Blitz, fiction by Caroline Kepnes

It was snow­ing pret­ty hard and I was dri­ving with one eye open. Not anoth­er car in sight, I nev­er could under­stand how a per­son lives in a place where oth­er cars are up on you all the time. I like my space. I like oth­er peo­ple hav­ing their space too. I was so blitzed that I was prac­tic­ing, in my war­bled loud­er voice than the crack­ling of the rock on my radio, the speech I would give to the world about the enhanced safe­ty and inher­ent supe­ri­or­i­ty of one-eyed dri­ving. There I was, on nation­al tele­vi­sion, pros­e­ly­tiz­ing about a future where you didn’t so much as start a car with­out a patch on one eye. We’d be a nation of pirates, with­out haz­ard, per­fect dri­ving records for all! And then I made it into my park­ing spot. And then I man­aged my way out of the car. And then I found the keys. And then I made my way into the build­ing. And then smart me, I’d left the door unlocked, there­by sav­ing myself anoth­er war with the key­chain. Inside it smelled dif­fer­ent, like pinecones in a drug store. I fig­ured my nos­trils were just bent from too much time in the bar and I didn’t turn on a light. Light would be too much. I col­lapsed onto the couch, mur­mur­ing myself to sleep with the one-eyed dri­ving speech I’d by now per­fect­ed. In my dreams, my celebri­ty was instan­ta­neous, my pres­ence on the list of impor­tant thinkers of this cen­tu­ry a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

Brett, not that I knew his name yet, screamed when he saw me lying there on his couch. His hair stood up like fur. You could tell he’s one of those guys only at ease when he’s got his gel in. He wore a bathrobe that revealed some­thing about him, a qual­i­ty that would get his ass kicked in the bar, a yearn­ing to be an old man, hunched in ter­rycloth. I was awake and cough­ing and I pegged him at thir­ty-four and I want­ed to ask him to close the blinds he was open­ing but I knew bet­ter. His girl came out next, wear­ing noth­ing but a t-shirt, her hand on her throat and he had his arm around her right away. I liked them right off the bat, this young old man, this need­ful social work­er type gal.

Because they weren’t the kind of small brains who kicked me out and called the cops, I just start­ed talk­ing a blue streak, telling them about yes­ter­day at the din­er, the girls that stiffed me, the bar last night, the way my songs nev­er turned up on the juke box because some col­lege kids kept stuff­ing it with quar­ters, the way I drove home with the one eye. They laughed a lot and Brett asked what my songs were and then he dug up CDs and he played me my songs. Some­thing about being here with them did call up a low-lying sad­ness in me, as if some­how I was sup­posed to be telling this sto­ry at an AA meet­ing, as if some­how the world wasn’t doing me right, giv­ing me this kind and tol­er­ant cou­ple, my songs play­ing final­ly. I’d been drunk. I could have killed some­body. But my songs sound­ed good and Brett cooked up eggs and bacon and I fig­ured, maybe bad deeds bring good things. Brett and Shelly drank juice out of the same cup and it wasn’t like one was being nice to me to appease the other’s polite­ness. They both meant it, they were alike, kind, not like the trapped he-she com­bos I tend to at the din­er.

The next day, I saw Brett in the mall with a dif­fer­ent gal, clear­ly his wife. I stopped short. He grabbed his kid’s hand and his face bleached out and the wife was study­ing some piece of shit jumper in the win­dow and he didn’t say any­thing to me. I don’t think I ever saw a per­son look so sad and now I got why he was in such a rush to be old. I kept walk­ing down the cor­ri­dor toward the food court, dazed, feel­ing as if sud­den­ly every­one in Amer­i­ca was speak­ing a new lan­guage for no rea­son at all and nobody would so much as teach me a word of it. So much for the future I’d been plan­ning on, so much for the way I had seen it all so clear­ly. Brett and Shelly, me and the no doubt won­der­ful man they’d set me up with, the four of us play­ing board games, suck­ing back cans of light beer, some­times in their apart­ment, some­times in mine down the hall, stum­bling home soft­ly buzzed or some­times crash­ing on each other’s couch­es, our inside joke about how we all met always good for a laugh. I’d felt so at peace when I arrived at the mall, hav­ing con­clud­ed that my con­demnable one-eyed dri­ve had been my lit­tle way of test­ing the gods, dar­ing them to give me some­thing good, some­thing to sober me.  And they had giv­en me kind­ness in the form of Brett and Shelly. And maybe, I had thought, this is how you bring good folks into your life. When you’re weak, you crawl into their house think­ing it’s yours and you lie there like a Christ­mas present that San­ta left in August, because San­ta was drunk, dri­ving with one eye open, his sleigh swerv­ing about, shiny wrapped pack­ages falling through the night into neigh­bor­hoods, onto grav­el.

Car­o­line Kep­nes is a TV writer liv­ing in a Los Ange­les' Franklin Vil­lage, where it's all about roast­ed chick­en, used books, cin­na­mon cof­fee and late night hap­py hours. Her sto­ries have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Dogz­plot, Eclec­ti­ca, Eye­shot, Mon­key Bicy­cle, Word Riot and Thieves Jar­gon. In 2004, she won the Hem­ing­way Resource Center's Short Fic­tion Con­test. Her biog­ra­phy of Stephen Crane is avail­able on Ama­zon, though it is intend­ed for lit­tle chil­dren. She grew up on Cape Cod and start­ed out in New York, cov­er­ing boy bands for Tiger Beat.

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3 Responses to Blitz, fiction by Caroline Kepnes

  1. lesley says:

    I always love Ms. Kep­nes and her won­der­ful sto­ries. Quirky, endearing…something for every­one. Keep 'em com­ing!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Rence says:

    Strong and sat­is­fy­ing. What I imag­ine lay deep inside the unas­sum­ing din­er employ­ees we pass in life.

  3. June says:

    Rich and short, sat­is­fy­ing! Great lit­tle slice of life with a jolt! (Sounds like I'm describ­ing a cup of cof­fee!)

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