Thomas Cook



No one at Longmeadow Shops is going to die. Longmeadow Shops is located at 666 Bliss Road, in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and the people at Longmeadow Shops on this August day will live forever. The women consumed by the cathexis required to ensure their asses flex against stretchy denim exist outside of time. The men consumed by lesser cathexes, signaled with a hand to the jaw, a straightening of the spine, exist outside of time.

It is 1636. It is 2082. The land is rich in beaver. The pasture is common. Residents who can afford to farm sow a seed. The hill rises above the river basin, which is full the newly emigrated, the property-less who cabbage back-and-forth for slave wages and pray that the next flood washes away the new barons. The parking lot is full of rubber and oil. All of the Agawam are dead. The government works for the mall-goers, collects their taxes, keeps savages at bay. This experiment in democracy doesn’t have a name.

A woman walks in purple capri pants and matching sandals, a white and purple top. Her walk is a stiff shuffle. The white and purple top is flower-patterned. Her hair is straw yellow, darker at the roots. She’s curled it, or had it curled. Her skin is not young, her jewels, however, substantial. Her grandfather was a doctor, her husband in insurance. It is important for any settlement to attract residents with a range of skills and talents that will help form a community. She rarely travels to the river basin. The sun is high on the hill. She fans herself, opens a door. The door releases conditioned air. A man walks in an untucked shirt that reads “Nantucket” with the year that Nantucket was established in a small oval. Nantucket was cut from wilderness. The man is wearing denim shorts with a spot of white paint on the front. He may be taking a break from painting a fence, a springtime activity, or he may not have painted a fence for years. He does not have to defend his property. There is no fear of uprising [footnote 1].

Two young women, together, friends, sit at a cafe table with sweet drinks and stare into the screens of their phones. They hold their phones with two hands, thumbs tapping and scrolling as necessary. They mutter things to one another, laugh. They have straight hair, blond and black. They wear flats, shorts that show their smooth, young legs, and tank tops. They wear bracelets and chew gum. Each accessory is its own defilade. They are free and happy. They don’t work. School is a social affair. They see those who are not like them, the cabbagers, on television, on the small screens of their phones, but they are more attracted to the supremely rich. Someday the women may fall in love. Someday their lovers may know them.

Another woman holds a beverage with whipped cream trapped beneath a transparent plastic dome. The whipped cream, injected into a hole in the top of the dome against the surface of the beverage, coffee, milk, and ice, expands against the interior wall of the dome, flattening. In her other hand, a phone, which she glances at after a sip, swipes, and clutches at her side. A man behind her holds the same beverage. The woman and the man are together. The man’s ring finger has swelled around his wedding ring. The woman wears her engagement ring, her wedding ring, and several other rings. The dowry exchanged involved a small house on the hill. A black man employed by a white man is having a task explained to him by the white man. The white man opens and shuts the top of a garbage can. The black man nods [footnote 2]. 

There is a man on a bench, and an old woman is on the bench next to him. The bench is iron and painted green. It is bolted to the cement upon which it stands. The man wears black athletic shoes, white ankle socks, shorts that mingle light grays in a camouflage pattern, a navy blue shirt that says “Run California,” and sunglasses that reflect various neons. His hair is short and he is balding. He looks into his hands, where he has a phone, a sunglasses case, and car keys. His legs are spread wide, feet flat on the pavement in front of him, elbows on his knees. The man works for an American automaker, the man works for the town of Longmeadow, he teaches Social Studies at the high school. He is also the tennis coach. He is more physically active than the majority of men and women at the mall [footnote 3]. The woman on the bench with the man leans back. She wears royal blue slacks, her legs crossed, and brown leather purse is slung over the shoulder of her baby blue sweater. She has sunglasses, dry, light brown hair, and she stares straight ahead. She itches her ankle, which is behind pantyhose. She was born twenty years before The Civil Rights Act. She was born and raised on the hill. Once, she brought a black home for dinner with her family. She was twenty. Now she is sixty-seven years old. (Reverend Williams preached in Longmeadow for over fifty years, until almost the turn of the nineteenth century. Cotton Mather was the first reader of his captivity narrative and instrumental in its views being spread across the Commonwealth.)

Four women, friends, walk together, laughing. A nose sticks out on one face, wooden beads across the red, sweaty chest of another. The other two are similarly dressed in sleeveless white blouses with peplums that hang over their shorts, sandals that wind between their toes over the tops of their feet and back behind their ankles. A bull mastiff is being walked by its owners, who are wrinkled by the sun and dressed casually in cotton T-shirts and shorts. The man procures a cup of water for the mastiff to drink, which takes place at a height higher than the man’s waist. A mother and daughter smile and point. The man smiles as well, in the closed-mouth upturned way of acknowledgement. There is the chance that he and his wife have lost a child and the chance that they have not. The mastiff is black with a grey beard. The mall-goers uniformly smile at the dog, chained as he is to his owner. (Thomas Pynchon writes about the fact of his relation to William Pynchon through Tyrone Slothrop’s family history.) The East Bay Eagles, a group of one-dozen girls in matching softball uniforms, runs. There is one male chaperone. He is the father of one, maybe two of the girls. There is razor burn on his face. Each girl is entitled to her own drink. Either two of the girls have been subjected to sexual violence or somewhere there is a group of girls not participating in team athletics that has experienced a disproportionate amount of violence. A young, strong man has approached the old woman on the bench with the man and smiled at her. He is a relation. She is happy to see him, or perhaps she smiles at him though she fears what he might be capable of doing. The chaperone-father’s wallet is thick. There is of course the chance that he is a perpetrator of violence against one or more of the girls.

One man, handsome, alone, eats almonds, taps a foot, stares into a screen. One woman, beautiful, alone, wears a sundress and drinks lemonade, a book swinging in one of her arms. The man with the “Run California” shirt has moved to the bench opposite the older woman. He is sunning himself, moving to ensure the light hits his face. All of the people other than the black man, who has gone back to work, are white. A morbidly obese woman walks determinedly. Fifty years have passed. Two men in cheap denim and matching “Randolph National Bank” T-shirts, laugh with each other. Walk. Four hundred years have passed. Young dad, new, very colorful shoes. A woman is picked up at the curb. A sweaty mom, fit, and her boy-son, formless. The grooming that time and money enable is palpable on the faces of a man and woman who have nothing in their hands and walk very slowly. Across the street, a store has gone up. It’s new. Inside of the store, there is food. Also, lightbulbs, medicine, cleaners, electronics, items for automobiles, clothing, hatchets, oil, pelts and the buttons. The determined morbidly obese woman now has a large drink the color of coffee mixed with milk, a plastic container the size of the head of the bull mastiff filled with lettuce and other foods, and a pastry bag. She sits where the “Run California” had been sitting. The old woman is gone.

The well-groomed couple sits down with a mother, a father, and a daughter. They are grandparents, the wife’s parents. Everyone has a coffee drink. The mother wears khaki shorts and a white sweater. Her hair is long and dark black. It falls across her back. She is Japanese. The father wears a blue polo shirt with thin red horizontal stripes. He wears khaki shorts and dock shorts. His hair is black and curly and the hair on his arms and legs is also black and curly. The daughter wears a T-shirt that says “Brown University” with the year that it was founded in an oval. She also wears khaki shorts. He legs are smooth and tan like her arms. She holds a phone and her thumb hovers above the screen. The group converses and sips coffee drinks. The temperature is hot, nearly eighty degrees in May. The father repeatedly puts his arm around the daughter and grasps her shoulder. The mother whispers occasionally to her mother, who may be hard of hearing. Or else there are secrets. The grandfather may hear very little. His expression is almost unchanging, a smile. Everyone wears sunglasses. Everyone.

1 William Pynchon, treasurer of The Massachusetts Bay Colony and founder of Longmeadow, was the author of The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, which was burned on the Boston Common and for which he went to trial. According to the Puritans, he too was a witch.

2 The majority of the original landowners in Longmeadow already owned homes in Springfield, which had been previously settled by Pynchon. The Agawam were ruled by a hereditary sachem, who, at the time of Pynchon’s arrival was Masconomet. The Agawam didn’t resist assimilation, which meant they were marginalized, killed, made wives and servants, and ultimately disappeared. Their language does not survive.

3 The population of Longmeadow has grown proportionally smaller to the surrounding area since the eighteenth century, while the wealth has grown proportionally larger. It has been concentrated. The number of discrete sub-addresses zoned for “restaurant” at Longmeadow Shops is four: Max Burger, Ume Asian Bistro, Bertucci’s, and Peachwave. After the construction began on the hill, the residents of Longmeadow needed a preacher, and they turned to Rev. Stephen Williams, the author of The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, one of the most widely read captivity narratives, wherein Williams frames the Deerfield Massacre and his ensuing capture as a Puritan struggle against the French and Indian forces preventing the Puritans from realizing God’s providence.