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The Tail of a Gypsy Moth

By Sarp Sozdinler -


States receive news from each other from one disaster to another, his warden used to say (“like family members”). When the earth splits and swallows a village. When two planes hit as many towers. When a fucker tries and blows up an airport. Take California, for instance, he’d say, the scene of your supposed crime, or Mexico at your will, where everyone talks about their mobs, about how dangerous life could get in those places, how drugs run like water, all kinds of it. No one mentions the upsides when sober. Stereotypes strangle all of us like a handwoven scarf from home, and we battle the collective ghost of all the other people constitutionally similar to us.

Today, it is the absence of news that tells him a lot about what has become of his life. Just the night before, he’d closed his eyes to a world with no hope in it and opened them to one full of possibilities. He’d aimed for the world before he got out but ended up in a six-by-eight motel room, the size of his old prison cell. Maybe the world didn’t spin fast enough after all. It’s just left a thirty-year-old boy heartbroken again, who was once full of life and had chestnut color around his chest, unlike the inch of blondish white regrowth at the root of his horseshoe hair these days.

Today, none of it makes a difference.

Today, he turns on the phone that his lawyer handed him on his way out and sets off on a journey on Google Street View. He starts from his motel in San Francisco, then clicks eastward once, and then again and again. He clicks his way through Nevada, Utah, and Colorado; from Ohio and Pennsylvania to New Hampshire; from one Portland to another and all the way to the easternmost point of mainland America. The nation on the screen offers him a curious vista: cascading tract house suburbs and trailer parks and grain silos and gun stores and strip clubs and hypermarkets and self-storage facilities shape the tail of a gypsy moth; the longleaf pines its head. The blurred portraits of men and women of all ages, weight, and complexion, sharing drinks in the parking lots or surviving on odd jobs or selling magazine subscriptions or evangelizing door to door or drilling at oilfields or riding along the ocean-like plateaus of the West Coast, all the way to the radioactive wastelands of the East.

Today doesn’t allow room for boredom, so he invents another game.

One that he’s dreamt about since his days in journalism school, years before they locked him up for nothing. One with a cropped picture of him smiling on the sidebar, taken on the day of his graduation. With a black-and-white picture of the Pacific Ocean placed into the header, and the Atlantic into the footer. With a subtitle that reads, A community for the heightened pleasures and the great beyond—something he’s come up with staring at that round clock in the common room for long, uninterrupted hours. He sketches on the screen a black circle with crude contours and puts it up as the logo. The circle is empty inside its orbit, a form without a beginning or an end, the perfect shelter for infinity. He crops and filters each screenshot of America he’s just taken, then drags them into his first post.

Then, that’s it: his blog is all set up. A space for meaningful conversations about life and death; a correspondence between one’s two minds, ready to share with what his cellmate liked to call the “Other Side.”

With the matchless pride of an artist, he rolls back in his chair and stares at the first real work he’s done since he’s a free man. Letters indeed look grander on the screen, he would give his lawyer that. Those words that he’s carried in his mind all day—all those years—even the commas and spaces in between, now resonate more profoundly on the pixels of his newly launched blog.

Before publishing the post, he smokes two cigarettes by the window, lighting the second one before extinguishing the first. Then he gets back to the desk, types in a few more lines on the screen, edits this word or that, sips his tap water, and finally clicks the submit button.


Originally from southwest Turkey, Sarp Sozdinler is a writer based between New York and Amsterdam. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in Solstice, Passages North, The Offing, among other publications. Some of his longer pieces have been selected as a finalist at literary contests, including Waasnode Short Fiction Prize judged by Jonathan Escoffery. He currently is working on his first novel. You can find him @sarpsozdinler on Twitter and more of his work on his website

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