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North Hill

by Nancy Devine

           Me? I'm saving myself for someone who'll come into being only when I touch him, when we kiss, our lips wet as yesterday's dream. He'll pull me close and up a little, like we're together already, later merely an enactment of a given. Simple, really.

           Just past midnight here, everyone in bars gets nervous; all-hungry, they look around like they've been caught with stolen electronics or drugs or both. But the darting eyes mean people want to get laid, that they haven't yet found the one and they're fearful others will know they're going home alone.

           That one? Only a technicality. Because that one, that ugly-he, did not come into being when I touched him, because I never did. It was all him, hands clawing like meth-high birds, his legs heavy and strong, stationary torpedoes that kept me from getting up. Then push, push, push, and no return. Just push. None of which counts. Ever.

           So because of a party I heard about at the bar tonight, my car must make it up this incline, a street off the main road leading to North Hill, both of which are slippery from a Christmas Day thaw and freeze. The icy island of a median I keep bumping into divides the incline into a single eastbound lane and one that goes west then round the corner to a split-level with a hot tub and a sauna, that dry heat that temporarily extracts winter's chill, like a poultice. It's not that I really want to go to the party. Nobody ever does. All you meet there are guys who don't really exist. Oh, they have faces and bodies, anecdotes and swagger, players and teams they cheer for. But without me, they're not yet, merely what comes before vapor.

           Yep, this road—an avenue, I think—is slick, but I've got my stick and clutch; I won't need to back down the trough snowbanks make of this street. People who live in big cities don't get to learn how to drive on winter roads; they can take public transportation and miss what winter requires of us, mastery of icy thoroughfares borne out of late night navigation. And the darkness? Black draining from the sky, yet the sky doesn't grow pale or thin. Some bottomless font free of light keeps supplying it, and the air is so pure you can hear cars all across town trying to get up some hill like I am, each driver talking softly to her steering wheel, riding the brake and clutch, forgetting spring, summer, and fall as she repeatedly skewers the road with the whole of her concentration, like an ice pick.

           Yes, it's after the bars, when twenty below wants to befriend absolute zero. And a familiar car's behind me, struggling to get traction. But it's New Year's Eve, and this is a pretty slippery slope. I've just got to get beyond it.

Author's Note

Much of my writing is trying to figure out images or wisps of images that comes to mind. Sometimes that means I focus and really try to see an image, its environment …its particulars. Other times, I create a context for an image, in effect, a setting in which I can envision it. The image that inspired me to write this piece is that of a hand reaching down to shift gears. Moonlight illuminates the empty passenger seat and the glove box.

Nancy Devine teaches high school English in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she lives. Her poetry, short fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print journals.

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