Poems and flash fiction in The Voice are presented in collaboration with Nimrod International Journal at The University of Tulsa. For more information about Nimrod, visit nimrod.utulsa.edu.
It doesn’t rain in St. Louis. I mean, it does, but never when we’re there, and we’re there pretty often. We’re there sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, mostly when I catch a whiff of tobacco or stale air, when I hear bottles clinking.
I was standing in a smoke-filled music venue, floors sticky with fumbled long islands from excited concertgoers, as if I belonged there, swallowed by the crowd. Observing was what I did best.
And then I saw him. It had been months since I had.
In the 2004 cult classic Mean Girls a student says, “Her hair is big because it’s so full of secrets” or something like that. Patrick’s hair was big because it was so full of others’ grief, leaving his to play out through a bass alongside murmured declarations of love. That’s what boys from small towns in Oklahoma do in their 20s, you know: murmur declarations of love.
I was not a boy from a small town in my 20s, so I took a 3-hour detour from my flight home instead.
Our eyes met, we exchanged our hellos, our how-are-yous, each gleeful response less believable than the next. The moon guided us outside that night. Guided a cigarette to my mouth, guided a hidden worry to his voice. “What comes after?” slipping from his lips, repeating itself in my head. “What comes after?” “Let me go get you a lighter,” he said.
And I landed in St. Louis, over and over and over again. Every time I caught a whiff of tobacco or stale air. Every time I heard bottles clinking.
It is wilted, the city. I mean, it’s not, but always when we’re there, and we’re there pretty often. Patrick paced between his band and me. Wandered through the parking lot, possibly thinking about his after. They’d lived through their highest high and their lowest low within the span of 72 hours. Playing what would be among their last shows, the room read steady confusion, maybe doubt.
I sat waiting for a lighter that never came. My neck craned towards the blue light above me. I had to crane my neck to see him, you see. And maybe if my neck stayed that way, I would catch a glimpse of his big hair full of grief.
It is loud in the city. Louder than any noise I am able to reproduce. No, I couldn’t tell you how many noises must marry to recreate a bird of fire. But I can tell you that five small-town boys in their 20s can create medleys the way sirens do. They, too, however, can disappear at the sight of themselves, can fling themselves into the waves of the crowd.
It is quiet in the city. Quieter than any noise I am able to reproduce. The van is still, the November air creeping through the cracked windows. This was the beginning of the silence. No, I couldn’t tell you how many noises must become fragments to recreate a deserted airport lobby.
And I land in St. Louis, over and over and over again. Every time I catch a whiff of tobacco or stale air. Every time I hear bottles clinking.
Alexandra Muñoz Avelar is a first generation American poet, teacher, and photographer born in southern California and raised in North Texas. After living in several states and two countries, she now resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she teaches English and mathematics at a bilingual academy and is a teaching artist at Living Arts. Her work can be found most recently in The Talon Literary Journal.