Concise Prose. Enough Said.
purple feathers backround pattern


By Joel Van Noord

Of course it was like some unfortunate castaway plighted upon a cloudless beach, tortured under a relentless Ecuadorian sun. More so, it was some alien lost and tumbled from a dank alpine height, an idyllic, glaciated breeze wafting upon it from the 12,000-foot peaks. Of course it was destined to lose what it cherished and tumble from easy understanding, 10,000 feet through jagged gorges and wicked rapids, to sluggishly drift and stall in an infested river mouth. Water logged and plodding into nasty surf, gnarly whitewash churning until landfall—an immobile landfall for centuries, waiting. Sitting under the torturous sun and waiting.

He wanted to feel like this. He sought it like a lost hiker marching toward a mirage. He wanted to be ruined. He wanted it to cave in from the center.


Eight hours and it was warmer. He was a hermit and his car, sagging on its axles, was comical. He was knocking on her door. Footsteps and she opened it. She bit her lip and looked at then past him. He felt as if a wind was sweeping him off, his feet out behind.

He hung on. She was slender. Delicious thick thighs were trimmed from a lack of calories. She was wearing a sleek business suit and he felt embarrassed.

“Conley… it’s good to see you.” She said. He felt strange. It was almost enough for him to reach out a fist and run.

“Amber… it’s been awhile.”

“Come in.”

“How have you been? Where have you been?”

He answered and she was surprised. He asked a question and she volleyed. It was tentative and she said, “Hold that thought.” She walked away then returned, put a tray on the table in and crossed her leg. He felt the cushion depress. He felt hope.

She spoke and stopped and drank and said, “What about you? Where have you been working, you look really strong.”

He looked down and spoke and she said, “Construction?” A strand of hair fell from behind her ear as she leaned forward. “And now what? You’re done? That’s exciting, where will you go?” She said. An ironic smile returned and he said, “Do you still paint?”

She answered and looked off, then continued, “It’s not really unfortunate because I don’t miss it. It’s something that’s ended on its own accord.” She smiled with the response. “It was a peaceful ending.”


It happened in a blur. He was still recovering from when her glacial eyes opened the door.

Their lips were touching and his heart was exploding. His brain was somewhere three stories above them. His feeling obliterated the heavens. She reached her delicate fingers to the back of his head and caved in his skull and melted his brain like cheese. Her long legs were draped with crisp, silk pants and the side buttons were opened to display her lace. She lifted these legs as they floated. Her pressure made his torso disappear. His hand reached to her lace and he felt it burn and smoke away. He lost all feeling and became a memory.

He tasted her and felt light headed. His eyes coated over. She was bent. His hands were resting on her spine. He released pressure with his fingers and felt the pads melt into the smooth skin and for a moment he saw dark stains where his prints rubbed. He blinked as she breathed and this dirty reality disappeared.

He was the wall and she pushed it. She weaned off and he’d pick up, take her leg and hold it like a teddy bear. He went on and on and she said, “Conley,” for the third time. “I’m sorry.” She said and he looked at her and stopped, leaving himself deeply entrenched. “I’m sorry.” She said and gave him a limp look. He slowly pulled. Instinctively, he went to collapse next to her.


She led him from the room. She was distant. He was speaking; he was shedding. It was similar to a catharsis and she was embarrassed. This, although he’d never known, was one of the reasons she had to leave.

“I mean, imagine having… no one, in the world?” He said and continued in this depressive talk.

“I’m sorry Conley.” She said and didn’t want to have this conversation. She thought that conversation happened years ago. It was different to have sex with an ex than it was to have sex with someone who thought he was still your lover. “I can’t help you.” She looked away, “I can’t be your savior. I don’t want to, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t you think there’s a reason we’re both single?” He said.

She shook her head. He sat for a moment and searched. He had hate. He stood up. She remained sitting and wiped her eyes. He turned and dragged his feet toward the door, stopped as he opened it and stared into the dark street.

Fuck it. He felt like he was falling from a building.


It was all for something else. She was an excuse for something else. She was a crutch to hobble away from the gaping reality that existed behind him, hidden somewhere, in him.

He was walking fast down the streets. It was warm. He stepped into a bar and sat down.

There was a stage a long distance into the bar and he ordered two shots of tequila and a beer. The bartender looked at him for a moment before moving. Conley kept his stare and the man left and came back. He paid him and pocketed a bill on the table from someone gone.

Conley got drunk and danced his way in and out of the crowd. He stared at girls and they were transparent. He smiled and weaved in and out. His buzz left and he was hungry.

He was scared and depressed and he wondered what he was going to do. Did it have to be so bleak? He thought. No. He knew it didn’t have to. But he was in pursuit of something. He wanted it to be temporary. That was the first step. He bought food and sat, putting fry to mouth and thought of place and distance and community. He longed for simple things.

He brooded until, “Hey, let me have some of that.” He looked up and the scene was absurd. Conley looked down then back up to the individual dressed in expensive hippie clothes.

“No.” Conley said disgusted, “Fuck you, who are you?” He was hot inside. His brain was firing.

The man put his hands up and turned and retreated a few steps before walking back and saying, “I knew it. I knew this town was full of racists.” The man declared and spun around with his ridiculous pompousness.

Conley chuckled to himself. It was absurd and a wave flushed through him. He rose with his messy plate and followed the man he initially thought was white, but must have been Persian, or subtly Arabian.

His steps brought him near and he took the man’s shoulder and spun him, looked at his simple, carefree, vacant smile and smashed the plate of fries into his face. He didn’t press the plate like a comedian would a pie. He smashed the plate that happened to hold a mess of sloppy chili fries. With the impact the man fell to the ground, hitting a stool as he tumbled.

And Conley was on top of him. Unleashing everything he didn’t understand. He hit the man and hit him again. Savoring the dull thud of his fist against skull and skull against floor. He felt the cuts in his hand and soon there was a liquid and a warm burning. There was a furnace and it needed fuel.

A heavy set of arms locked around his torso. He fought against and jerked his head backwards and turned as the grip released. The bouncer hunched over and covered his face and Conley fled. He lost himself in a stream of people and it lifted him up and he glided across the pavement into a basement bar. He drank heavily and his mind went black. Several hours later he passed out.


The morning and his head was pounding. It was another day, completely free and open. Who was he? Where was he? Where did he belong? How would he find his place? Place… what a simple word.

The bones in his head were weak. The matter between was oozing south as he rose. He thought of calling but he knew she wouldn’t answer. Why couldn’t he call her? He remembered her features and pictured himself waking next to her, reaching his hand out and smelling deep the sweet aroma of their love, subtle pins added to the cacophony in his head.

He remembered and… no… Was that a dream? Horrible. Fuck. Tears welled in his eyes and he couldn’t believe it. His stomach rose and he tasted it trying to escape. There were so many physical abnormalities erupting. Horrible. What had he done? His dreams had mixed into reality but he was certain the fundamental truth was there.

The DC night was sweltering and her window was cracked. She was asleep and the screen popped in and fell clumsily to the ground. He followed suit and bumped his head as he tumbled.

He had hit her. He had never yelled at her before. But he had hit her. Fuck it. He had slapped her and hit her and thrown her to the ground. Fuck it. Bruised her face so that when she stood up in the courtroom, the jury would stare at the welts across her face and during a break she would rush to the ladies room and quietly sob. There was no question of him ever contacting her again. Shit. He shook his head at himself. It was what it was… Adaptation was another word…


With the memory he twisted the car alive and drove. He drove days. Slept in his truck and left the major highways and rumbled along in a southern direction. He swung west and the United States was big. Cars could travel 80 miles per hour. Into the large mountain states and one could pass millions of people in a day. These people were living their lives and their dramas were complex. But what did any of it have to do with him?

He was utterly alone. Fine. Fuck it. Shrug and move.

He stopped in Albuquerque and walked upon a hill and along a ring of outcroppings with ancient sketches. There were conquistador crosses and modern gunshots with “HG hearts BV.” He went south further into desolation and he drove up along dirt hills and ate apples and cheese and drank water and that was about it. He slowly starved as the days blended to weeks and it’d be cliché to say he learned something, but he did. It’d be impossible not to have some thought. And like a pool of water in a desert, that thought would be hard to miss in such a barren landscape. Furthermore, that thought would gain a majestic air to it and it’d be impossible for him not to get high from.

So that’s what happened. High in an island of cool pines he learned. He learned why he sought misery from her. He rationalized why he had gone after such horrible, melancholy feelings for such a long time. It is different for many people. But he chased it with the hidden thought that perhaps, if he got close enough to a certain essence of cause he could extinguish that feeling. Achieve the pure, perfect thing, and be done with it. Of course that’s not the way things work. There is no absolute emotion. There is only what is there. Repeated exposure will increase potential and there is no wall. The wall is only a point and, like a star, that points moves. The false wall does not enlighten any more than the gradual path to it.

He left that alpine hideaway and he felt better. He kept driving west. It seemed the natural way to go and he stopped along in the desert and it was good. He ended at the ocean and turned up. He had always liked Steinbeck and…the landscape was kind enough and it had some magic and there was a sign for housing and he knocked and there was a thirty something and she showed him a shoebox of a room and that was it. He moved a pillow in and made the bed and fell asleep and woke up. He thought about her but there were many miles between and he had a means to forget.


Joel Van Noord spends the summer in Baja. Read his novel at Dogmatika.

Photo "Portrait L" courtesy of Janet Goulden, Liverpool, UK

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