joel van noord ~ An Echo of Love

January 3, 2007

From the safety of the DC bar he sat and mused distantly at the scene that was only an Ambien away. He’d fled and got on the plane, swallowed the pill and woke to the gay steward gently tugging his arm.  

He’d fled, left everything as the country shattered like a pastry between two hungry hands. And the hands of course, were poverty and desperation. Of course it didn’t have to happen and many people and many thousands of dollars were pouring in from the outside to quell it; but, the tensions had been building for decades and there was nothing worth saving in the country in the first place.  

He’d fled and left everything. It was only a cycle now that was ending. He’d fled the states and now he was fleeing this flimsy, broken, pastry that would be savagely consumed by anarchy.  

The shots were a surprise. But they were a surprise like the monsoon is a surprise, calculated and anticipated. So that when the anarchy finally breaks, it’s more of a relief than anything.  

The air was ready for the shots and when they came there was a sigh that was louder than the ‘pops’ that blasted distant and childish. But they were real and they shattered and flaked off the buildings and sent little puffs of pulverized concrete up with them. Screams broke the calm understanding that comes with inevitability and duty and the woman at his table rose as he held limply to the syringe. She fled and called out, searching, obliterating his crude understanding of their blunt language in a cacophony of noise.  

Mothers grabbed their children and men grabbed their lovers. People fled in pairs as he waited there with the needle thinking, ‘this is expensive medicine’, shaking his head and wondering why she didn’t just let him inject her quick before she fled. Yes, everything was measured with distance.  

The ground showed a line as dirt erupted and sprayed and settled and if the line was ten feet further toward the ocean, it would have consumed him. It would have ripped through his delicate flesh like this restive anarchy was ripping through the fragile façade of a government.  

He ran. He dropped the needle and he ran. But as he ran he was astutely aware of his isolation. As he ran he had tears in his eyes. They started as a reaction to the cool air hitting the fleshy eyeball. But they continued and increased as something different. His palm was empty and his heart was hollow. He ran and he was sad. He was distracted and he was not happy.   

He should have been brought to a mental climax with the danger as he fled the government complex where dark men with large black guns roamed the periphery and shot stochastically. He ducked as the building to the side of him showed impact. Every reaction was a deadly step behind but he reacted with faith nonetheless.    



He picked DC because his brother lived there. But he didn’t want to call him nor did he remember his address or his phone number. No worry, now, at least. There were more important things on his mind; he watched couples entrenched in each other, staring, indebted, into each other’s eyes across flickering candles and glimmering liquids.  

He took the light-rail from BWI and transferred and went to a familiar area where an old girlfriend had lived long ago. She was now in California, he’d heard, and that was just one of the million odd things that passionlessly left his life with no fanfare.  

This was an old lover that had NOT shattered him like a dull pastry. This was an old girlfriend who had interesting things to say, but this was one in which he did not want to lay with and thus obliterate life with. There was one, however, which seemed to forever taint everything. One which commanded so much of the word LOVE. He still thought about her daily.  

What else was he to think about when his palm was empty and he was not sliding between those sweet lips? This was a girl he could not get over and this was one reason he left to inject medicine into veins. It was a substitute for driving an ambulance and treating alcohol poisoning in Boston.  

He was scared of AIDS. And for that entire year there had only been one girl. There were many pretty American and European girls. But most had husbands or boyfriends back in civilization and most only stayed a month. But there was one that he had for a week before she disappeared, likely kidnapped by an uncle. Many of his contemporaries there he was sure had AIDS now. They were the ones who didn’t get enough in their previous lives and now that they were the esteemed outsider and it was readily available, they couldn’t discriminate. Which is vital when over 40% of the population has the mark.  

Djiara… he mused and remembered the embrace of slipping in, the fleshy friction… With that thought he grew mad at himself. This is what he did. He built things up. He perfected them in his mind until it was something he worshiped. It was an edifice created in the cavity of something else. She was just a black fuck. But that wasn’t true. Just stop.  

He rose his hand and flicked two fingers and the bartender walked over.  

“Tequila and a Clipper.” He leaned in and the woman asked him what type.  

“Top shelf honey.” He said and he was different, He didn’t care. He wouldn’t tell her where he’d been like it was a sapphire they would coon over. He’d worn that mistake before. After shooting darts into Humpback whales for eight months on an uninhabited island in Mexico’s Pacific and being repulsed, shocked, and bewildered by an intimate dive into a cousin’s pungent Los Angeles. He was thoroughly embarrassed by the quivering shortcomings of that character. He didn’t want to use experiences as a crutch.  

 He watched the bartender work. She was nothing beyond him. He wondered where she was from. He wanted to know her secretes. He wanted to give everything he had to her.  


He walked form the bar and went to the seediest place he could find. He got another tequila and ale and sat back. Waiting.  

The place was full of early thirties milling about watching each other. He approached several women and was burned badly before he went for one girl with a brutish friend who easily flaked off with the conversation.  

They danced and he had what he’d fled with. He smelled slightly, but it was yet body odor, merely body aroma. They danced together and he told her nothing. She was an aid for a congressman and she had things to say and he absorbed them. A song ended and they were smiling, she was fading from a laugh and she paused to catch her breath, a hand to her lung. He looked at her and she looked at him. He took a step and put an arm around her, pulling her tight. They shared that anticipatory look where the moment resigns to momentum and becomes a safe response. He smoothly shattered it with the fleshy bite of her lip.  

They embraced as the music erupted and bodies began to writhe about.  

An half hour later she was saying with pleading eyes and a tilted head, “I can’t, I’m sorry, my boyfriend wouldn’t like that.” He watched her reel away as the brutish friend pulled her, by wrist, through the door way.  

As her figure disappeared from the heavy wooden doorframe the night hit him as a blunt realization. He fought it, though. With a shot he left the bar and began walking again. Bars were still open for a bit longer and he walked until he saw Chinese characters, then turned a side street and dove into a small basement bar. Someone was smoking in the entryway and put a hand across his waist. He showed ID and was watched steady for a moment.  

He landed on the bar and put his head down. He heard a scratchy voice and turned. He was feeling ill and got an ale to settle it. He turned and she was 40. She said something and he immediately began to tell his story.  


Her flat was something from his most depraved collegiate days. There was a mattress on the floor and an unsuccessful artist’s clutter, an artist whom had lost or never found her art. Old newspapers and dusty books were out with sweaty whiskey glasses on top, ashtrays were full and scattered.  

They had collapsed on the bed and he was succumbing to the duty of their momentum. She was rubbing her hands through his hair as she said something and laughed. He felt like he had missed something. He turned to the clock and it was 4:30. He didn’t even have a car. He hadn’t talked to his brother in seven months. Tomorrow he’d go to the hospitals, contact the agency, get his pay.  

He sighed. But now, now she was kissing down his torso and he was neither sleeping in a hammock in a thatched hut, a hotel, or the streets. As she took a break and smiled at him he asked, “Do you have a condom?” 

She turned and slid out an audible wooden drawer and he thought of the coast in the tropics. He thought of the deserved disaster. He thought of his friends that were momentary kings there in that tropical hell… Did they do what they did knowing the consequences? Would they do it all again? Or did they shrug it off and say, ‘probably not?’  

He heard the package rip and she looked at him. She was not an armadillo. She still had some youth. She may be a good person –interesting. Things were still possible. She unrolled the protection and moved down. He felt it slid over and he felt her warmth.


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