“At Nineteen” by John Sierpinski

On a Monday, July morning, Julian Whittaker
(at nineteen) works high up on a ladder, cleaning
fluorescent light fixtures in the English lecture
hall. He can use the money for the start of the fall
semester. He wipes dust, and then black soot off
the white covers. Mike Kessler cleans, too. He

tells Julian, “I’ve just been released from the county
psych ward, but I’m okay now. I’m studying
Mandarin.” To Julian, Mike appears unbalanced,
the shaky ladder, his exophthalmic eyes, the tick
of his right cheek. Another student, Richard
Longwell, has come to dust. He carries a boom

box the size of a small suitcase. At the sound
of the manic beat, Julian notices that Mike and Richard
dust faster. Then Richard declares, “It’s break time!”
and turns the lights off and the volume up. Distorted
guitars splay, plugged in to simple chords. To Julian,
it is too much. He thinks about how he has lost his

beloved Renee—she has walked away. He feels,
in the words of Pink Floyd, “comfortably numb.”
He drowns another soaped rag, wrings it out by touch
in the dark, and lets the water drip down his pant leg.
He listens to Mike tell Richard, “Turn that damn box
down.” Then Mike says, “You know, I had sex with

one of the other patients.” Richard says, “When I
dropped acid, last night, my entire body glowed. Just
think about it, my veins pumped light.” “Look man,
I don’t want to think about your drug-fueled shit,”
Mike says. And Julian, he doesn’t say anything at all.

John Sierpinski studies poetry at the Vest Conservatory for Writers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has recently published in California Quarterly, Curbside Splendor, North Coast Review, and Indiana Voice Journal. He has been nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. He has currently completed a collection.

 

 

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