The night had become quite familiar to me. It wasn't always like that.
The woman in the window sighed and took a deep breath of winter. Thick shadows molded her body, burnished the harsh edges of her into softness- the starkness of the reality of her into something more pleasingly mysterious. That was what I wanted right then. That was what I was playing for- something mysterious to rub the hard edges down to something more comfortable.
When I saw her on the street she looked as mysterious as a razors edge as she peeped out from under big hair that went out of style 10 years ago. How was I to know that she was into retro- and to her life was just about style? That substance didn't matter any more was not something I was unfamiliar with but still, hope crawls out of the strangest places. Every once in a while I get sucked into believing again that there's something to hope for.
Not that I believe in miracles- not any more. In fact I laughed, even though it was a little too loud, too forced, when she asked me for directions to heaven. Part of me believed she could have been serious. Stranger things have happened. She might have been serious.
So I said, "You have to come with me- it's too hard to explain- it's easier to show you".
"I've heard that one before. Do you believe in miracles?"
What could I say?
I said "Sure"
Life throws some curve-balls, that's a sure thing. After I said it I was surprised that I really sounded like I meant it so I suspended my judgment and kept on walking down that road.
"What's on your mind?" I asked.
She laughed and pushed her hair back with that retro fem fatale gesture that was just a trick but that always conjured Fitzgerald memories of evening gowns and hot silk nights on the swell deck of the paradise liner.
The big round moon stared up at me, reflected in the martini in my hand.
"What's on anybodys mind?" She volleyed.
"Sex, drugs, money, success?"
"Boring." She dropped the word like it was covered with sores.
"Is that what's on your mind?" She said, after a long, pensive moment, as, with another retro move, her fingers combed through her hair.
She stood up and walked to the window.
She should be wearing a trench coat. I thought but I didn't say that. Some people take their posing very seriously.
"No, not really. Mystery is on my mind."
"Ohhh- kinky." She replied as if it didn't matter.
The room took on a strange, haunted quality as lights from some passing something licked the ice frosted window. I could feel the breath of something wicked pass between us like a hot breeze on my arm. I thought of mean streets.
A drowned memory surfaced- a limo on a ravaged ghetto street; a little blond girl in a white dress who gripped the mesh of a chain link playground fence like an animal in a cage and stared holes in me as I passed.
"Where things come from doesn't make any more sense to me now than where they go." I bantered.
She just stood there in the shadow haunted room and stared out the window.
I tried not to let on that anything had changed between us. It would have been too easy to blame her- to claim that she somehow had busted the mood and turned what could have been simple into something too complex to just do without thinking- as if it was natural.
"No, not kinky. You aren't the kinky type." I said.
"And you are?"
"It takes one to know one." I replied.
I glanced down at the drugs on the bed. Spread out like they were the reason for us being there when, really, they were nothing. I wasn't even interested in drugs any more. They were just part of the mood I was trying to create. In case I died it amused me to have it appear, on the surface, as if it was from a drug overdose. It was all about surface.
"You don't know me any more than I know you. We're just strangers in a room sharing a moment of boredom. It's a veneer."
"Maybe." I replied and sat down on the bed.
The bed was hard. Muffled by the floral bedspread, it sounded like plastic crinkling in a fire. I was glad it wasn't a water bed. Water beds didn't belong in this room any more than we did. This room was made for plastic people with correct clothes. Nothing about either of us was correct. Everything was all wrong. That was what was so right about being here. Mr. and Mrs. Wrong in the right place. That was us.
She pushed the drugs aside and sat down next to me. With a slow smile she placed her hand on my knee like an offering in a collection plate, or a tip on a counter top. I just stared at it- at the fingernails with their chewed off corners and the graffiti map of polish glittering in the light from the dim bulb on the night stand.
"What are you looking at?" She asked.
I looked at her.
She turned away. Her lips, in profile, were swollen like she had fallen prey to the collegeen needle.
Vanity takes all forms. I thought about the porn queen Lolo Ferarri, dead at 33. Her lips and breasts so bloated by implants and shots that she looked like she had mutilation on her mind when she had it done. I thought about the desperate need for control and to be noticed- to be somebody- evident in body mod. I thought about melting ice caps, and dead wastelands where nothing grew, and oil spills, and whatever happened to the Dodo and, about T. S. Elliot's version of the wasteland compared to mine and, for a moment, forgot all about her and where I was. I felt like starting to scream and never stopping- just screaming for everything that needed screaming about, like a suicide bomber blowing himself up for everything that needed blowing yourself up for but I got sidetracked when she slipped her hand in my pants and fondled my credit card.
"Is that all you've got in there?" She asked.
" A little to the left." I replied.
"I don't mean that. This is business."
"Don't you take Visa?"
"Fucking clown." She said and stood up.
"You're all clowns."
"All is a big word."
"Fuck words. It's easy to talk. Talk talk talk. Everybody has something to say. Me, what turns me on is when people shut up. When they don't feel like they need to fill up my head with their version of wisdom."
"The strong silent type?"
"They don't need to be strong. Strong is just another pose. They just need not to feel the need to enlighten me. I don't need their enlightenment. I get bored enough sorting through my own crap."
She picked up her coat.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Come on. I want to show you something."
"That's my line."
I put on my coat and followed her down the hallway to the stairs. The red glow of the exit sign make me nervous.
The night street was dead calm and icy. As we clacked down the sidewalk the sound of nothing echoed off the buildings and bounced off the clouds. The moon hung over the city like a frozen picture.
"Where are we going?"
"Who cares. I just wanted to get out of that room. I've been in too many rooms."
The buildings were dark and the streets were empty. It's strange how sometimes it can get so empty .
I remembered how full nights used to be. Everybody going someplace. Big ideas stuck up like sign boards or sidewalk barkers advertising God knows what behind the curtain. I remember coffeehouses and serious faces pondering the eternal, and what is art? And who knows what. I remember poetry readings and all the words that were supposed to mean something- that worked so hard to capture their little moment and then when they got it didn't have a clue what to do with it and self destructed mercilessly .
"Life is cruel." I commented to no one in particular.
"Tell me about it." She mumbled and jammed her hands in her pockets.
Hunched over from the cold we continued down the sidewalk. The sound of sudden laughter echoed out of a single point in space.
"Happiness." She said.
"How do you know?"
"Don't get philosophical."
In a doorway down the street something moved. When we got closer it wasn't there.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"Do we have to be going someplace?"
"It depends. You said you wanted to show me something."
"Well, this is something."
I didn't say anything. There wasn't any point. Sooner or later all would be revealed.
"When I was a kid I wanted to be a dancer." She said.
"I was a dancer." She replied.
"Oh... I knew a dancer." I said.
"So? Am I supposed to be impressed?"
"Well, I'm not. It's just something you do. I did it, then I didn't. That was probably her story too."
"No. Her story was different."
"What did she do?"
"She did something else."
"Ha Ha. Very funny." She sneered.
"Yeah, lot of laughs."
We were, somehow, very far from where we started. I didn't recognize anything about where we were but it didn't matter. I didn't recognize anything where we were before. Sometimes it was better not to try to find meaning in every little thing. Sometimes things don't mean anything. I suppose that's what she meant. You do things because you do them and when you don't any more it isn't necessarily because or for anything. It's just something else.
"Yeah, right." She said, as if she heard my thoughts.
"How do you know? Maybe it's better to believe in something." I said, giving her the benefit of not asking her what she meant. I knew what she meant.
"Better, worse, more words. Sometimes it's more exciting not to give the baby a name. A name isn't that important. Things don't always need names. Sometimes you just pass through without touching. Remember the "zipless fuck"? Why do people always think they need to touch everything? Me I try to keep my hands in my pockets as much as I can. That way my hands don't get dirty. I like to be clean."
"You can be too clean- like a blank slate." I said.
"So?" She replied.
We stopped under a street light.
"What's wrong with that? Am I supposed to believe that making a big deal out of the way people wait for the end of the world is really that important?"
"Hasn't anything ever changed your life?"
"Yeah, being born. Isn't that enough for one lifetime. Why do people always want more? Why not less?"
"Less than what."
"Less than what they think they need- less than zero. I figure, take what you think you need and cut it by 50% and you're a little closer to the bone.
"Isn't that what Thoreau said? 'Live life closer to the bone?'"
"Who cares." She replied.
I shrugged my shoulders.
We pressed on. I could hear her breathe as we climbed the hill.
The sidewalk was pitted. Its surface scarred with chalk marks from some strange graffiti game. I imagined twisted children lurking close behind sightless windows in the buildings huddled over the sidewalk- scavengers that came out like trolls at night to scribble runes on the street.
What were they like in their secret troll bedrooms? What did they dream? Why did I care? Or more to the point, why did I imagine they were trolls instead of just children, sugar plum sweet beneath their cozy sheets whose parents loved them and who didn't dream.
"You're too preoccupied with yourself. She said, gasping out the words as she sucked air."
"Yeah." I said. "You're not the first person who's told me that."
She stopped and turned to me. With the sky behind her starting to turn to dawn she looked light, like she was ready to rise into the air at any moment like some nameless monster ascending into heaven.
"So? Do you think there's something you should do about it?"
"Why" She parroted. "Why not?" Do you plan to just go down without a fight?"
"I don't make plans."
"Well, maybe you should." She said and turned away from me to stare at the dawn.
I stared with her.
Together we watched the sun rise.
One seagull circled the sky above the buildings at the top of the hill. Behind it the sky luminesced with that never darkness that every city offers in place of true night.
I regretted that it was difficult to really see the stars. Not that they weren't visible. They were but that didn't mean you could SEE them. Not like in some wild place- wild in that essential rawness of life that true night brings- rawness filled with awe at the vastness of the spaces between life and eternity that cities deny. At least there you could pretend to see them- for as long as the wild side remained.
Those few stars that could be seen were like flashlights in the vastness of space. They couldn't compete with the corrosive luminescence of the ant hill city.
I don't know if she shared my desperate attempt to deny the hope that there was something beyond myself through an even more pathetic parody of spiritual enlightenment. We didn't speak until the seagull passed and the clouds were flushed with a dawn that even mankind's best efforts would find difficult, but not impossible to deny.
Finally she turned to me and smiled .
No longer bitter bright and narrow sighted down the barrel of a gun at the danger of the world beyond her experience, her eyes in that moment were wide with the clarity that forgetting yourself brings.
We were like children playing games with rudimentary blocks, attempting to build a tower to the stars.
"See," She exclaimed, "That's something."
Now I knew what she meant.
We stopped at a hole in an ersatz hole in the wall diner far out on one of the new piers that surrounded the harbor like the links in a charm bracelet and made chit chat.
"Since the cargo operations closed down", I said, playing the tourist guide, "The working ships are gone but tourists make up for it with their own boat loads of cash and credit cards."
"Right," she said "Everybody wants a piece of the action, even tho there isn't any action any more except them."
"They don't care as long as the amusement park replica of harbor life is believable enough." I replied.
"Blah, blah, blah." She said.