"Black Out" and "Dent" by Claire Podulka

Categories: ISSUE 03: Edgar

Black Out
The music is so loud I’ve stopped hearing it. Instead I just feel it in my
neck and my gut. I couldn’t tell you what this song is. I don’t know if
that has anything to do with how much I’ve had or just that I don’t really
know dance music. I’ve stopped talking, too. Too loud for anyone to hear,
even screaming in their ears. There’s no point, and really, I don’t have
anything that needs to be said.

I’m off to the side of the dance floor, leaning against the wall, but my
feet still hurt so bad. Through the crowd I catch glimpses of the arms and
hair of the people I’m with. I think. It’s hard to tell with the flashing
colored lights and everything. It looks like everyone is coming apart in
pieces, like they’re trying to half crash through the floor and half launch
into the air.

I’m moving. Rather, I’m being moved. Rocking forward and back. I’m lying
down in the backseat of a car, my head pushed against one door, my legs
curled up on the other side. My shoes are gone. I look up and Jenny’s
looking back at me. “Well, she opened her eyes,” she says to Pete, who’s
behind the wheel, apparently, although I can’t see him and don’t recognize
the car. Pete grunts and calls me the word he has started using for me all
the time like it’s my name. Jenny tells him to be nice. I close my eyes
again.

My neck is cramped up like I’ll never be able to turn it again. All I can
see right in front of me is a beige plastic utility bucket, a glass of
water, and half a loaf of bread. I groan, and snapshots of the night before
come back to me. I use my arms to push myself onto my back and look up at
the ceiling of Jenny’s living room, with the horrible stained industrial
ceiling tiles. I breathe through my mouth and stay very still, and start to
count the tiles, row by row, knowing that when I get to sixty I will have
to start over, knowing that when I’ve counted them through four or five
times I will be steady enough to make it to the bathroom. I know this for
the same reason I know I will have no answer for the questions she asks me
when I’m drinking her coffee in an hour and for the same reason I know I
will refuse the eggs and toast she’ll make and for the same reason I will
have to leave when Pete wakes up. I know because I– but I have neglected my
count. I have to start over. One, two, three…

O Typekey Divider

Dent
“Hey. Hey. Hey!”

The third one is too close to me for comfort, so I finally turn around to
see a man almost exactly my height in a filthy green coat at least a size
too big for him with a dent in his head. I’m not sure how or why the dent
got there, on the right side toward the middle, sort of above his ear, but
I know I’m not in for a good conversation.

The other thing about this man, besides the coat and the dent, is the
football. He’s carrying a football, tossing it hand to hand, and he tells
me to run out and he’ll pass it to me and I’ll catch it. “Oh, no thanks,” I
say, I think succeeding in making it sound casual.

“Why not?”

“Oh, I’d probably drop it.”

“Girls always say that. Especially the pretty ones.” He doesn’t actually
wink here, but it’s implied. “But you could catch it. You probably would.
You never know. Probably you would. You would.”

“No thanks.” I turn away at this point and take a few steps into the
street. No bus in sight.

“You’re waiting for the bus?”

I say yes, although this should be obvious, what with the standing at a bus
stop looking in the direction of the bus.

“Where are you going?”

I can’t answer this honestly, because I’m not about to tell this guy that
I’m on my way to my first therapy session since I decided to start dealing
with the diagnosis. That’s not something I want to get into with him or you
or even the therapist, really, so I tell him I’m going to my boyfriend’s
house.

“Oh, well don’t worry then. Your boyfriend won’t care if you’re late. He
won’t mind if you stop and play. Pretty girl like you. Don’t worry about
it.”

Anytime I’m told not to worry twice, I start to worry. I wonder why no one
else is at this bus stop. Other people on the street are doing exactly what
I would be doing, which is keeping their heads down or looking in the shop
window with the ancient beauty products that have been going rotten and
gathering dust since the store closed down a year ago. The bottles and
brushes stand and stare out silently, and the people rush past as fast as
possible, and no one is really around to help if it turns out I need it.

I step into the street again to see if the bus is coming. Nothing yet. When
I step back onto the curb, it’s at a slightly farther distance from this
guy. He doesn’t close the gap, and I feel a little better.

“What’s your name?”

“Sarah.” No, it’s not.

“Sarah. That’s a pretty name. Where you from, Sarah?”

“Here.”

“No, I mean, your people.”

I tell him Russia, which is also not true, but I realize simultaneously
that I can’t place where this guy might be from. His speech isn’t slurred,
exactly, but it’s not clear. Sort of mumbled, and maybe with a touch of an
East Coast accent, something Boston-y. His hair is brownish and grayish and
patchy, coarse, and his eyes are dark and his skin brownish, his features
soft and thick, no angles to him anywhere. Even the dent is sort of a soft,
curved cave. I suddenly feel bad for whatever part of him used to be under
there that isn’t anymore.

He’s talking about some Russians he knew; they played poker and had the
dirtiest mouths. “They taught me all the bad words in Russian. All of them.
I know all the dirty words in all the languages.” I go to step out into the
street, and he tells me, “Don’t worry, I’ll tell you when your bus is
coming. You won’t be late. Don’t worry.”

The bus is coming, way down at the end of my vision, orange lights up top,
white lights below. I step back onto the curb.

“Do you know Russian?”

“No. I never learned.”

“Your bus is coming.”

“I know.”

“You sure you don’t want to catch the ball? Just once? You don’t have much
time. You could do it, probably. I bet you would. I bet you’d catch it.
You’d be fine. You could probably do it. You could do it if you run out now
and I throw it and I’d throw it right to you. You could catch it just fine.
Probably you would. I just want to make sure everybody has fun. It’d be
fun. You’d have fun if you caught it, and probably you would.”

The bus pulls up, and he’s still going.

“You have fun now, Sarah. You’re a pretty girl. You should always have fun.
It’s really fun if you just try, so maybe next time we’ll play catch and
you’ll catch it and it’ll be just fine.”

--Stories by Claire Podulka
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--Foreground photo by Doriana Maria