A Map of Oklahoma
He was tired of refugee camp life.
Actually, "tired" wasn't the proper word. "Exhausted" was more like it. He'd been living in a barracks with other single men outside Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, south of Texas, for 15 months. The place smelled, he was never not hungry and never completely clean, and heartbreakingly lonely. He had never learned the fates of his father, Julian Devereaux White, and his stepmother, Cindy. His parents had been skiing in Europe when the super winter storms hit, and they were presumed lost. His little brother Benjamin and Benny's hundred or so schoolmates outside Philadelphia had frozen to death during the storms, their buses never even reaching the state line.
Many Americans had abandoned the refugee camps in Mexico already, trying to return to their homes, or what was left of them, or to find new places to live. Even the US President, Raymond Becker, and his cabinet were leaving the American Embassy in Mexico City to return to the States.
Yet 19-year-old J.D. White had no place to return to. J.D. had been "adopted" by the Hall family, formerly of Washington D.C., and spent much time with them, for which he was grateful. But the Halls were following President Becker to the new American capital, Houston, Texas, since Professor Jack Hall was now officially a member of Becker's cabinet, as the Secretary of Climatology. However, J.D. didn't want to just be an extra mouth to feed in the Hall family, although they had asked him if he wanted to follow them.
J.D. had become an extended member of the Hall family. Actually, Jack and his wife, Dr. Lucy Hall, had "adopted" four young people following the exodus into Mexico: their son Sam's new wife Laura Chapman, Sam's longtime friend Brian Parks, Lucy's pediatric cancer patient Peter Upshaw, and J.D. Like J.D., Brian, Laura and Peter were presumably orphaned by the great ice storms, as no one had ever been able to locate their parents. J.D. would never forget the night a year earlier when he had at last begun to face the fact that he was alone, and he had sobbed sadly and bitterly on Lucy's shoulder.
The young man wasn't sure he wanted to be dependent on the Halls anymore. He had an idea in the back of his head to where he might move, but he hadn't said anything to anyone because he wasn't even sure the place existed anymore. It wasn't anywhere near his hometown of New York City, even though he knew of other refugees who had returned to the Northeast in an attempt to scrounge out a living on the new tundra that was formerly the United States.
What J.D. didn't realize was that newlyweds Sam and Laura didn't want to move to Houston either, because they, like J.D., didn't want to be living on Sam's parents coattails, under their overly protective eyes.
Laura and Sam were part of the new American "elite" class--that is, Americans who were living in actual buildings in Nuevo Laredo rather than tents or barracks or their vehicles. The only reason they had that privilege was because of Sam's father's cabinet status. Laura and Sam both felt guilty about the easier lifestyle they were living compared to most everyone else they knew.
Although Sam's parents lived in Mexico City near President Becker, when Sam and Laura and the other survivors from New York had been brought to Mexico, the helicopters had landed in Nuevo Laredo, just across the Rio Grande from Texas. The two had decided to stay there, much to Sam's parents' dismay. Laura felt a responsibility towards some of the others in their little party, and she didn't want to abandon them. Sam and Laura eventually did visit Mexico City, where they were married. But they decided they didn't care to live there.
"When are you going to tell your parents we don't want to go to Houston?" Laura asked Sam in their small room.
"As soon as we figure out just where we WILL be going," Sam answered. "I think they'll be more receptive to the idea if we can give them a concrete answer. I just wish I knew what that might be."
"I talked to Elsa the other day," Laura said. "She and Jeremy don't want to have their baby here either. If a group of us left together your mom and dad might not get so upset."
"Where do Jeremy and Elsa want to go?"
"Elsa's got relatives from Tennessee, you know. They're making plans to head back there now that it's spring and more and more of the ice is receding. Memphis is on the southern edge of the glaciers now."
Sam shook his head but didn't respond. He wasn't sure that idea was feasible. Just because the snow was melting didn't mean any danger from the new Ice Age was past. Most of the buildings north of the 36th Parallel were buried under two or three stories of ice and snow. There was extreme danger of flooding during the summer; naturally the growing season was two months shorter now; and most of the Northern Hemisphere's herd animals had frozen or starved to death.
Sam had been talking to others in the refugee camps for weeks. Everyone was exhausted; everyone wanted to go home. The Americans' initial relief at just being alive had turned into numbness, then irritation. Only a few were angry--yet--but that emotion was sure to surface soon. President Becker was already being questioned by various factions wondering both why the new Ice Age had happened and what could be done to correct it. Sam, the climatologist's son, understood that another sudden change in the weather wasn't possible at the moment, but he was tired of explaining that to strangers who kept coming up to him demanding why nothing was being done.
"Did you want to go to movie night?" Laura asked, changing the subject. Movie night was now a big deal in the camp. A surprising number of refugees had either packed their favorite films when they fled their homes, while other families already had had a stash of DVDs in their TV-equipped SUVs. That night's film was to be the 1956 Elizabeth Taylor/James Dean epic "Giant," brought to Mexico by a diehard James Dean fan. Laura had never seen the movie, and thought it sounded like a romantic date with her husband, even though they'd be sharing a crowded smelly tent with hundreds of others.
Sam shrugged. He wanted to spend some time alone with his wife but did not argue with her. Laura seemed to find the movies a temporary respite from their situation.
They got their seats early and saved space on the benches for everyone--Three-months-pregnant Elsa (who had seen the movie five times long before the new Ice Age began) and Jeremy arrived first. J.D., Brian and Luther walked in from the barracks a little after the movie started. Luther looked very sad. His beloved dog Buddha had died a few weeks earlier of old age. J.D. didn't look much happier.
Laura hugged the other men hello. Her kindness seemed to cheer up both J.D. and Luther a little.
"Have you seen this movie? I haven't," Laura asked of no one in particular.
"It puts the Ewing family of 'Dallas' to shame," Elsa chimed in.
J.D. had never seen "Giant" either. But after he started watching it, he became intrigued. The film a week earlier had been the 1937 Frank Capra classic "Lost Horizon" and a fortnight ago he had come to the movie tent four nights in a row to watch segments of the 1994 Stephen King miniseries "The Stand." After "Giant" ended three-and-a-half hours later, J.D., still enthralled by the film, went to bed that night with the various plots and settings of his past few viewings swirling in his head. They seemed to coincide with what he had been thinking earlier that day.
Laura also dreamt of the movie that night, not of the plot, but of its setting, of a family living in a house on a ranch in the middle of nowhere.
The next morning J.D. started asking around for a road map, not of Texas, but of Oklahoma. In the "old days" he could have looked up what he wanted on the Internet. But all those websites that would have told him what he needed to know didn't exist anymore, their creators most likely dead, the sites long off-line.
It took him a while to find such a map. He first had to find a family from Oklahoma who had managed to drive a vehicle from that state and then were lucky enough to get themselves and their car across the Mexican border before the borders had closed more than a year ago. Then he had to hope that the family hadn't burned what they considered a now-useless road map to light a fire. Lastly he had to convince the owner to give the map to him. The driver he did locate with a map didn't want to give it to him without some payment in return, but J.D. had nothing to give. The man's wife took pity on J.D., grabbed the map out of her husband's hands and handed it to the boy. J.D. thanked her profusely, but she told him they had no use for it.
Brian found J.D. in their barracks later that day, the map spread out on his cot.
"Oklahoma? You planning on leaving?" Brian meant it as a joke, but then he noticed the look of concentration on J.D.'s face.
"When I was little, before my mother died, we twice visited her uncle's farm in Oklahoma. I think I found on the map where it is. One thing I remember is how it took us hours to get to it because it was just a dirt road. Uncle Cornelius--everyone called him 'Corny'--had running water and electricity, but what I remember was that there was an old water pump in the kitchen and a wood stove and a huge fireplace in the parlor and he even had an old outhouse in the back."
Brian's eyes were wide. "You want to go there, don't you," he said softly. It wasn't a question, just a statement of surprise.
"I think so. I can't stay here forever," J.D. paused, and then added slowly, "and neither can you or any of the rest of us."
"Are you asking me if I want to join you?" Brian asked.
"If you want to."
Brian didn't say anything in response. But he slowly nodded his head, and then he grinned.
Sam saw Brian and J.D. a few days later. They said hello to him but they seemed busy and didn't linger to talk. Now Sam was suspicious. There wasn't much to occupy the young men in the camps which was why so many of them had left already. So why did his two friends look so preoccupied?
"You wanna tell me what's going on?" Sam caught up to them. Now the other two really did look guilty.
J.D. sighed. He seemed a little self-conscious. Brian had kept his idea secret, but now J.D. was about to go public with it. He hoped no one thought he was crazy. "I once offered you two and Laura a place to stay for the night just before the flooding started. I know that that....ended....disastrously."
"Yeah, so?" Sam asked, a little confused. He really didn't like to talk about that time of his life.
"J.D. has another idea of where to go," Brian replied. "But we hope that this time it doesn't end as 'screwed up', to put it lightly, as last time."
"What do you mean, 'another idea'?"
"May Brian and I come talk to you--I mean you and Laura?" J.D. asked.
It dawned on Sam what J.D. was hinting. "Are you two planning on leaving the camp?" Sam asked. He was suddenly envious.
J.D. looked at Brian for confirmation, and then nodded his head in Sam's direction. There was a long pause, and at last J.D. asked, a little huskily, "Did you want to come with us?"