The Arms of Saturday Night

Selected for the Pushcart Prize series, 2020

There’d be no traffic on the turnpike, not on Saturday. She could get her dad to drive her to the city, though at the risk of being pushy, and insensitive, really, considering the circumstances, but wouldn’t some part of him enjoy it in a way, like, was it not a source of comfort in a time of grief, a welcome sign of life’s renewal—the death-proof, scrappy ways of teenage lust?

There was this party in the city later. And she had it on pretty good authority—not immaculate, but strong—that Adam Donovan would be there. Adam Donovan. His name, a neon light, electric-blue. What was he doing right this second? Adam Donovan.

Adam and his dusty smells, the musk of boyworld. Adam with his hoodie and his hash pipe and his Tool sticker (like her, old soul, child of the ancient nineties). And there was something in his eyes (heavy lidded, heavy banged), a certain heft to him, not fat, slow moving like an animal, quick to spook (his tusk, his dark true heart), and this something made her wiggly kneed, and this promise of them in some room, or maybe in a car together, soon, this promise had been recently announced, and now it shone for her like Christmas used to, a spun-sugar bridge over the brackish of her days. But he was leaving!

He was going to California, with his friends.

She could picture them all, a week from now, in some Tonto-esque headwear, ensconced in their cocktails of peyote and electrolyte water, boning models in truck beds in the craters of the desert. Communing, amid nightblooms, with the very source of life, and he could say, years down the road, I was there. I touched the face of true experience. I, Adam Donovan, touched down in the cradle of the land. And her?

Janie fanned the Melba toasts, just so, the way her mother liked. It was her Uncle Murray’s wake. Somewhere through the county the hearse was moving, over hills and viaducts, the corpse inside it, ovenbound. It was the start of a long hot summer in Montclair, already lethal.

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