Kristen Luft and Nick Winkworth

Nick Winkworth
The Great Affair
Inspiration piece

The Cost: A History
By Kristen Luft


On a road narrowed by tall buildings closely set together, Van Liebling navigated his way through the dense feeling of entrapment growing in his chest. When the buildings gave way to paved lots inset with weedy fault-lines, the tension in his shoulders tightened rather than lessened at the entrance into open space. He parked at an angle to the docks near a gasoline station which served both land and water vehicles. His father would likely arrive at any moment with the fishing tackle and bait, a can of worms indistinguishable from the trusty sidekick can of beer sure to be held snug in his right hand. Van stowed the aerosol can, which was sitting beside him, in the trunk. Any memories of his time at home were to be kept at a minimum, and he should be gone before the day’s end without exchanging more than a few words with his father. He leaned against the galvanized aluminum railing at intervals between his pacing.

The steady tattoo of his Timberlands, the raucous merchants who lined the streets, the unremitting flow of chattering graduates through the square—all the noises of a city coalescing dropped off in a flash. A streak of light cut the sky with a force so great that sound was blotted out in an instant. Near the gasoline pump at the quays, the aerosol can of red spray paint exploded within his car, the shattering of red-spattered glass from the rear window preternatural in its soundlessness. Just outside the arc of the can’s explosion, Van Liebling stopped mid-step and lifted his eyes to gaze with wonder at the light, his awe equivalent to that he would have felt had the sun itself dropped to earth. Frozen, he watched the light disappear behind the silhouette of the mainland’s skyline—just before the skyline was obliterated and Van Liebling was rushed back into a world of sound with a cry as the lash of an unseen force tore across the island.

Sometime later, Van awoke to the darkness of a moonless, brown sky. He climbed out of the rubble, which were the remains of the gas station, and tried to rid himself of the ubiquitous dust. When batting at himself did not work, he went down to the beach and washed himself in the bay, despite the glowing, iridescent bubbles rising in the water. Their alien origins frightened him. As he bathed the coat of dust off himself after splashing his face, he surveyed the leveled city. The unfamiliarity of the place he had called home his whole life brought him to his knees, and right there on the beach sleep found him hours later.

When he awoke, the sky was still the same dark brown, as if time were waiting for something. Van looked at his digital watch, but it was dead. He raised himself up, and remembered his plans to meet with his father at the waterfront. His unwillingness to be in the presence of his drunkard of a father was only less in degree to his unwillingness to admit to anyone, especially to the man himself, how deep his indifference toward his father ran. At times, Van considered with uneasiness that he might actually loathe him, but even in his thoughts he only glanced off the truth of the matter. Van knew only that he now needed to be fortified by the annual arrival of the man into his life, a human presence in a world that had become estranged and hostile to him.

He dashed to his feet in spite of the pain and sense of loss that had remained lodged in the marrow of his being since the destruction. He clambered back onto the torn pavement and forged a path through the remants of the city in search of human contact, leaving behind his car in a ruin of obsolete memories.

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