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American Purgatorio

John Haskell
Querido, Amsterdam,




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the ledge - flash version*

*
English

AMERICAN PURGATORIO — JOHN HASKELL

I’m from Chicago originally. I went to New York, married a girl named Anne, and was in the middle of living happily ever after when something happened. I didn’t know what it was, and if you would have asked me at the time I would have said nothing, that nothing was happening, because for me nothing was. I was standing in a convenience store next to a gas station along a picturesque parkway in New Jersey. I was perusing the assorted candies and snacks, debating with myself what to bring back to Anne. She was waiting in the car. We were driving to her mother’s house and I was probably reading the labels, looking for something nutritious to eat. Although it wasn’t a dream, the unnatural light of the convenience store made it seem as if I was existing in the world of a dream, the main difference being that, unlike a dreamworld, in this world, the convenience store world, nothing much was happening.
That’s not right. It was all happening, I just wasn’t seeing it. I wasn’t seeing it because my attention was absorbed by walls of refrigerated cases and the aisles of bright displays. I was concentrating on all the possible choices, which, after a while, I’d narrowed down to a thin pack of peanuts, a protein-style candy bar, and a so-called energy drink.
1.

 
AMERICAN PURGATORIO — JOHN HASKELL

When I paid the cashier I didn’t notice the rings on the woman’s fingers, and I didn’t count my change. When I walked to the door I didn’t notice the grease stains on the square brown tiles or the sky which was blue through the window. When I walked outside, back to the car, all I noticed was that the car was gone.

This is a story of a man who... I won’t say I was never stuck, but I was good at making adjustments. That was my specialty, adjusting to circumstances – I prided my self on this ability – and so the first thing I did was convince myself that nothing had happened, that Anne would suddenly appear. And when she didn’t appear I began looking for her. She had to be somewhere, in some part of this service station area, and because there were only a limited number of places she could be, I kept looking in those places. I expected to see her, either waiting for gas or putting air in the tires or parked in the lot behind the small store. Although I didn’t actually see her in any of the places she ought to be, I knew she was there in one of them, and that in my mind I was making a mistake, that fatigue or oversight or an optical illusion was keeping me from seeing what must be right in front of me.
2.

 
AMERICAN PURGATORIO — JOHN HASKELL


According to our plan Anne would be filling the car with gas and I would be buying some treats for the road, for our journey to Nyack, north of New York City. New York city was where we lived, in a house in Brooklyn, and we were driving to Anne’s mother’s house, and now she was parking the car, or had parked it, and was waiting for me in the parking area behind the store. But she wasn’t there. The service station compound was not that big, and as I walked the length of it and took an inventory of every car, I could see that our car, our little maroon station wagon, wasn’t getting gas and it wasn’t getting air and it wasn’t waiting in the parking area.
Something was happening. I wanted nothing to be happening. I wanted not to be nervous and worried, and although I was worried, I tried to keep that worry safely below consciousness. Which wasn’t easy. To keep it there I had to assume certain things. I had to assume that Anne was having trouble with the car and had needed to keep the engine running, that she’d gone ahead and would soon be returning. Although this didn’t make much sense, I was willing to believe it. I was eager, in fact, to believe it, because if it wasn’t that, then it was some alternative, and I didn’t want to think too hard about any alternative because I wanted her back.
3.

 
AMERICAN PURGATORIO — JOHN HASKELL

I wanted the car to be where it ought to be and I’d just overlooked it. There it is, I wanted to say. No problem, I wanted to say, but it wasn’t the case. The car was gone and so was Anne.
I could tell I was upset because my heart was pounding against my chest; for me, that’s always an indication. Also, there was the fact that I was cursing her, cursing, and at the same time praying for her safety. She wouldn’t just leave me like that or forget me. That would be impossible. And yet if I let myself think about what might have happened... But I didn’t do that. I should say, I didn’t want to do that, because how could I not? How could I not imagine that some man with a gun or a knife had approached her and forced himself into the car, forced her to drive to some remote area off the road, some trees and a picnic table, and to lie on the picnic table, and she was wearing jeans, I could picture them, and her running shoes, and so the pounding of my heart was fear. I loved her and I was afraid. And yet at the same time if she was taking a little side trip to buy some... whatever, some film or some... sushi or something and she’s, not raped, but safe and happy – although I wanted her to be safe and happy – I would be angry and was going to be angry, but at the moment I was confused, partly because I loved her and partly because I didn’t want to feel the thing I was feeling.
4.

 
AMERICAN PURGATORIO — JOHN HASKELL

5.


     
The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht, info@the-ledge.com
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Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
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