by Dustin M. Hoffman
I’m at a Rancid show in Pontiac, Michigan. A gothic church turned into a nightclub called Clutch Cargo’s. Arches draped in logos. Stained glass and strobe lights. Cigarette butts and angels everywhere. The millennium is brand new and it will be five more years before this half of the state crumbles around its empty factories. Eight more before I use gel for comb-overs instead of spikes.
Inside, the crowd surges. A giant man in boots loops his arms and offers me a boost. I don’t feel the crowd’s hands lifting me. I can’t distinguish fingernails or July smoldering outside. It’s a furnace of bodies down there. But the air lightens, cools, floating just above exhale and sweat. My lungs fill, sharing the same breath as on that stage—gods with guitars and gaping mouths, red-tipped mohawks piercing smoke clouds. I’m eyelevel with a bluebird tattoo, wings spread, migrating toward the singer’s jugular. I’m migrating, too, toward stage. The stratosphere is jealous. Bluebirds are jealous. I’m jealous of dreams where I can fly. And forever will be of this moment when I am light as music, bodiless, sailing distortion and feedback that pulses through strings, through pickups, through speaker, into the input, out the output. I’m phantom hover. I’m eardrums. Until two of my fingers materialize—made real by the feel of slipping down a hot, choking throat. I’m gagging a man in the crowd. Below me. Was holding me. Long brown hair soaked in sweat, a beard, brown eyes drowning in surprise. He could be Jesus, if not for the surprise. I yank my fingers from his throat. Sorry, that your larynx was my scaffold, that music was heavy in your mouth. That’s okay, man. I actually hear him over everything, my everything that is eardrums. Tonight they’ll riot-ring while I try to sleep. For the rest of my life, this pitch will hiss whenever I find real silence. I still hear it when I rock my daughter to sleep, louder than her whisper-breath. When I sleep, I switch on the fan, turn up the baby monitor, anything to mask quiet’s blare.
The Jesus guy said it was okay. The crowd dropped me near the front of the stage, before a speaker that made my jeans pulse—that exorcized my heartbeat and implanted its own. The last time I saw Rancid was in Chicago at the House of Blues. My wife and I watched the crowd from a table, ordered microbrew beers, and even this was many years before bald spots and Detroit threatening to sell its paintings and my daughter and real silence. This Easter, the club reopened as a church.
Dustin M. Hoffman’s story collection One Hundred-Knuckled Fist won the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize and is forthcoming with University of Nebraska Press. He spent ten years painting houses in Michigan before getting his MFA from Bowling Green State University and his PhD from Western Michigan University. His stories have recently appeared in Pleiades, Smokelong Quarterly, Bat City Review,Midwestern Gothic, Juked, Cimarron Review, The Journal, andThreepenny Review. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. You can visit his site here: http://dustinmhoffman.com/