by Glen Pourciau
Arrive at a party with a couple I just met, acquaintances, offered me a ride, don’t know the hosts, live down the hill, stone house, looks good from outside, dirt floors inside, quiet party, people holding drinks, looking around at other people, no one making introductions, efforts at small talk, forced smiles, stiff postures, glance at my watch, my acquaintances not ready to leave, resigned to staring ahead, eyes beginning to bulge, guests hesitant to be the first to flee, clock ticking somewhere around us, seems to be in our heads, one couple cracks, they thank the hosts, set their drinks on a table, break in the dam, people gradually leak out the door, eventually it’s our turn, my acquaintances tap my arm, I follow them out, we smile and nod at the remaining guests we pass, another couple on our heels, relieved to be outside, take in some air, the other couple chats with me, couldn’t take it anymore, tell me their names, forget to tell them mine, forget theirs, the man laughs at something the woman said that I didn’t hear, nice to meet me, they say, get in their car, I look around for my acquaintances, don’t see them, other couple drives away, no headlights shining near me, no one else around, my acquaintances have gone, assumed I found another ride, nothing left to do but walk home, pitch black, get started, straight up the hill on the cobblestones, windows dark, keep striding up, a man in a sleeveless undershirt steps onto a balcony, hangs his head over the rail, weeps, mouth open, tears dripping down his face and over his lips to the cobblestones, lower my head, beginning to puff, sweat coming through my clothes, pant legs sticking to my thighs and knees, top of the hill, pause to catch my breath, go right, another hill curving to the left, reach a cul-de-sac, tall wooden walls, three doors, open the one on the left, side street, dog on roof opposite barks ferociously, look both ways, vulnerable, man smoking a cigar in a doorway, doesn’t move, a street to my right, walk toward it, wider street leading up, narrow flagstone sidewalks, grind upward, statue of the city founder at the top, curved wrought-iron fence surrounding him, unsure which way to go, try the left, around the corner a plywood wall blocks the path, painted dark, filled with graffiti, someone could jump me, reverse course, follow the fence, hear people, activity, walk through a gap in a row of trees, courtyard, concrete paths, benches, fountain in the center, two-story hospital to my right, windows lit, young people in scrubs walking, hear foreign languages, open market to my left, shoppers, roadway ahead, traffic, street lights, walk to the market, food, crafts, hardware, a man playing an accordion, hat upside down on the ground at his feet, see someone who looks familiar, she sees me, comes toward me, knows my name but I can’t remember hers, good to see me, she says, been awhile, how long’s this been going on, I ask, quiet during the day, she replies, the market comes to life at night, new hospital, come look at my mosaics, she urges, escorts me to her display, a woman she knows greets us, gracious, shows me the mosaics, colored tiles and glass, cut and arranged in unfamiliar shapes, wonderful, refreshing, I say, we should keep in touch, the mosaic creator says, takes my hand, a shock riding up to my elbow, when will I see her again, what would keeping in touch entail, I nod, thank them, drift away, image of her fading, merchandise I haven’t seen before, odd knobs for cabinets and doors, imagine them slipping from my hands, should I start down the hill, don’t know my way home from here, cab parked at the hospital, catch driver’s eye as I approach, get inside, tell him my address, he rolls us forward, joins the roadway, soon takes a right, winds around on streets unknown to me, gets me to my front door, dig in my wallet, pay the driver, step across the cobblestones, unlock my door, find the place as I left it, nothing stirred, sit on my couch, sigh, hold my hands up, turn them, eye them, sit back, they are mine.
A story usually begins for me when I hear it or see it. In this case, I saw the opening of the story and a bit beyond, and I stayed with the movement of that visual impulse. One thing that draws me into this story is that it resists rational explanation; but as I see it, the narrative presents a failure to recognize and identify, resulting in an encroaching disorientation.
Glen Pourciau’a first collection of stories, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His second story collection, View, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in February 2017. He’s had stories published by AGNI Online, Antioch Review, Epoch, New England Review, Paris Review, and others.