The Blackout



I loved the way the candlelight cast shadows along Felipe’s jaw as we sat and talked in the dingy bar. All of Amsterdam had lost power, and we had desperately been trying to find a place to have a good time. Our group of four stumbled into this small bar that smelled of weed and had white candles burning on every wooden surface.

Felipe gave me a small smile, “This isn’t so bad! It’s got some great mood lighting.” He suggestively raised his eyebrows and I snorted loudly. The sound broke through the quiet chatter of the bar and made everyone stop and stare. The owner gave me a strange look.

“You are Americans, yes?” I nodded, and I could feel my mouth drying up at the question. I looked to Felipe for help, but he was already talking to Clare and Mark about where they wanted to go next. The shadows hid his face from me as his body was turned away from the light and just as I was going to reach out to him, the owner put a shot of vodka in front of me.

“One shot, one Euro.”

“But I didn’t order a shot.” Everything was a bit fuzzy from the drinks already in my system, so it was entirely possible that I did order a shot. I just couldn’t remember.

“One shot, one Euro.” He gestured to the drink with his hand. Felipe looked over and grinned at the drink in front of me.

“Ooo, what did you get? Vodka?” The light caught his eyes this time, making them a soft dark brown with little flecks of gold that I hadn’t noticed in the daytime. The darkness of the room brought out his tan skin and the reddish-brown tint of his lips. It was too dark to see flaws, but the soft candlelight brought out his perfections. I must have been staring too long because he cleared his throat.

“Um, yes.” I slid a euro over to the owner and downed the shot with my eyes closed. When I opened them again, Felipe’s back was turned, and he was discussing something with Mark that I couldn’t hear. I lean closer to them, my hand accidentally brushing up against Felipe’s. He moved it as soon as he felt my touch, letting it slide forward along the bar out of my reach.

“Another shot of vodka, please.” I downed it without a second thought.


An hour later, the city was still covered in shadows with an occasional streetlight flickering. I stayed in the darkness, avoiding the harsh electric lamps set up throughout Amsterdam. Mark, Clare, and Felipe lead the way through the mostly empty streets as it began to drizzle. I put my hood up and kept my eyes locked on the feet in front of me. Mark’s boots were damp around the toes from stomping in puddles that had no reflections in them. Every pool that we passed looked like a black hole in the earth, only occasional raindrops and people’s feet disturbing the bottomless pits. Amsterdam was so different at night then it was during the day. The day was full of noise, light and people’s laughter while the night brought an eerie silence with the darkness. It seemed even our voices were muffled when we did decide to speak, although we didn’t talk often. It felt like the city was pressing in all around us and that our every word was absorbed through the walls into people’s homes. So instead of talking, we walked. We walked over bridges and through side streets. We followed crowds of people to bars and clubs that had no power. We waited outside places that we weren’t even sure were places to go to, we just stood among the crowd, waiting for something to happen. It never did.

“Well, this night did not go exactly to plan.” Felipe stopped under a working street light so we could all talk about what our next step was. Under the harsh light, I could see a cluster of pimples on his left cheek and a patch of stubble he missed while shaving. He looked so much different now then he had back at the candlelit bar. My eyes drifted down to his hand which was clasped in Mark’s. Their fingers were interlocked, and their hands swayed back and forth in a comforting rhythm. I turned away as my eyes started to burn and rainfall mixed with tears. I was relieved to be facing away from the light; the darkness was much more comforting, it allowed me my loneliness without reflection whereas the light intensified my feelings of isolation.

“Maddie?” Felipe’s hand was on my shoulder, and I jumped out of his grasp, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Fine.” I forced a smile, but it dropped once I saw the look on Felipe’s face. His eyes were bright and his smile was wide as if he wasn’t concerned about me at all. My smile was enough to reassure him that he was a good friend for at least asking. But he didn’t pry. If he had, I would have felt closer to him than I had to any other person all evening. Just like the city, I was having a blackout. I stumbled through my thoughts with only candlelight to guide me as negative emotions flickered in and out of existence like dying street lamps.

The rain was falling harder, and it helped mask my silent tears. As we stood under the fluorescent streetlight, I saw a taxi heading down the road.

“I’m going to head back now.” I hailed the cab with the wave of my hand.

“Are you sure? We haven’t even done anything!” Mark began to pout at me oblivious to my tear stained cheeks.

“Yea, I’m sure. I’m tired.” They all nodded in agreement and helped me make sure the taxi knew where it was going. I couldn’t even bring myself to wave as it pulled away. I slumped against the seat and watched the dark city pass through the window. Just driving through the empty streets made me feel better. The only sound was the sound of rain, and there was not a single person left on the street. I rolled down the window a bit to listen to the silent city. The wind on my face dried my tears, and the taxi drove out of Amsterdam, out of the blackout, and into the lonely night.

One thought on “The Blackout

  1. Hi Maddie,

    Beautiful opening line, and I just generally love the first paragraph. It’s excellent writing–takes the reader straight into the piece.

    I also laughed out loud in the second paragraph–when I read that you snorted at his flirtation!

    One of the best compliments I can probably give you is that your writing is strong but would be made even stronger with simple edits. This is a normal part of the process. For example, this is your transition between the paragraphs.

    The sound broke through the quiet chatter of the bar and made everyone stop and stare. The owner gave me a strange look.

    “You are Americans, yes?”

    Consider it this way–a simple edit:

    The sound broke through the quiet chatter of the bar.

    “You are Americans, yes?”

    Do you see how it makes it stronger? It punches the dialogue that much more.

    You’ve got a tense change again, which is no big deal, but just something to be aware of again; you wrote in past and that switched to present with “lean.”

    Love this: “waiting for something to happen. It never did.”

    So, some last thoughts: I actually thought Felipe was flirting with you, so to then discover that he was with the other man threw me. I don’t know if you intended this or not. If you did, it came as a jolt and maybe a little too abrupt? (Unless I’ve misread something here!)

    Overall, I really like this piece, Maddie. The writing is good. The images are good. The feelings are there. I hope I can say this without sounding patronizing: I think you have the potential to be a really great writer–the more your write, the older you get, the more you read. The editing will come with it too.

    See you later!


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