The pathos-inducing “Dirty Darlene,” a fall 2010 story by Sarah Kate Levy, follows an aging taxi driver with withered looks who woefully mistakes a one-off sexual encounter with a client as something more than it is.
The title character’s tragedy is further amplified by her backstory. Her past is riddled with miscues and heartbreak: We hear references to an abusive former lover, and an aborted child who would have been the same age now as the boy with whom she has a drug-induced tryst. We are also filled in on how as a former school bus driver, she had assumed the role of big-shot protector of the bullied, only to be brought down several notches by a lesson to a bully gone wrong.
Her story culminates in a high the reader knows all too well as being a mirage. She pretties herself up, bolstered by a delusion. In a devastating passage, we find that “she felt she knew a secret, and better, for the first time in her life, it wasn’t something hiding, but rather, something shared.” The story’s outcome is inevitable but its blow is nevertheless potent.
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