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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in Tulsa

Bhadri Verduzco

The parking garage was empty. The cement layers stood naked in the cold, stark and ugly among the winking skyscrapers. It was just the two of them, parked at its peak, staring out into the miniature skyline. He fished around in the backseat, pulling out a lukewarm beer from under a dirtied blanket, and he drank it slow. It was methodical, a sip that was supposed to have some sort of poetry buried in its bubbles, and she hated hearing every syllable of it.

“I’m gonna get out of here, you know,” he said with finality, as if they had been fighting. She watched him and tried to seem rapt. She often adjusted her tolerance to his ego. She wiggled out a Marlboro and perched it on her teeth.

“Is that right,” she intoned with a flick of the lighter. He nodded, squaring himself up as if to face the city surrounding.

“Damn right. I’m gonna be a real writer. Move somewhere where ideas happen. Start something,” he said. She eyed him with a sardonic smile on her lips.

“Show us all who’s boss,” she encouraged, knowing he couldn’t hear her. The beckoning of drunken men like him, Hemingway, Joyce, and the dozens that murkily followed, consumed him. His cheeks, high and beautiful in the dim light, were red with a mix of booze and vitality she had never been privy to. He belonged to places she had never been.

“I have so many ideas. So many stories inside me,” he went on. “Well, you know that. I let you read them.” He flashed her a smile. She smiled back, not bothering to point out how many notes she had given him that he had thrown away. How stories of her own were washed away in his easy laugh.

“You should visit me when I go. Maybe I’ll be able to help you out,” he said, mildly. She knew she should remark something that sounded excited, but she smoked in silence. This had all started out as a plan to get laid. Her confidence was nowhere near his, but it squirmed around her at times, catching the darkened gaze of men like this.

How long, she wondered, would she go on with this? The men who spouted dreams off into long nights like these, living in warehouses or their childhood homes or a couch smelling like dogs. How long would she listen to them, pretending that she liked when her dreams were seated comfortably in the backseat while theirs charged ahead? She eyed him as he slurped High Life and she envied him. She knew he would leave, if only to come back and lay out his accomplishments before her. And she knew she would let him.

The city seemed so small, up here. A nest made of concrete and busted brick buildings. She eyed the city, as she had eyed him. At least here, tucked away, she had noticed it sometimes watched her back.