Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction
Integrity, MaineIntegrity is not so much a town as it is a series of minor attractions scattered across a two mile segment of Route 202 in southern Maine. These minor attractions include a church, a traffic light, several houses, a small elementary school, an even smaller post office, and a greasy little diner named Pop’s.
The church is of the small white Baptist variety. Its sign vehemently declares the redemptive power of the blood. Its steeple is swathed in scaffolding, as a precursor to being repainted. But there are no workers perched above the roofline, and half of the steeple remains untouched. The renovation, like so many projects, fell prey to the eyes-bigger-than-the-wallet syndrome. The steeple sits naked, waiting for the parishioners to dig deep into their pockets and complete the restoration. Meanwhile, the pastor avoids teaching on Jesus’ parable of the unfinished tower. Perhaps he sees the steeple project as God’s reprimand to him – a visible challenge to his ability to lead the congregation.
The traffic light hangs two houses down from the church - a constant warning to the rushing 202 traffic. It is not entirely clear why the traffic light is there; the pothole-lined road that enters 202 from the west is used only by a school bus, and the seven residents who live on that road. But the traffic light remains, and its existence is a silent implication that this town is busy enough to warrant something more high-tech than a stop sign.
The houses scattered along this stretch of 202 are bland and unattractive. Here you do not find the well groomed lawns of residential cul-de-sacs. The residents of Integrity are not inclined to care for their yards since the only people who see them are traveling at sixty miles per hour. Children play in the unfenced yards - kneeling down in piles of dirt, skipping across puddles, and creating forts with little yellow bulldozers. All the while they wait for the high-pitched, angry announcement that “supper is on and it’s time to wash those filthy hands and faces.” Those high pitched announcements come from unseen residents - the mysterious adults whose stories are known only to themselves. Some are lovers, some are haters; some are pushers, some are users. Bold or timid, religious or secular, bitter or compassionate, they keep their stories to themselves, and nothing in the appearance of the bland residences provides the true story of those mysterious lives.
The elementary school, though it is very small, is the most attractive building along this stretch of road. The architecture was designed to deny the popular view of school as a prison. The roadside sign has a locking plastic window to protect the removable letters which spell out the message: LAST DAY OF SCHOOL: JUNE 16. A perceptive visitor might wonder why the last day of school was on a Saturday. A closer exploration of this mystery would yield the simple explanation that the last day of school was June 16, 2006 – which was a Friday, not a Saturday. The school has remained closed since then, and students have been bussed to the next town over since September of that year. Why the sign remains, nearly two years later, is another mystery. Perhaps the key to the sign has been lost. Perhaps no one cares enough to take the letters down. Perhaps it is a silent protest against the closing of the school. Regardless of the reason, someday soon the town office will outgrow its current location, and will take over the deserted building. Then the sign will change. In the meantime, no one can argue that the message is not truthful, though perhaps it is a bit misleading.
Next to the elementary school, on the same side of the road, travelers see the post office: a tiny shack with a white wooden sign hung above the door. The sign’s block letters declare: TOWN OF INTEGRITY, ME - UNITED STATES POST OFFICE. When first constructed, the post office appeared to be a well groomed white clapboard building, but this was only a short-lived illusion. The building sits only a few yards from the road on the inside of a sharp curve, and passing vehicles, wandering too far into the rocky shoulder of the road, occasionally kick up pebbles and small rocks against the building. These little projectiles have peppered the walls with cracks and holes that give away the secret of the building’s vinyl siding.
As travelers drive north on 202, the last of the minor attractions they see is a greasy little diner named Pop’s. It is a combination variety store and small restaurant with both counter and table seating. Common Maine wisdom tells us: Never play with bear cubs, never play pool with strangers who insist they’re not very good, and never eat dinner at a restaurant called Pop’s. Motorists passing by Pop’s at turnpike speeds have only a moment in which to form an impression of the little diner, and that impression usually coincides with common wisdom. The handful of cars parked in the gravel parking lot are scattered with total disregard for geometry and aesthetics. The building – like the Baptist steeple – is in need of painting. The dumpster is located in plain view of the road and is overflowing with a week's worth of garbage. The large picture windows on the front of the diner have a fine coating of dust on the outside, and a less pleasant film of grease on the inside.
Strangely, the exterior impression presented by this ratty building provides a layer of secrecy to the truth known only by the residents of Integrity: Pop’s is the exception to common Maine wisdom. It is, in fact, home of the best bacon double-cheeseburger outside of Moody’s Diner.
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