Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2019  Vol. 18 No. 2
 print preview

Dearth, Famine, Want

The world’s best nothings come with vertigo.

This is what the boy says while propping his arm against the wall.

The girl lifts the red plastic cup to her lips. Which makes something to do without something to say.

Because without that apprehension of succumbing to nothing, what would be the point?

The girl chews on her cup’s brim. It smells awful, whatever the boy has handed her in it. Vaporous and sickly. She takes one sip just to be polite. Then another pretend sip so the first sip won’t be impolite. She looks up at the leaning boy’s face. He doesn’t even drink from his own cup. He just dangles it over her head from the hand he has propped against the wall.

Right? he says.

The following silence between them both catches her breath. Now she has to decide what to do.


Despite the thing is being the worst start to a conversation, the first man starts the news by saying, The thing is. Then again: The thing is, we’ve decided to shift how everything is organized. How work gets done. We’re adapting. We have to change how everything is managed.

Translation: The writing is on the wall. And the second man is bilingual. He understands: We no longer includes me.

The first man keeps speaking in tongues, but the second man now understands the need for translation is past. He has been freed from that obligation. Instead he pictures future mornings, future days: empty. Hours no longer spoken for. Neither minutes nor seconds. His glass will be empty; his tap will be dry. He pictures it: he will do nothing. But why? Compelled by what? Nothingness itself? The second man can’t translate the nothing.

The first man babbles and babels: One month’s severance plus at least one stellar reference. That’s as much as we can offer.

The second man, confronted by blanks forthcoming, forces the thought: Inhale—exhale.


From Girl to Boy: Come with me.

Girl holds out her hand, fingers dangling in the street-lighted air suspended over the turf. Which lies trampled and skewed. Which Boy can see by the lights whirling and glowing from the warehouse windows. It is only a verge, an abbreviation of nature gapping the parking lot from the curb. And on this industrial block, the only such abbreviation.

Once again: Come with me. Girl’s fingers beckon the street-lighted air.

Which makes Boy think: Where is there to come? This is a neighborhood of loading docks, shuttered garages, and moldering pallets. The warehouse music beats thin over the nighttime traffic. Which pricks a trail of scarlet ants atop a distant overpass.

Girl turns from the warehouse, the music, and the lights. As she turns, her skirt takes on the shape of her thighs. Her arms stretch bare below the hem of her sleeves. As do her knees below her skirt’s edge.

She stomps one foot.

Boy scans: on the street are only parked cars, panel trucks, and a slumping Winnebago. Where is there to come? Boy can see windshield repair and installation, closeout furniture, a doughnut shop shuttered for the night. But also: unlit alleys, tinted sports cars, ivied chain link, shadowed alcoves. By what measure does a person gauge?

As Girl walks, her waist takes on the slope of a waist. As she jogs, each of her hips takes on the slope of hips. Then she runs, her nape taking on the flash of a nape. As do her eyes when she turns back to Boy. Just as Boy flashes a smile as he tilts in her direction. Just as the wind flashes this time of year. Just as it always flashes this season. Just as the moon waxes its monthly face.

Girl runs.


Pick up, he thinks, screen to ear. But the phone rings without pickup. Damn, he thinks. The air outside the doors cuts cold. Which he doesn’t know why: it’s summertime. But it does. And he is. He stares at his phone still animating the ringing. Then thumbs to hang up. She knew, he thinks. And now she isn’t here.

He drags his wheeled suitcase back through the revolving doors. At this hour the airport nears empty. Spans of ticket counters stand unmanned, rows of baggage carts sit unmoved. He stares at his phone: blank screen of nothing. Down the giant interior expanse, maybe four other people. Half of them buff the floor. He thumbs to redial and sets his phone to ear. He loses count of the rings.

Taxis cost. And if he flags a taxi and she comes, she will put his absence on him. She will be the wounded. And their wounds will bind them both. Wounds will be their glue. Wounds will set their balance. Their wounds will make their world. And he’s of the world. Takes a seat in a world’s chair. Except, unless: something. Car crash or murder. Sudden onset of disease. Stranger things have happened. Although not to him—not to her. Not to either. But stranger things are due. He looks up and down the terminal. A handful of souls. He stares at his unlit phone. What-if means anything. And everything. And nothing. He thumbs his screen again.


She lifts one palm at first, but in the moment tells him nothing. Instead she watches him fold the bandanna. Then holds her tongue as he slings it ahead of her face in necklace-fashion, except when he wraps it against her eyelids. She feels him knot it behind her head.

The room was already dark before the blindfold. Now she can’t make out a single strand of light.

He presses the small of her back. She jumps and turns, arms out. Like the possessed or newly blind, she gropes through the air. Where did you go?

Say Marco.

She faces his voice. What?

Say Marco.

I’m going to run into something.

Just say it.

His voice sounds off to one side. She turns to face it. Inhales—exhales. Marco, she says.

Polo, he answers.

His voice sounds whispered. She reaches her arms while shuffling a step. She weaves her hands unseen through the air.

A breath on her neck. She spins, arms curling at nothing. Nothing is struck. She begins to listen. She hears footsteps muted on the carpet. Marco.


She jumps at the closeness, whirls one arm: nothing. Hears a tinkling of metal or glass. Quietly distant. Marco, she says.


Marco, she says. You have to. That’s the game.

Polo. A whisper.

Never a navigator, she’s lost herself in space. She remembers how the furniture was laid, the lie of the lamps and chairs, but now she doesn’t know the cardinal directions. Where in the labyrinth she stands. Marco.


She shuffles one step, then another. Afraid for her knees, she stoops to grope for the hard edges of furniture.

The sound of wood against wood. To the left—from a table or a door. Marco.


Now straight ahead. At one breath, the sudden flushness of wine. She turns, whirling her arms. But nothing but air. Nothing but nothing. Marco, she says.


When this is your turn, you are going to be so sorry.




Now behind. She turns and reaches, shuffling. She no longer knows if she likes this game. She strikes what must be a wall. She can no longer tell what game they’re trying to play. She can feel the ridges of molding: she’s found a doorway. Or if they’re playing the same game. She waves one arm; the doorway is wide: the one for the kitchen. And in her mind: Maybe they’re not playing a game at all.

Marco, she says.


According to the neighbor, they are named the Zumwalts. Two parents, two kids: father, mother, boy, and girl. Symmetry.

The neighbor calls: Here Ginny. Come here, sweetheart.

Ginny runs to the chain-link gate. Then back to the yard. In between her running she stops to pant at the neighbor’s offered hand.


A padlock locks the gate.

The neighbor unhoops the hose from its hump. She turns the cross of the tap. The hose squirms thick. The neighbor unscrews the spray gun from the end. Ginny’s attention is all ears. Water dribbles to the pavement.

Ginny rests one paw against the chain-link wires, panting her tongue. The neighbor aims the hose through the diamonds, and Ginny begins to lap at the stream, both her ears lopsided.

The knob to the front door turns when the officer tries it after ringing the bell. The foyer inside shows shoes, ordered by size and lined beneath two benches. Two leashes hang from a nail on the wall. Shadows on the floor are morphing. In the next room, a television mutely runs, its screen flashing an emotional talk show. The remote control occupies a couch cushion. On the kitchen table dishes are stacked but not laid. Utensils sit categorized in handfuls. He walks to the kitchen, where he finds the oven and stove gone cold. But potatoes are casserole-dished on a rack while a range-top pan is filled with fillets. Which lie stiff and congealed. The air is stale and not fishy. Oranges in a countertop bowl show the tinges of mold.

Through the front door: Ginny, you’re so thirsty. You’re so thirsty. I bet you’re hungry, too. We’ll get you some food. Just you wait, sweetheart.

The cop turns to the hallway. The carpet is matted down the middle but fluffed near the moldings. The four doors there crack ajar.


Not for birthdays would he do such a thing. Nor anniversaries, nor graduations. Nor comings-of-age. No—he finds himself here for nothing except the realization. Which struck him from out of the blue: With every waking, we are more at a loss. With every second, the universe dims. And this is why people believe. Believing is what holds the wolves from the door.

When the door slides open is when the moment comes true. Fuck belief. The roar of the airspeed buffets. Talk from the benches comes to an end. Both from the noise from the air and the noise from the moment. All of them sit separate now as honest individuals. He now believes they collectively think: Fuck belief.

The solos leap first. Stagger-walking the floorboards efficiently, one, two, three, they disappear, each of them flapping in brilliant shades. Followed by the tandems. First one, then another. All of them figurines, separate from the world. At a loss. Including himself. At the pat on his shoulder, he stands and walks nearer the roaring. Where he grasps the door’s edge. Which hand the trainer pulls away from the edge. Then the trainer’s other palm pulls his forehead back to aim his goggles toward the horizon. Where hangs the sky, its stillness contrary to the roar from the air. The moment before him is clear, void of definition. Fuck belief. He crosses his arms at his chest and leans until the air deafens his thinking.  

return to top