Devil’s Lake

Fall 2011 Issue

Daniela Olszewska: After an Act of God

Inclement Red #1

Set your arm up, here. There are people who need to borrow some of what’s in it. At the blood bank, they don’t say gay or homosexual, but men who have sex with other men. A volunteer gets annoyed when you don’t already know your blood type. She asks if you are afraid of needles. Involuntarily, your mouth twists into that smile-grimace hybrid it picked up during its Midwestern adolescence. Needles don’t actually bother you, but, the volunteer has already launched into words about how needles shouldn’t actually bother you and it would feel rude to stop her. Most people have two or three near-death experiences before their actual-death experience. This is what you told yourself in the midst of the act-of-God. You have decided that, since this was is first potentially deadly experience, chances are good that you will come out on the other side with limbs intact, heart pumping a respectable number of beats per minute. There were/are sirens everywhere, though. It is an act-of-God-specific synesthesia—if you are around anything related to The Event, the color red and the number 5 will look/sound/get experienced as sirens. There are worse ways for a brain to crosswire. Later, at the counselor’s office, they don’t say dead or skull split in half by an airborne piece of a ’98 Honda Civic, but laid to rest.

Inclement Red #2

S— is on the missing person's list, the friend on the side of the phone wants you to know.

It’s a different S—, you explain, for the third time this morning.

What, with the same middle initial?

I guess, yea. There are a lot of middle names that might begin with T.

Teresa, Tonya, Tiffany, Tara, Tasha—

—Tasha's not a middle name; it's the small end of Natasha.

Ok, but—

You should probably call the hospitals anyway.

Dude, I just saw her, like, an hour ago. YOU'VE seen her since it happened. What, you think she went missing since then?

She’s on the list.

It’s not her. It’s just her name.

You should call and have her taken off the list.

But the other S— is still missing so the name needs to stay on.

Tell them to asterisk the name, so the rest of us know it’s not our S—.

Hey, I’ve got to bounce, B—’s coming in on the other line, you lie and hang up before the reds of the sun angling off the windowsill set your head aching.

Inclement Red #4

Everyone you have ever broken up with calls or e-mails. None of the people who have broken up with you call or e-mail. This is only surprising in that it is so across-the-board consistent. You would think that at least one breakee would still be pissed enough and/or proud enough to let the phone or computer alone and you would think that at least one breaker would see the footage of the wreckage on the nightly news and get a chest twinge at the solemness with which the anchors pronounce the words unprecedented and apocalyptical. That other people, any other people, have an invested interest in your continued existence on this mortal coil should comfort you up a bit; but it just makes you despair over the people who aren’t calling or e-mailing. Beggars, it turns out, can be rather choosey, even when they’re hundreds of miles away from their friends and family and in the immediate aftermath of an unprecedented and apocalyptical act-of-God. Sit down on the blue corduroy chaise lounge you salvaged from America’s Thrift two days after the last time you talked to D—. Have an adult beverage and consider sending D— a text that says something along the lines of Just so you know, I’m OK! Recognize that there’s no way to phrase this so it won’t come off as passive-aggressive and pathetic. Three adult beverages later, decide that you’ve come up with some words that walk around your passive-aggressive and pathetic intentions. Start to type out the text. Try and erase the text after you realize that tumultuous is not spelled with two l’s and a ch. Accidently hit Enter while erasing the first set of the exclamation marks.

Inclement Red #4

Did it sound like everyone says it does?

Did it sound like a train? They were interviewing people for the news and they all said it sounded like a train rushing past.

Actually, now that R—mentions this, yes, it did sound like a train rushing past. A bright red train. But there’s no way you’re going to cop to this. When you were little, your mom made you stand behind that line on the platform to keep from getting sucked under the train. A police officer friend who goes around to grade schools giving talks on train and bus safety once explained that trains don’t actually suck people in. What happens is, folks’ senses get screwballed by all the speed and noise and red and numbers of the train and then they fall on to the tracks. It just looks like they’re being sucked in.

Acts-of-God, though, actually do suck people in. You’re done before you get a chance to hear anything like a siren.

Are you still going to counseling?
(Count to twenty, skip numbers 5 and 15…)

They said I didn’t need to anymore. I’m fine.

They say fine is walking around looking like drunk wreck-on-a-stick?

It’s normal. I’m acting normal. It’s, like, an appropriate response to the large and tragic scale of the event.

The counselor said this?

Okay, not exactly word-for-word. But I know that’s what she meant.

Redly, in fives, the disaster passes through you. Or, redly, in fives, the disaster passes over you. You are still here. Not only here, but so here that you have enough blood to lend to folks who need it more than you (Every donation of blood = five lives helped/saved). This is only your first potentially deadly experience. Relax a little. Or, buck up a little. You probably have at least one or two more of these coming your way.

a photo of the author, Daniela Olszewska DANIELA OLSZEWSKA is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, Citizen J (Artifice Books, forthcoming), and cloudfang : : cakedirt (Horse Less Press, forthcoming). She sits on Switchback Books' Board of Directors and serves as Associate Poetry Editor of H_NGM_N. Daniela is pursuing her MFA at the University of Alabama, where she teaches creative writing in conjunction with The Alabama Prison Arts & Education Project. More from this issue >