The Year of the Diva

by J. C. Hallman

It was the year of the diva. The song, the Irish lilt, wormed into every knothole. Boomed from low-riders, from radio stations at gyro stands, from the rubber band clarinet of a street musician who had fingered the melody note by note, from the fat throat of a businessman pissing bourbon and salt onto a paper plate in an alley, embarrassed when I heard him tootling on. First the coarse endearment, then the lusty proclamations, then revival. The song defined the decade. The traffic was monumental. It took the El Niño to shut her up, finally.

The effect, the pattern, the system, descended that year and the weather was screwed up from January on. Sixty degrees on the New Year in China, the spring dead calm. Storm season crosshaired the city with twin fronts, one a Canadian devil surfing down the Midwest feeding on paltry tornadoes and accumulating deaths by flood, the other a rogue hurricane hypnotizing meteorologists with its perfect spiral and sinking two Portuguese fishing trawlers before spotting that other to the west and beelining for it. The city went from summer light to medieval dark in half an hour and what played out overhead was like a sick, sweaty fuck, fat balls of rain pulled to Earth, laced with something unspeakable. The power station submerged by six o’clock, highways closed without ceremony. Even the diva was quiet at last.

The wind ripped down the boards, the signposts vibrated as though in the presence of the divine, and lonely umbrellas turned dumb circles on the sand or caught the right batch of wind and ascended right there. The waves dismantled the sand bars and came up under the wood, an aerosol geysering up from splintery gaps, mists like the spume of mammals dying through their blowholes. The storm was the outpouring of the Earth’s mineral sweat. The rain nibbled faces like a million infectious bats. It teared down the glass, streaked with black. “Acid,” said the janitor, from behind his mop’s authority. “It’s an acid storm.”

The storm flooded the city but like everyone else spent itself in three days’ time. The shops were all awash, for a while you could canoe through red lights, and when the waves finally pulled back, it took all the touristy crap with it, the T-shirts, the mechanical puppies that yipped and flipped, the key chains, snow globes, decks of cards, slices of pizza, packs of gum, mugs, cameras, ashtrays. It all wound up down the shore with six or seven million clams jostled from artificial beds. Miles of seaweed punctuated the coastline from horizon to horizon. The homeless swooped down to feast beside the gulls.When the power station came back online, the diva’s voice returned and joined them all at the water’s edge, the soundtrack of the world.

J. C. Hallman is the author of The Chess Artist and The Devil is a Gentleman. “The Year of the Diva” will appear in a short story collection, The Hospital for Bad Poets, appearing from Milkweed Editions in May 2009. He lives in St. Paul, and can be reached through his website,

Back to Issue Two: Winter 2009