I’m writing this to you from an indoor playground where one of my daughters is hanging from her knees from far too high up and my other daughter is across the parking lot in a rock climbing class. It’s too loud and too bright and too much. But I’ve waited to write this until I was here, to test the atmosphere of this piece. Like a song you can listen to on loop “Half-Life” by Dina Relles’ in Cheap Pop is one I’ve returned to over the past month. And it holds up, even in this place of primary colored plastic and toddler tantrums.
From crushed bugs to storms to dreams to half-lifes and isotopes, this piece covers so much ground while maintaining the same evocative atmosphere. An atmosphere like the minutes before a storm when everything goes eerily still, the birds stop chirping, the air warms before all hell breaks loose. Relles’ does this all in 462 words. Sounds impossible, right? It is possible only because this is writing at its best. It is possible because of concise word choice, precise details, images cut down to their essentials.
In this piece hills “taunt,” the sky is “cadaver blue,” fingernails are “jagged stubs,” a bug crushed “sneaker to asphalt.” There is this stark image, left perfectly on its own, backlit only by the scientific facts surrounding it: “Sometimes I’ll undress in front of the black window, lights on, and wonder if anyone’s watching.” There are no superfluous words here. Every word is necessary, every word lends itself to the feeling of the piece like a perfectly executed piano solo that echoes and haunts you even as you sleep, that wakes you like a storm of its own.
I will not let this mini-review surpass the word count of “Half-Life,” so I will leave you with these sentences from Relles’ perfectly executed story: “I’m scared of rain we run from. Of storms that stay at our backs. Of empty nights that fall one into the next. Scared, not of the dying, but of living half a life.” Now, go read this story. Wait for the storm.
Always in words,