I can see you, up there.
Waltzing through the crowd without care. Your red knit Rastafarian cap jilting with your strides. Coming closer I can see the smoldering spliff behind your ear, the long lined braids down your back. You’ve tucked them into your shirt. Bobbing to some Marley. That’s how I know it’s you, not some avatar from Jamaica. Only you’d go with the washed braids, the fresh laundered shirt. Even the spliff looks machine rolled, fake pixilated smoke. Only you.
And I reach out to tag you on the back, sidestepping the tromping dog walkers and bums. I reach out, feeling muscle beneath linen, the tendons taught beneath your coffee skin. And you turn, that look in your eye. Mischievous. You lift an eyebrow, smirk. Open your mouth to speak.
You weave, the sun dappling your neck. Gleam of white teeth. “Dance, sistah!”
Deep bass, relentless. Hard to breathe, stuffy in the dark, some underground nightclub. Strobe lights of red, a kitschy scifi alarm. Rastafarian cap, bouncing, just out of reach.
Why here? You were never into this kind of thing. You liked quiet pubs, oaken tables, microbrews. Never one for the club scene, and if it was electronica it was through your headphones. But you, oh you, this is your flight. This is what you want. Adventure.
I’ll give you adventure. Shouldering through, sticky skin, a fuzzy wave of bouncing revelry. Sucking in heat and breath, a single heartbeat pulsing through the surrendered dignity of the place. You’re within reach, still bouncing, those long legs of yours keeping time with the thump. Just barely. You always were a poor dancer.
A punch to the kidneys bring you around. This time you glare and I’m the one who returns the smirk. You open your wet mouth and I’m there, still bouncing, all in the pulse.
“Christine,” you say. You’re shaving in the half-light of the bathroom. The sink steams and your razor sweats white foam.
I pad over the cool hardwood. Sharp sting on my foot. The glass you broke, poorly swept. I sink to the couch, cradling my foot. A bead of red on the ball, swelling larger.
“Christine,” you say again. Your tone changed. Annoyed? No, that’s not it. You have a wad of kleenex in your hand and you kneel before the couch and press it onto my foot.
“Those aren’t snotty?” I say. You kiss my smirk.
“Hold it,” you say. “I’ll get a band aid.”
“Neosporin,” I say.
“Of course,” you say.
Funny. The minor things. The minor things we construct in our realities, these phantom trysts. Feigning domestic normalcy.
You patch my foot and carry me to bed, the lower line of your jaw still glazed in foam. Compassion. That’s what I heard in your voice. Compassion.
The sun and the people in the wide spring square. The blossoms meticulous and glorious, lined tulips and daffodils in a wash of sunny pastels. Behind and all around, lush surrounding green, cozy sunbathers flipping through magazines. Brand name sunglasses and flashy tops, strapped pumps dangling on manicured big toes.
We’re back, same as before. But where are you? Not the Rastafarian this time?
Blue smoke rising through the trees, faint. There’s a saxophonist on a bench, blind man shades and glistening skull. A boy with wheeled sneakers pulled along by his weary mother. A tiny ratdog balancing on it’s hindquarters for a treat.
Then, there. That’s you. The old man in the suit. Your eyes. That’s how I can tell. Those same eyes, so deep and bold here in this place. Molten blue glass.
You’re suited out in grey, sleek and striped. A Sinatra hat creased and cocked. Long drags on a rolled Havana cigar, smoke rings through the foliage.
“You watched it again,” I say. “Miller’s Crossing.”
“Close. Untouchables,” you say. You lick your lips.
“I know you,” I say. “I can read you.”
“You can. That’s why we play this game.”
“Why do you always lead? Can’t you chase me?”
You take another drag, snorting mist through your nostrils.
“Give me something to chase,” you say. “Make me want it.”
I reach for you.
My apartment again, windows cracked to a rainy night. A breeze ruffles the curtains, the lamps dimmed, a paperback facedown and open. A sweating drink on the coffee table.
Alone. Where are you? Then I remember. I’m the object, now. The endpoint.
Dressed in a white nighty, face pale and scrubbed, hair knotted behind. Not any object of affection. Where are you, and why this place?
A sound without. Look to the window, the rain a steady patter on the bricks. Dark shapes against the sky, a grey static void. There’s light in the atmosphere, droning helicopters and jets. Where are you?
Another sound, louder, cracking wood. I’m frozen, realizing suddenly what this is. Fear. Heart sped in my chest, even the very pipes in my throat tightened, constricted. I’m flushed and leering.
Another roar, this one from the mouth of some primordial beast, beyond reckoning. The back of the room disintegrates in an impact that knocks me flat. I’m shivering and hopeless, the muscles in my limbs limp.
Something monstrous reaches in and grabs me.
It is a hand. Fingers the size of my torso, enormous black nails, brown thatch forearm down and out, extending to the dark. I’m lifted into the rain.
I feel it, cold through the thin nighty. Distant lightning and I see it now, the beast.
King Kong and I’m Fae Ray. The knowledge brings warmth to my chest. This is you, this gargantuan manifestation. Your fingers squeeze and lift me and we are face to face.
As handsome an ape I’ve ever seen, noble brow and chin, mouth forcing a smile. Those same eyes. Lighting again and they reflect the entire sky, the tall buildings in the night, roiling clouds behind, and myself – small, hair strewn and whipping violent, but beaming.
Union Square in late May, again. Sitting on the steps, watching skateboarders clatter on the stone.
“Was that enough?” A boy says, skinny jeans and jagged blonde hair. He’s pulling tricks with a yo-yo.
“For now,” I say.
You roll the yo-yo up into your hand and it disappears. I blink. You shrug your shoulders and sit beside me on the steps.
We don’t talk for a long time, watching traffic, the chaotic rhythms of the square. I can feel you breathing against my side, this young boy.
“Remember this,” you say.
“Do you think you can?”
“What?” I say.
“Because,” you say. “It’s coming to an end.” You stand.
I blink. Nothing changes. Still Union square. Late May, happy sun, flowers and green trees.
The skinny boy is gone, instead a slightly pudgy man, thirtyish, unshaven, a stained t-shirt and jeans. “This is me,” you say.
“No,” I say. Standing, reaching out. You step back.
“I can’t do this any more,” you say. “It’s not real.”
“What is?” I ask. “And what if its not? What if nothing is?”
“I’m not going to answer that. See for yourself,” you say. You cough into your hand. “It was fun. Goodbye.”
“Wait!” I say, stepping forward. But you’re out of reach. Out of sight. The crowd swells, crossing through and around, like a living net of trajectories. I see the Rastafarian and wizened gangster, a man in a monkey suit.
But you’re gone. I check my toolset, inbox. Nothing.
When I pull off the helmet, the goggles are moist. I wipe my eyes with my shirt. Fight back a sob. My entire body aches.
“Honey, get off that thing and come to bed!”