”
Connor spent most of his time with Lizzie asking what she’d done in London so far, recommending what she should be checking out, and both hyping up, and apologizing for the absence of, somebody called Tara. Tara was another of David’s long-time friends who Lizzie, it was promised and underlined, would love. Tara, Connor explained, was tied up with other things and running late.
“You’re going to love Tara,” Connor said. “You’re really going to get on. She’s proper Yorkshire.”
“Oh yeah?” Lizzie did not know what that was.
“You can take the lass out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the lass. That’s what we all say.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that even though Tara doesn’t live in Yorkshire anymore, there are still things she says and does that are very typical of a Yorkshire resident.”
“Oh. That’s cool.” ”Yes.”
David told Lizzie that it was her round - the ‘round’ being a British concept he’d never thought to explain to her before putting her on the spot. He stood up and sent her off to buy everyone drinks. She gripped his shoulder and, in a low voice, asked whether this was going well. Sure, definitely, David said. “I’d like if we didn’t only have to talk about me being American, though,” she said. “I’d like if that wasn’t the one thing that everybody found interesting about me.”
At the bar Lizzie brutalized the names of English porters and ales but was mostly understood. “Where’s that accent from?” the bartender asked.
“America,” she said, resigned.
“It’s, uh, Wyoming.”
“Right - I’ve been there! Went up Mount Rushmore.”
“I don’t think so, that’s not in Wyoming.”
“I don’t know… are you sure? Because that’s definitely where I saw it.”
It took Lizzie two trips, without help, to bring the five pints back to the group, and on the last trip there was a new woman at the table, sitting where she’d been sitting. Tara was talking to David and fondling a pack of cigarettes. Tara, who was also frankly just gorgeous, got up to let Lizzie squeeze past. Lizzie sat back down next to Ian, who had another question about Obama.
Tara, interrupting, leaned over the table. “So what’s Wyoming like?” she smiled, which, thought Lizzie, are you kidding me with this.
“It’s one of the other square states,” David answered for her. Lizzie shrugged, like, she didn’t feel like talking about it anyway, right? “It’s not worth… tell me more about Madrid!”
“He keeps trying to push me off the subject!” Tara laughed. “Lizzie, you’ve got to let me know what it’s really like; he’s just never going to tell me!”
“I mean… what do you want to know?”
“Tell me something interesting about Wyoming. What would impress me?”
David shook his head firmly. “Nothing. Nothing about Wyoming is going to impress you.” Lizzie eyed David coolly, like, okay, so this is what’s happening now?
“Well, I don’t know,” Lizzie frowned, “there’s something, probably. Like, I read a thing a while ago that said that there’s only two escalators in the state, only two escalators.”
“How is that possible? Isn’t Wyoming huge?” Tara laughed again. She inched closer towards Lizzie.
“Yeah, it is, but still, yeah - I mean because the terrain’s all so flat, I guess? - there are only two escalators in all of Wyoming. Yeah, apparently that’s been the case forever. Although actually there used to be two and a half for a little bit, because my sister Ellie used to work in a call center and she said that in their building they had an up escalator, but no down escalator. So I guess that means there needs to be both an up escalator and a down escalator for it to be considered a full escalator. Like they can only come in pairs. I don’t know. But anyway, that up escalator broke and it was never fixed, so now there are only those two escalators. Or four escalators, I mean, depending on how you define it, I guess, I don’t know, I’m not the president of escalators.”
Ian shook his head. “I can’t even imagine.”
“Can you imagine London running with only two escalators?” said Tara.
“Well, it wouldn’t be running at all, would it?”
“That’s exactly my point.”
“It really says it all,” muttered David, wiping beer off his mouth with the back of his hand. “It’s really so small town provincial, isn’t it? Wyoming is twice the size of England and there’s not a thing there.”
“There are things,” Lizzie said, drinking her pint and keeping her eyes on him. “But how on earth could Wyoming end up with two escalators? I mean, it sounds like a joke.” David looked over at Tara, who glanced down at the table and smiled.
“Well, I don’t know, David,” Lizzie said, and if he had been looking at her instead of Tara he would have seen his girlfriend’s heart sink.
“But there must be a reason,” he said.
“Well, I don’t know, David. I guess we just fucking like stairs a whole lot. You’ve been to Wyoming, you know how wild we are about a fucking staircase.” Lizzie went on to make up some bullshit about Wyoming’s powerful stair industry and the brutal lengths it goes to in order to keep the escalator business out of the state. “And I mean, you laugh,” she addressed the silent table in conclusion, “but people died.” This weird digression didn’t any good kind of reaction, and Tara turned back to David, her black locks blocking off her face from Lizzie, and then Ian, meaning it somewhat kindly, suggested that the British don’t ‘get’ Americans’ humor.
“And vice versa,” he added. “I don’t think Americans get our humour. British humour is more… they’re quite different. English humour is a bit more about language and wordplay and irony and also very black, very wickedly black humour. From what I understand, American comedy is more slapstick, a bit more broad?”
“I don’t know.”
Two days after that, David summoned Lizzie into the breakfast nook and told her that he knew this would be hard to hear but he thought it was time they stopped seeing each other. “You’re just not who I thought you were,” he offered, and then, when pressed for further explanation, said, “You ruined my birthday.”
“We should definitely break up then, because you’re a 35 year old man who just said I ruined his birthday,” Lizzie shot back, in her mind, a week later. At the time, she tried to look at him like he was pathetic and beneath notice, and managed to spit out “I don’t know why I was stupid enough, or naïve enough to… whatever… whatever you need to tell yourself,” and she hoped some of the words in there hurt him. She walked out of the flat, went around the block until she was out of view, and stood in a stranger’s doorway and cried.
Lizzie moved her things to Becky’s place. Becky denounced her older brother as “immature” and “a muppet”, which confused Lizzie so much until Becky explained that it was a bad thing. Becky told Lizzie she could stay on her couch for as long as it took for her to sort out her move back to the States. She also made a point of letting her know that both Connor and Ian also thought David had behaved poorly and like a muppet, and they both liked Lizzie and hoped to stay in touch.
Lizzie moped around at Becky’s for a few days, making short trips outside for sandwiches or coffee or to sit in a bookshop, until the self-indulgence turned into cabin fever. At night, when she dreamed, she stepped out of Becky’s cramped East London flat room and into the back yard of her parents’ Jackson home. She could see the peaks of the mountains from there. When she was a girl, her dad had taken her there with her big sister to show them how to hunt and camp, and she could see the slopes where she had switched from skis to snowboards when she was sixteen. Way beyond that, she could see the miles of road that she would drive on for hours at a time just to have something to drive on, the same roads where she and her friend Annie would get driven around by Annie’s boyfriend, in his minivan, while they would drink beer in the back. She saw the little Chapel of the Transfiguration, north on 26, abandoned at night, with herself and Annie, legs crossed on wooden floor, Annie with the Ouija board in her backpack and wanting to summon a Cheyenne spirit, Annie getting upset and wanting to be taken home. The roads they would drive on again, around the 24 hour diners, Lizzie and Annie drinking coffee in a Formica booth until the hunters filed in at sunrise. And Lizzie dozing in the cot in the back of the van, watching the peaks of the mountains rock up and down through the rear window.
“I feel like Wyoming kind of poisoned my mind in this beautiful way,” Lizzie told Connor late one night over drinks. “I keep expecting there to be mountains whenever I look up. Even if the mountains themselves aren’t all that, that’s not the point, it’s that I have this phantom pain. It’s weird that they’re not there. It’s not that I miss them, I don’t. It’s more like I need them to be there.”
“I can show you mountains,” whispered Connor, and kissed her. And then that was a whole thing.
Connor’s problem, which he agonized over from the get go, was that his parents would hate Lizzie. Family’s really important to me, he told Lizzie multiple times, and Connor’s people were farming people. His parents owned some farm way out in the Highlands, where they lived in a custom-built estate with a ton of dogs that Connor grew up with and spoke of with wistful masculine fondness. Connor’s parents would not respect Lizzie, who was American and therefore a City Girl, or Princess, whose shit did not stink and wouldn’t know what to do with herself on a farm in her high heels. Connor’s parents could only respect a girl like Connor’s younger sister, Fiona, who worked on the farm and was so fit she could pick up a bale of hay and then do whatever you did next with a bale of hay, maybe just put it back down again. You’re being ridiculous, Lizzie said - she did come from Wyoming, after all, which was like the most rural state in like anywhere, also Connor lived in London and if he tried to lift a bale of hay at this point he would probably die. Connor only shook his head. No, she didn’t get it.
When they went north, it was for a weekend, and there were mountains, and Lizzie was out of London - yes, she thought, this is amazing! Connor’s parents were pretty wary of her, sure, but far from hostile. More passive-aggressive than anything, with firm conditions on her stay - like Lizzie and Connor sleeping in separate bedrooms and Lizzie eating huge, bloated Scottish meals. You’re a growing girl, Connor’s mother insisted to Lizzie, scraping extra meat out of a tub onto her plate. More than you’ve eaten in a year I bet, Fiona joked through a mouthful of meat. Connor remained quietly on edge at all times.
In the afternoons, Lizzie took long walks through the farmland and watched the horses graze in the stables. I bet you’ve never been on a horse before, Fiona had told her. On Sunday, with Lizzie hiding from the family in the stables, one of the horses went into labor, which was sudden and gruesome and the worst thing Lizzie had ever seen. Lizzie called out for help but there was nobody around. I have to deliver this baby horse, she told herself, and knelt down on the hay beside the pained thoroughbred, and searched for the phrase “deliver horse” on her phone. It took her a while to find anything because the cell reception was so terrible, and by the time she did the horse had died anyway. When Fiona came back and saw this she screamed, and then the rest of the family came running and everyone screamed, basically, except for Lizzie who was still on the floor looking at her cellphone and had horse blood on her jeans. That was the end of the thing with Connor.
Becky sat on the arm of the couch one night and told Lizzie, more firmly than gently, that she wouldn’t be able to stay much longer. Becky had flatmates, she reminded Lizzie, and at this point she was really just testing their patience and it was their flat as much as hers, etc. When are you going to go back, she asked. Lizzie didn’t know. Are you thinking of going back to your old job, she asked. Lizzie didn’t know.
“You have to do something, Lizzie, it might as well be the thing that you want to do.” Lizzie nodded. “I’m here. I’m offering to help you now. This is my actual job, Lizzie. What would you like to do, what would you be really happy doing?”
“I think…” started Lizzie, and then said the rest of the words without actually thinking about them, “I’d be good at doing something creative - maybe I would do writing, like travel writing? I could tour places, like… Argentina, or… even the UK, and talk about things like restaurants in little towns and go to Stonehenge during the solstice and that sort of thing, and write articles about the people that I meet. And maybe because I’m American that’s an advantage, because I have this outside perspective. Something like that. I think. Would people pay me to do that? I think I would be really good at that.”
“OK, what makes you think that? I have to ask that.”
“Just… I guess…”
“Have you done that before, do you have any experience?”
“Well, what do you have experience in?”
“I don’t know, just working at a ski resort. Renting ski equipment and that kind of thing.”
“Do you want to do that again? And don’t say ‘I don’t know.’”
On the last day before Lizzie flew home, the winter in London was finally cold enough to wear the clothes she wore in Jackson every day. For a thing to do, she bought a ticket to the Tower of London, where she joined a walking tour guided by a middle aged man who was dressed in period guard clothing and acting like it was the sixteenth or seventeenth century, except with rules about flash photography. He directed everyone to a couple of ravens pecking at the grass on the Tower Green, and explained the ancient but persisting superstition that if these six ravens were to flee the Tower, both the Crown and Great Britain would fall. All the ravens’ wings had all been clipped to prevent this. Which struck Lizzie as unfair bullshit, and she wondered if she could stash any of the ravens in her winter coat and sneak them out. Lizzie tried making eye contact with one of the ravens, who squawked at her and turned away.
“Don’t think about touching those ravens, now,” the guide warned her loudly, above the murmurs of the crowd.
“There is to be no touching or feeding of the ravens of the Tower. Otherwise, you may find your stay in the Tower to be… somewhat longer than you may have planned!” The crowd chuckled appreciatively.
“I’m not even looking at these ravens.”
“The Crown will let you off the hook this one time, madam! Where are you from?”
“Ah.” He mulled that over for a bit. “An unfamiliar… I don’t believe the Yeomen Warders are familiar with that land!”
“Wyoming… ah, one of our American settlements! The new world! And how fare, uh, His Majesty’s settlers? What news do you bring of Jamestown?”
“It’s good, we have a ski resort, so, good.”
“Excellent! His Majesty will be quite pleased that the Crown’s investment in America has been fruitful - I predict a long and prosperous relationship between our countries, free of any trouble whatsoever!” This got another small laugh from the group.
“I don’t think so,” Lizzie said. “Actually, I predict a rebellion. I think we’re going to rise up and rebel against you.”
The dude in the beefeater costume feigned profound shock. “You’re launching a revolution?” Again the group laughed.
“Yeah, a revolution.”
“My goodness. A revolution? On what possible grounds?”
“I don’t know,” Lizzie said. “Because we’d be sad if we didn’t.”
The guide broke character and looked at Lizzie like, give me a break, why are you doing this to me, and was about to respond with something period-appropriate when he spotted a kid on the tour squeezing his arm through the railing within pecking distance of a raven, and politely shouted something about not doing that. The kid’s mother yanked her son’s arm away and hectored him thoroughly, and since it seemed like that might go on for a while, Lizzie stuck her hands in her coat and left the group. At the bottom of her coat pocket her fingertips touched the Equality State magnet that Justin had given her, which she took out, examined, and then, without thinking about her reasons for it, threw it onto the green for the ravens. She left the Tower walking briskly, and then full on running, over the drawbridge, her open coat flapping behind her and the wind twisting and pulling her long hair up towards the spires.
The morning after, very early on the morning after, Lizzie jerked two large suitcases containing all of her things up and down flights of stairs at tube stations and eventually dumped herself in a gum-stained seat on a Piccadilly train bound directly for Heathrow. She kept her head down in the carriage, and increasingly all the landmarks of London passed her by, overhead and unseen, all moving beyond her into the distance where they locked into place as pieces of a postcard skyline. Lizzie was sleepy and didn’t think about that and kept her eyes on her shoes until she came to the airport, where she looked around at flights to Berlin and Rome and Paris and Athens and Barcelona, and it struck her that she had in her two hands a passport and everything she owned in the world, and that the first time in her life those places were only hours away, and she could go to any one of them, or pretty much anywhere she wanted, and nothing was stopping her and nobody would even know.
“Jackson Hole Mountain Resort,” she said, “this is Lizzie speaking. Oh. Okay.”
She held out the receiver over her shoulder. “It’s for you.”
Justin picked it up. “This is Justin,” he announced. “Oh. Hey bro.”
Over the radio Lizzie listened to some fill-in announcer let everyone know that the school was closed, as if that wasn’t obvious from the heaving snowfall outside; the worst weather that Lizzie had ever seen. Lizzie leaned over the desk, by the cash register, wearing holes in the elbows of her maroon uniform. For whatever good it did. Nobody had been in the store all day.
“Yes sir,” said Justin. “Yes sir.” He hung up the phone. “Bill wants me to help clear the roads, I’m gonna head down. Can you keep an eye on things here? I doubt anyone’s even going to come in, but maybe.”
Lizzie slouched further onto the desk. “Yeah, okay.”
“So how was London?” he said, putting on his jacket and gloves.
“It was fine.”
“What was the absolute best thing that you did?” ”I don’t know.”
He stopped to look at her for a second, then shook his head. “Who even… I don’t know what to say to you sometimes.”
Lizzie looked up from the desk vaguely. Justin paused again before closing the door. “Let me know if you want to get a drink later,” he said, and left.
Afterwards, Lizzie stayed quiet for a long time. Then, straightening back up, she grabbed a mug of coffee on the desk and threw it as hard as she could at the window.