The Power Outage

The power outage in ’98.
The atmosphere in the apartment
in winter around four o’clock in the
— from “Why I am not a Good Lover” by Clemens J. Setz


Dear Matthew: I loved the map of Asia that you gave me when I moved away and the way it looked so sophisticated on my wall. Heaves of heavy fog rolled off the Atlantic that summer. July was so thick that even the meteorologists on the radio couldn’t explain it and just took the month off work. August was languid and invisible. Streetlamps were left on during the day for drivers to approximate direction. I opened my window at night and fantasized about salt air accumulating on the cheap bedspread. The persistent dampness in the room loosened the tape on the wall and made the map you gave me slip repeatedly to the floor.


Matthew, I wonder about you. You’re impossible to track down, you know, no one knows your phone number anymore and you haven’t answered my emails in years.


I learned the basics of male-female tension between the lines of our adolescent friendship. Do you remember the time when we laid on the road in front of your house? I recall those summer nights like a fitness training montage for our future lives. What were we preparing for while watching movies on each other’s floors? How to lie prettily? How to speak politely? Do we talk about plot? Do we dissect one another? Do you drive me home?


As an adult, I leave movie theatres with men and try to forge how nervous I was back then. Last time, I made up a story about how I had to make a phone call back east before it got too late to avoid lingering under the marquee. This was dishonest but I wanted to be alone.


One man whom I knew only in private was always pointing out moments that were like the movies. His favourite was when that piano music played while we were on the kitchen table; mine was when we were fully clothed and barely leaning against one another on the sofa when he said out loud that “this is how it would end.”


He dissected our plot. His analyses of our psyches crowded my apartment like notes crammed into margins. He was good-looking like the movies: immaculately dressed, collected, cautious, deliberate. One cuff of his shirt sleeve was tailored to accommodate the enormous mass of his wristwatch. He wrote everything in lowercase letters. He was so committed to this grammatical decree that he only visited suburbs to avoid capital cities, cancelled lunches with investors to avert conversation about capital gain and couldn’t watch American election coverage for all the talk of Capitol Hill. I told him he was handsome as if they were about to outlaw the words. He looked over my shoulder frequently as if someone might see us together. I rolled my eyes. I don’t know how exactly it ended, but I remember that while diplomatic, neither of us were kind.


You once drove me out to the asylum in the sunset. We passed fields thick with summer growth and breathed in that sweet-earthy smell of the rural sideroads we grew up near. Your van had a tape deck and we only listened to the best of Tom Jones until we arrived in the dark. It was a steep climb up the hill to the boarded buildings that once housed the sick and lonely. Abandoned since the seventies, the rec halls, dormitories and nurse’s quarters were the same shade of ash in the dark. We wandered until the headlights of a police cruiser shone on our legs and became separated as we ran through the woods back to your car. My stomach was knotted because I feared the law so immensely.


Matthew, I wonder if you ever find yourself pointed entirely in one direction. Do you ever feel satisfied, even if only just for a second? Because I know you have the kind of heart that can, I wonder if it still slips repeatedly to the floor. You don’t need to write me back, I don’t even know if you’ll get this, but I cannot happily welcome a co-pilot who doesn’t frighten me as much as you.




The second in a series of variations on a theme.