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Polaroid Times

Asa Daniels

          There was a storm coming up the hills, tallgrass and weeds blowing in the tempest winds, shivering their fibers in the dark. Rumbles could be heard from miles away, though no lightning was in sight. There was no flash of horror, only that monotonous tremor rolling through the land. The air was prickly, stabbing the skin as though constant ticks of static electricity - which had simmered through the ages and were as restless as the ghosts wandering the hills and battlefields of old.
          She wore a cream, wide brimmed hat, still as freshly clean as when she saw it in the store. Her brunette hair was long and starting to frazzle with the electricity in the air. This was a night of old ghosts and the reverberating signal of past legends.
          The winds were pounding through the air, shining off the phantoms flying in the black; the air was full of cigarette smoke and cocaine coursing in the blood of addicts laying on street corners, not counting out their hits but the hours that pass by – the harvest moon shone in her eyes as she stood on the empty stage, the unplugged microphone at her mouth.
          “It’s already pretty late,” she said to him.
          “It doesn’t begin until the darkest hour.”
          “And isn’t that midnight?”
          “When do you feel most afraid?” She turned to look at him but a stagehand was adjusting a light and blinded her. When she blinked away the colorful spots, there was no one with her. She went backstage where only pudgy boys and girls were dealing with wires. They glanced at her and then returned to their work. Her manager was speaking with the venue patron, wondering about the number of available seats.
          In the changing room, the vanity mirror stood a few inches too long and wide, the lights only getting the very edges of her face. The stale air floated around her eye lids and she felt them get heavy, her cold, thin fingers trying vainly to keep them open. She gripped her hair, trying to stroke it as her mother had, but her nails were brittle and seemed to only crumble on her scalp. And so, she rubbed her temples, closing her eyes to the sensation that incaved in on her.
          She feels the air of her old home, a Midwestern hermit town. She sees the dance hall that she watches Buddy Holly perform in, where it seems he looks into her soul and transforms something within her, unfelt, but in the air; she hears the couples that all dance together to the beat of their hearts while a black man performs to the guitars and saxophones; she sees the skating masses of people going round again and again well into the night, but she sees the man in the long black coat standing off to the side and opens her eyes again. The hum of the air conditioner filled her ears. The chill sticks to her skin. In
her head, she felt the repeated hammering of things long forgotten and things left unsaid, as though they had never existed in the first place, though their presence had always been.
          She looked to the clock and it ticked past 2:05. Her throat was arid, and swallowing only made it worse, as she scraped her neck trying to shred off its dryness. Her fingers were ice as she touched her neck and she felt the familiar shape of fingers that had gripped her there before. She rose from her chair and left the room that was full of the smell of lavender perfume and a dusty coat. She went down the space between the closets and the closed drapes, filled with the sounds of clamoring fans and
people murmuring among the practicing guitarists and drummer, down the steps to a little nook with a beige back door reading ‘staff only’ and she went out to the parking lot. She was standing under the luminescent blue light, her hat tilted down to cover her face. She heard the people chatting, passing by and by, returning to the afternoon at the back of her high school to that windy day. She wears her dress and tastes the red lipstick on her tongue – waving to her friends before they drive to the town cafe, where they smile at the hamburgers in their hands, and then to the music smooth and the drinks flowing at the hall – and in the hours of the night she’s swimming in her mind, on waves no one can describe or feel, sloshing her vision to the left and the right; in her blurry existence she feels a man’s hand on her arms, the firmness radiating as an oven’s heat; she’s swept into the darkness just beyond the thudding songs of people deaf to the mouths looking at them in earnest.
          She felt her heartbeat pickup, going quicker and quicker. She sucked in air; she clenched her fists. Her breath shook out of her mouth in the chilling night. She walked away from the lot and stood on the side of the road, the edge of the trees standing motionless to her freezing figure, her hat a dull grey in the darkness. The wind brushed her hair all around and the tingles of its fibers fizzed in the night. Clouds’ outlines shone in the dark, lightning simmering just below their black masses, as though waves of the ocean. She is walking under a city streetlight, seeing the shining display window of a pawn shop and looking at a cream, wide brimmed hat ––– a smile comes across her cheeks as the breeze of a midsummer sky blows onto her face as she
stands among people who are also watching the singing troubadour ––– she goes in and buys it from a nameless biker; he stands among the random hats, guitars, bandannas, books, and old postage stamps framed behind glass; she looks into his eyes and sees the same wading hours she wanders, the same paradise too far off. And when she goes outside, she closes her eyes to that summer day where there is nothing but hope and the music of legends filling her ears. She opens her eyes – and the man in the black coat stands across the street.
          She stumbled off the curb, heat radiating through her body, sweat getting in her bangs; she started to shake, just as the vibrating air; feeling the tone of heaven slowly rolling through the sky, slowly increasing its pace; eventually, the air was pounding as a steady drum. She shoved her hands in her pockets, rubbing her fingers against each other. She legged over the railing and ran into the trees, shapeless past the night’s purple glow, her heart was pounding faster now, quakes sounding from the earth below. She stopped in the darkness, the ground ahead of her a sudden drop. After she stood there for a time, her legs gave way and she fell atop crunched leaves and looked at the immeasurable night and harvest moon gleaming above.
          “What do you want?” she asked him.
          “I don’t need anything.”
          “Why did this happen to me?” she yelled at him.
          “Nothing has happened – they are only things passing.” She cursed him one time and shut her eyes only to see the parking lot outside the dance hall. The first gleaming lights of the dawn are shining and she looks up through her throbbing vision and again feels the spirit slowly passing through her, the spirit of that night when everything changes, the rock music soaring and the band playing tunes, and she hears Buddy’s voice echoing again and there are no demons in the night, just living humanity. She opened her eyes once more, shaking her head and rubbing her scalp to try and clear it, but her migraine of dreams
          She looked at him standing at the bottom of the hill, no face and no hands she could discern in
the darkness.
          “What’s going to happen to me?”
          “You shall be smoke on the water, a pulse in the night.”

Spring/Summer, 2020 Issue

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