“Transition Lenses / Constant Fear” — Travis Dahlke

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I’ll blame it on Petra’s mom. She never liked me and I overheard her once call my whole entire family Haitian trash. Always complaining about the expired old folks she found when she cleaned apartments uptown. They’re lurking all over this city, getting cheap rent on their kid’s dime, but do they visit? No. Look, I’m not paid to keep them company or check on their well-being or to make sure they’re not mixing chardonnay with their sciatica pills. I’m sure as shit not paid to find their bloated corpses that’s for sure, she’d say while Petra and I ate the KFC she brought home. Inhaling cartilage. The foamy mashed potatoes.
I guess it had been too long since something broke. There was a pang of dread swimming around in me and I’m pretty sure it was said that it was inside everyone who lived around here. They’ll say she held a water grenade, sweating and squirming in her hand like a liver.
Sometimes it just starts to creep up, Petra told me during winter break. Peppermint coating my tonsils. Slowly at first, but with the momentum of a spirit gliding its toes across wood flooring. One of those outdoor, barn ghosts that made its way inside. A fistful of stolen toilet paper. I’m telling you, it’ll soak right up. What a totally depressing thing to say. Twisting and digging further when it becomes apparent that this is the sort of heirloom that gets lost inside of you without ever finding someone else to show it to. It is contained in latex which is not bloated with water. Or at least not water from any tap you’ve heard of.
Once it happens everything’s suddenly different, Petra said. Probably already planning her new friends.

This is the day of reckoning. She is going to eat her words. There was a time when our schemes were something to be bonded over. We chewed the same piece of gum. Flicking it into some old lady’s hair. Setting fire to cardboard in the dumpster in the alleyway between the Korean nail salon and the barber shop. Watching its indigo smoke pour up into people’s windows.
I can remember when porch-light would stick to the snow slumped on our street. One long freeze that choked the life from the stoops and open-air fruit stands. This was before Petra betrayed me. A simpler time, they would say. The quiet has kept a ringing in my ear as synth from an 80s monster movie. Living in constant fear of knife rubber dragged across my throat, to spew orange blood. This grenade could have melted snow from the freezer inside it. Kept there next to a slice of wedding cake cemented in plastic wrap. I think Petra went back inside through the fire escape. She’s probably watching TV.
Her emergency exit is still propped open with a cinder block, just as I expected it to be. I use the stairwell, making sure to move on the front pads of my feet, up towards her families apartment. Unit 34C. I turn the handle real careful, so as not to make anything clack. My heart is throwing the syrup of blood up in my ears too loud, following vacuum paths with the balloon held so tight I think it could burst. Their TV is on, I knew it. I knew there’d be tendriled plants hanging everywhere and dishes soaking on the counter too. Petra’s mother would always refer to her husband as her ‘beaux,’ and did nothing but sit around drinking SlimFast mixed with chicory coffee all day.
Ricki Lake is on their TV. Her guests came all the way from spit-country. From the boonies where they ride on dirt bikes to each other’s houses. “We make bargains with the pasts we leave behind,” she says from the audience into a fake microphone. A man called Stew listens while sitting completely still and clawing both of his armrests.
Being back inside their apartment seems like I’m moving on my own accord within someone else’s fever. It’s so different than how I remember. Reeks like cologne rotting on ground turkey. The sleepovers seem like they never happened here. They couldn’t have. Strange teapots burned at their bases are scattered on the floor. I’m navigating over each one, arched and readying the shivering gelatin glob to smash it down on Petra’s head. We make bargains, we make bargains.
When I peer around into the living room there’s no one on the couch, but there’s a figure slumped in the doorway. They are watching me with their sunglasses on. It is not Petra or her mother at all. Her apartment is 34B you idiot. Their couch was green. Their TV was bigger. It isn’t water in the balloon. Stew springs from his chair and goes offstage.

 

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Travis Dahlke’s work has appeared in Structo, Noble/Gas Qtrly, The Head & the Hand Press, Soliloquies, and The Tishman Review among other places. He also has a novella with Otherwhere Publishing.

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