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Networked Blogs



Places I Hang Out

An Assault

Wait. Is there something else that needs to be said?

She sets out on the street, her Converse shoes scuffed and beat, her gait awry from a soccer injury that stopped her dreaming of the sporting life. Her eyes are asquint, always scanning her vicinity. She is a restless woman, not young but also not old. She staggers on the fulcrum of her lifespan, and it might go either way, like a ride in a dream of a playground. 

The afternoon is lukewarm, a fetid breeze coming down from the hills like the land’s breath, the breath of something ailing. Clouds herringbone the pale sky, stitched by crows moving northward. 

This town is not a good town. Few cars move along its arteries. Even fewer old women gossip in the silent marketplace. A dog whines in a backyard, hidden like the embodiment of shame. God himself might have lived here once, but no longer. 

Something follows her in the dusty streets, amid the dry beige deposits blown in from the far-off desert beyond the hills. She imagines its footprints as it takes its patient time tracing her passing.

The light seems septic—yellow and watery and unclean. 

She stops for a moment and smokes a Russian cigarette underhand, Asian style. Considers Tarkovsky and Murakami. Baldwin and Steinbeck. Sexton and Plath. Unshed tears of poetry behind the cloak of her eyes. Deadpan. She is of the earth, this earth. 

Resuming her ungainly walk, she thinks about Anton and the cruel things he said to her last night and the night before that, and she thinks she might not have it in her to forgive him. She is a naturally awkward yet truthful woman. Some might even see that as a strength. But not Anton. Not her parents. Not most people she meets or has met. Other than her shadow, no one has ever really seen her.

Two people, both young, are talking on the far edge of a weedy lot. She slows and catches drifts of their conversation, raggedy clouds of words, torn banners: “…and here, where all else failed…” “…sometimes a handle is just a handle…” “…and the cat pretended the dog had vanished…” “…the ocean was such a disappointment…” “…he made sure to dig much further than that…” “…why, why, why? Oh, the teacher couldn’t have known…” “…the last shop on the row was closed…” “…come back to me, chica, your eyes are filled with love…” “…but they drove over the edge…” “…the signposts were endless…” “…really, how fucking hard is it to try?”

Question. When you see a woman walking a dog, do you focus on the dog or on the woman? Your answer to this will determine how your life goes.

By the weak neon sign for a salon, under a sickly lime awning, she decides on impulse to get a haircut. Perhaps for the haircut, perhaps the human contact. It’s one of only two businesses still open, the other being a pet food store. Christiana is her stylist, and she asks for something neat and sleek, and Christiana nods solemn as a nun. 

In the chair under a black shroud, she says, “I think I’m being followed.”

But Christiana says nothing, acts as if she hasn’t spoken at all.

“I don’t mean to be any trouble, but did you hear what I said?”

“No. And you’re not any trouble. But I don’t want to hear about such things.”


Her dark lustrous hair, when she emerges from the ugly light of the salon, is cut in the shape of a bell. A silent bell that won’t ever toll. 

She enters the pet food store and walks among the aquariums, bright neon tetras and dusky mollies, until the owner says, “Are you looking for anything specific, miss? We’re closing in a few minutes.” And she bows and leaves, her heart rate quickened, her face a brief rictus.

Does the sun ever set in this town? It feels like the afternoon has been stretched like a canvas over an infinite easel, long abandoned by the artist. Like an empty metro station, still empty tomorrow and the day after. She is the rat on the rails. The fluttering litter of wan eventide. The smoking moth beneath the incandescent bulb. Detritus. Flotsam. 

Behind, the sound of something shuffling. 

This is troubling, she thinks. She tries yet fails to remember her mother’s smile, the name of her first pet, the word for love in German. She remembers releasing paper lanterns over a lake one August night, dancing to “Born Slippy” in the nineties, loving sea lions, warthogs, penguins. She almost laughs when she thinks of her childhood bear, with his one twisted ear and his cataracted eye. (His bare tumultuous patch where she’d clasped him to her heart. Oh how love erodes.) 

Her mood has improved, like a jazz riff recalled, like Coltrane, like sanctuary, like a burst of starlings from a wood daubing some English sky, like June bugs glowing in a wet twilight, like things built from hope. 

And at last she turns a blind corner and walks into the gaping, dripping jaws of the thing that’s always been so content to wait.

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