Po-dunk by Laura Page

I told him I couldn’t live there.

It seemed so grey, a too-long strip of highway lined with used car dealerships, pay-day loans offices, the Lombard pawn crests in neon, on backlit starboard sign panels. Po-dunk as my girlfriend used to say of the cheap jars of alfredo I used to buy at the Red Apple, because my fettuccine had always come from a box, the sauce in a packet of powder you had to mix with 2% milk, and I wanted something better. I wanted my happily-ever-after to happen somewhere else.

Then he took me into the foothills. It took five minutes and the red of the earth coated the white shoes I insisted on wearing and not swapping for vibrams after wedding at the courthouse. Suddenly I loved the rock cribs and Stetsons everywhere.

Other girls didn’t have it so easy. The red earth, the Red Apple Market, the neon blinking store-fronts beyond which they found their rings were not as po-dunk as they were perverse. One girl’s last argument with her man ended in a quick slide out of traffic, onto the curb. Minutes later, another woman would call the cops to report what she’d witnessed: a man had stabbed a woman sitting in the passenger seat of his F250, peeled out.

Days after I read the murdered girl’s obituary, he appeared in the doorway red-eyed. His high-school friend had died in an accident after another vehicle charged from a curb into oncoming traffic, hitting him head-on.

How long did it take us to compare the stories? To realize they were one and the same, a domino effect? I couldn’t help it—I imagined that girl wearing the face of my friend, the one who drawled Po-dunk over a saucepan, the one who’d applied perfect white polka dots to my red mani-pedis, whose number I’d lost, the one who coached me through my first tampon insertion, cannabis breath-hold, then losing my virginity.

He wasn’t close with the man who’d become a father of five, but he remembered that he was kind—and kindness in that red, rocky bar town is as rare as it is lovely.

I got my way in the end, and I don’t live there anymore.

Laura Page is a graduate of Southern Oregon University and editor of the poetry journal, Virga. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Crab Creek Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Rumpus, HYPERTEXT, and others. Her chapbook, Sylvia Plath in the Major Arcana, is forthcoming from Anchor & Plume.