DENVER by Tess Pollok

Noon sun cracked over the city like an egg; everything looked wet. Denver was going to the post office but he parked his car at the library because that was where the parking was free. The post office building was intimidating stone, dark and severe. As a kid he’d been terrified of it, the obliterating grayness, the threat of a colorless world. He’d twisted against his mom’s grip with dislocated fury whenever she’d tried to bring him along.

Somehow, it was even grayer now. The kiosk fronts were all cracked. Behind them a single employee was mouth-breathing heavily as she brought in packages from the back. Each time she crossed the room her body was violently dissected in the broken finish and misshapen cuts of her face and hands twisted around the lobby. Denver was cross-eyed and that made it worse. He picked up his worker’s compensation check and some of his mom’s mail, then left all the dust and elliptical darkness behind him.

He drove home to drop off the mail. That was all he had to do that day because he didn’t have a job.

Later, it was night, he was drunk and out of beer so he borrowed his mom’s car again to go to the liquor store. The road ahead of him blinkered with confused streaks of red light. On his left were white lights, the oncoming traffic he’d been hearing so much about. He hated his annoying little retarded person’s driver’s license. NO FREEWAYS NO HEAVY MACHINERY DAYLIGHT DRIVING ONLY. Nothing about drinking, though.

The owner of the store was called Hovik and Denver was his favorite customer. He loved Denver like a son. Denver knew this because Hovik’s actual son worked at the store and Hovik seemed indifferent to his suffering, his tinny earbuds, his acne scarring. If they didn’t have what Denver wanted, Hovik would menace him in restrained Armenian until he got something from the storeroom that Denver would buy. Hovik’s son was alone in the parking lot, smoking an obscure vape and vacantly kicking up trash, when Denver pulled in. He raised his hand in hello as Denver passed by, breathing red blue chemtrails under the open sign.

Inside, Hovik was spraying down bottles and wiping them off. “Blood and pus,” he accused the outline of his son in the parking lot. “His neck tattoo is very infected.” Denver bought a rack of beer and drove away.

A year ago he had a girlfriend, some kind of girl gaze photographer he met in high school. She sold organic cotton panties on Instagram. The ads – which she shot herself in her parent’s pool, her waxed pussy gleaming in wet cotton and colorful pink emojis – were always getting flagged and taken down, thus ruining her business acumen. She kept posting. Her captions became reflexively gratuitous, longer and more personal. Bruising self-awareness tendered her skin as she poured bottles of massage oil over her ass in the driveway outside her childhood bedroom. Men cried out and pressed their fingertips into her, thumbs up, hands raised in celebration, eyes, heart.

She was a resolute but defenseless person. His eyes were normal at the time. Once they got dinner at a Vietnamese place and the teenage staff completely ignored them. They were all crowded around a single iPhone trying to watch Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by playing every clip in order on YouTube. Another happy memory he had of her was sitting on a bench together at the park.

They broke up, she got addicted to drugs and went to rehab, he got permanently disabled in a tragic workplace accident. She made a triumphant return to social media – with supervision – from the computer lab at her inpatient facility. An attending sulked in the background while she vlogged mental health tips. He watched one. She was in a bra and pajama shorts, sucking on a cherry popsicle.

“When you’re dissociating, it can be helpful to find something really hot or really cold to remind you that you’re real,” she dabbed at some blood red dribble on her bra.

He only saw her once in person after that. She had gotten out of the hospital and was at a bar with some of her friends. She was leaning over the table to show someone something on her phone. Their faces were turned away from him. Their faces were featureless sheets of hair. He could tell they were laughing because their shoulders were moving. He was suddenly glad he couldn’t see much anymore. He wouldn’t have wanted to hurt those girls.

He had a transcendent experience, maybe, with a pregnant woman in his neighborhood. He was coming home from the liquor store – too drunk to drive, couldn’t even get the door open, decided to walk home and deal with it later – when he saw her. It was early in the morning and she was across the street. He lit a cigarette. He didn’t want to smoke near her so he stayed on his side of the road even though he had to cross. She was looking at him for too long. She was looking at him for a reason he didn’t understand. He had bad problems with his throat from smoking too much and he felt sick, so he turned away to have a coughing fit and spit in the road. When he looked back, she was lighting a cigarette. She was wondering, maybe, if he was going to judge her, and decided, maybe, that he wasn’t the type, or that she didn’t have to care. After that he crossed the street, because if they were both smoking there was nothing to worry about.

Drinking was making the night go faster but it was also making him have negative thoughts. The battered whine of drag racing came from somewhere out of the night, probably Hovik’s son and his friends from high school; someone nearby was playing Linkin Park. He was stopped at the red light on Tampa and Roscoe and the box of beer was secure but depleted between his knees. Tampa was a great street, a straight shot perfect for a long drive. If you got off the 101 at Tampa you had ten glorious and unblinking miles ahead of you to Porter Ranch. He was headed that way now but he couldn’t see that far ahead.

He was thinking his mom needed to buy him a new laptop. His was getting hot and slow, too much porn. The adblocker was off. A thousand pop-ups opened every time he tried to use the internet. “Mentalmaximums.com will teach you the one trick Steve Jobs knows to build new neural pathways and unlock your creative potential.” You can have a brand new brain.

You can hit your head at work. You can feel fine after. You can take a quick nap in the company kitchen. You can wake up to go to the bathroom. You can see in the mirror that your shirt is ruined, your white shirt is ruined and it has something brown all over it. Your brain can go slower than your computer. You can watch the brown flake off and it can look like dandruff all over the floor. You can follow the blood up your neck and behind your ear, up to the top of your head where something really bad is happening. A doctor can tell you that acute inflammation affects the central nervous system, that swelling after a traumatic brain injury can sometimes cause more damage than the injury itself. You can play massively multiplayer online role-playing games, for free. You can learn the five secrets dentists don’t want you to know. You can talk to horny single moms in your area.

His mom had just gotten the brakes on the car replaced, stepping on the gas was like stepping into butter. He could do 110, 115 and it felt like 60. He could drive straight up to God. “Prostrate among the dead like the slain that lie in the grave,” Psalm 88:5, from the King James Bible, the hotel Bible with see-through paper. They were modern Catholics, in their house they had Young’s Literal. “Among the dead – free.”

 “Maybe she was scared,” said Hovik.

After he lost his job he was always hanging out at the store. Hovik was always bored and working long hours and appreciated the company.

“What?”

“The pregnant girl that was staring,” said Hovik. “It was early and she was alone on the street? Maybe she thought you were a creep.”

“Maybe,” said Denver.

He was utterly dreamless as he sped down Tampa. His mom was worried about him, about his self-esteem now that he lived at home and didn’t have a job. Sometimes he woke up at night and she was in bed with him, crying, rubbing his feet, asking if she was a good mom, if he was a good son. He had a general dislike of himself that had begun to express itself in more sinister and specific ways over time. He was at work and there was a tragic accident.

His ex-girlfriend was on Instagram Live. Thousands of people were watching her smoke weed out of a colorful pastel bong. Her dog was barking in the kitchen. Hearts splattered all over her as she talked about surviving rehab, surviving heroin, surviving her abusive relationship. He was standing under the forklift at work. He was angry. He was scared of her. He was scared of the post office. Everything is on accident or everything is on purpose or everything is both.

His car clipped the median and jerked to the right, skid sideways and hard down the shoulder. Burnt rubber smell was everywhere and also all over the road. He took out a chain link fence and went headfirst and harmless into an empty construction site, ungraciously tore dirt up from the Earth and rolled to a stop a few hundred yards away. Dust settled back over his car like a snowglobe. He started crying. He wished he could see. 


Tess Pollok is a writer and the editor of Animal Blood literary magazine. She is based in New York City.

Art by Steve Anwyll @oneloveasshole

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