Breathe in atmosphere,
tinted stark with asphalt,
gravel, dust, and dreams.
Then tell me not.
Dance with the beat of footsteps,
to streetlight stroboscopes.
Then tell me not.
Tune to the city,
hear her sing.
Then tell me you can not feel,
can not taste life
on the tip of your horizon.
you can not taste the tears,
the shiver down her spine.
That you never fall
to her embrace,
her sharp seduction.
It started like it always did. In a taxi. A yellow cab, branded with the Big Apple cliché chequered stripe and the skid marks of one too many close encounters in the hectic inner city traffic. Like the opening scene of some movie, speeding over the Brooklyn Bridge just as the sun sets in a haze of light smog and heavy history in the west. It was hunting time in what used to be my life. Thursday night. Fridays and weekends were for the suburban kids, the clueless, styleless losers, flooding the clubs and bars with their parents' money and lack of sense for the soul of the places. No, it was on weekdays that the real people played. Those who know where things happen and how to be a part of it. Yeah, I know. The fact that I was as much a fake, a tourist intruder on extended cab ride commute, never crossed my mind. You'd be amazed how easy self-delusion can become a habitual virus, how easy it is to slip into the "right" fold of such a dichotomy, if you wish for it bad enough.
So it was Thursday, at the threshold of yet another meaningless night of make believe and masks. Chilled champagne silver buckets, flaming rum straight off the bar, green absinthe shots, white insane lines, all acting as the framework, setting the scene for everyone to drab a diversion. Taking drugs might help for some, but it never helped me. I needed release, plain and simple. First class flesh, exclusively wrapped, gym toned and more often than not artificially enhanced. Women, sometimes men, whatever mood I was in, caught up in the same pointless feedback loop as me. Every night was a matching game. Find a willing stranger, play a few hours of make believe games, drink, chew the fat, drink some more, and then off to whomever's apartment was closest.
Sex was mandatory. Sex was the whole focal point of it all, the only goal that still mattered. It was city life in its most depraved glory. Straight vodka, strange pills, coke lines, VIP lounges, sweat, perfume, design hysteria, glitter hyperboles... all boiling down to stellar rutting, shameless sex like in high budget hardcore movies. It was a quest for the perfect fuck, something we would never experience, simply because there is no such thing.
Or so I thought. I know better now. I know that it was nowhere to be found on the seedy spectacular that is the Manhattan scene. A carnal experience without a strong soul attached to it is just masturbation. Expensive and redundant wanking.
The city came closer, opened its mouth and devoured me as the taxi left the bridge and dived in among the skyscrapers. Its steel and glass forest towering high around me, but all the action, all the steaming life was right there on ground level. A colourful anthill of beautiful people, cars, beggars, conspicuous whores, ties, neon lights and island after island of blaring, pumping music passing me by. Most days I would have eyed the opportunities. I had an address, a street name and number that didn't really say much to me, but Binder had assured me that this was the place to be tonight. Binder usually was right about that kind of thing. He knew the ins and outs of New York's upper levels like nobody else I know. I guess he still does. I don't see him much these days.
Anyway, I was too slow, sometimes too high to ever keep track of what was hot and what was not, so Binder was my guide to the labyrinth of status and style. A labyrinth with twists and unexpected turns that that night led me to a long corridor walled with the tackiest cyan velvet, where the staccato of an electro funk beat hung like a curtain in the air. It was the music of the month in a business that changed faster than the seasons where being on the edge drove producers and designers alike into a cocktail diet of Prozac, Stoli and good old Amsterdam White.
There she was. At first, just another moving shape in the sea of bodies writhing to the beat, a flurry of naked limbs and glitter in the stroboscope freeze frames. But there was just something that locked my vision right there, something in the way she moved. As if a bubble around her had granted her a time zone of her own, where she set the tempo. Tacky, I know, but I don't mean it in that Hollywood clip template for first impressions kind of way. No, there were all those little nuances that were…just…slightly…off. Her hue a little too warm for the room, her movements not quite matching those of the other dancing people. The level headed side of my brain tried to tell me that the pills I never could remember the names of, that I had popped just before hailing the cab, were finally kicking in. It wasn't that I shunned drugs. After all, your local over the counter pharmacy can keep you high for weeks if you know how to mix it right. I just didn't trust anything that neatly packed.
The other side of that brain was going on autopilot, measuring up the potential for nailing her to the floor of a hotel room by the end of the night. But there was something else, a tiny part of me, wondering just what made her feet move to a beat that was not echoing between the walls. And what made her hair, a fascinating too white mane interrupted by strands of red and auburn, flow through the air as if in slow motion.
And why did she look straight at me? Her eyes, those eyes, there is something not quite right…
A forceful shove and a strong grip on my shoulder shook me back into the real world again, as the face of a burly faux latino kind of guy with a trophy call-girl clinging to his side filled my vision.
"I said, what the fuck is wrong with you?!" he snarled, "You're blocking the doorway, get moving."
The girl, maybe not the utter bimbo I initially had her stereotyped as, tugged at him to move along.
"Come on, B. Don't be an ass, he's just stoned or something," she said. "Let's go, I want a shot, then I want to dance."
With that she escorted him in the direction of the bar, then turned around and gave me an apologetic smile. I shrugged and shook the incident out of my mind. There were more people streaming through the doorway after I stepped aside. What had seemed like just a second to me had been much longer. I turned back to the dance floor, but the girl with the hypnotic stare was not there anymore.
It was downhill from there that night. For a while I cruised the place, jumping from face to face, trying to locate her. Eventually I had to give up, and parked myself in a corner of the bar. The flesh market was still open, but for some reason, I found myself unable to enter the mindset of it all. A normal night I'd be working the room, downing vodka and chewing stylish but empty conversation with some fashionably tipsy hotbed of giggles and sensuous allure. An out in the open foreplay to the late hour's inevitable encore of cheap sex in expensive wrapping.
But not tonight. Everything just felt out of tune. The music was dampened to a distant thumping, the smells of perfumes, smoke and sex all a pungent ooze that left nothing but distaste in my mouth instead of the titillating effect it used to have. My thoughts were sluggish, as if stuck in a muddy bog and slowly sinking.
Was I sick? Was it a misfire of recreational chemicals? Was it just that lousy a party? No, this was something else, the lack of something that I had felt the touch of for a few, fleeting seconds, a connection into another world. Her, that enigma with the strange hair and the piercing eyes. For reasons that a more logical side of me desperately tried to battle with, I just couldn't let her go.
It was a steady, smooth voice. Unwavering, crystal clear. I knew exactly whom it belonged to before I ever turned to face her. It was such a peculiar way to open a conversation that I forgot to put on my elaborate veneer of couldn't-care-less. I turned and found myself staring into the same radiant face that had caught my eyes in that magic moment before. She just gazed warmly back, her head tilted in a curious pose, and a small smile dancing on her lips. How long did I stay like that? Frozen in place, caught by a nexus of silent conversation while I frantically searched my memories for a lost vocabulary.
"Sorry for what?" I finally managed to croak out.
"I didn't mean to ruin your night. You weren't supposed to see me." Again an answer that defied all logic. She dressed to attract attention. But then again, so did everybody else. "I'm surprised you did."
"Well, here you are," I said, tentatively tagging along whatever game she was playing. "And I see you just fine. So what now? Can I buy you a drink?"
"No. No, you can't buy me a drink," she said. Probably the last answer I had been expecting, and delivered with such an easy air of matter-of-fact that it took me a few seconds to just process the impression.
"And…why is that?"
"Because there is no bar."
There was no bar. There were no people, there was no party, there was no room. Where they had gone, or when, I had no idea. Just that all of a sudden there was nothing in the world but me and that amazing creature, a woman with hair that moved too slow and with not one straight answer.
Stunned silent, I looked around me, trying to get my bearings. The stool I had been sitting on was just as gone as everything else, and I was literally hanging in thin air. Carefully, I eased myself from the non-chair and onto a floor that seemed to evade my gaze. All that was solid was the sensation of standing up. It was quiet in a way that suggested that there might be sound, but that if there was, it was not important. I realized that the same was valid for the physical room I was in. When I looked hard enough, I thought I might see hints of shapes, variations in the grey. Or that could just have been my imagination. It seemed like whatever the surroundings were, it wasn't quite real, and therefore didn't make the effort to materialise any more. The only thing to focus on was she, so that's what I did.
"Don't be afraid," she said.
And I wasn't. In retrospect I can't understand why not. However, in retrospect, not much of this makes sense anyway. I just know it happened, and what the hell, if I can amuse you for a while with this story of mine, then it's worth the effort. You may not believe a single word of it. See if I care.
She just stood there, two steps away, eyeing me like I was eyeing her. The unapologetic strength in her eyes had faded away slightly now, and it seemed like she actually was a bit nervous. It made her all the more beautiful. Her delicious lips, the inviting curve of her neck, the mound of breasts tightly hugged by a shamelessly tiny purple dress that just screamed to be torn off, smooth thighs and knees just begging to be spread and wrapped around…
I mentally slapped myself and managed to snap out of it. Fucking cobwebs of monkey brain horniness all of a sudden. What was I thinking? Here reality as I knew it had been tuned over the lap of faith and gotten a solid spanking, and my mind was in full rutting mode. What the hell was wrong with me? It didn't seem that the lady in question was aware of where my mind had just wandered off, though. She just stood there, seemingly anticipating my next move.
"Not how you expected this night to turn out, I guess," she said with a smile. "If it's any consolation, the same can be said for me. I didn't expect such sharp sight, not in a place like this. You didn't see what other men see. What I wanted you to see. Some old people, yes. They spot me. Think I'm an angel, or devil, depending on what they expect to face. But almost never one as young as you."
"You move…differently. Your hair. It never quite falls down."
She laughed softly. "So that's what it was. I never thought it would give me away. " Again, a pause, and that enigmatic gaze. "I guess you have questions?"
Did I have questions?
"I don't even know where to fucking start. Where are we?"
"Ah, yes. One of the difficult ones. I guess you could call this the VIP lounge of my life. Technically, we're at that bar. But in a slice of time that's mine when I need it. I don't know the science, I just go by feeling."
"Alright, alright… doesn't really matter, now does it?" I said and took a deep breath. "I'm here and alive, so it can't be bad. I am alive, right? And you'll bring me back to where we were eventually?"
"Of course," she said.
"Alright then. My next question is probably easier. My name is Christopher. Christopher Blaine. What's yours?"
She looked at me with those incredible eyes, but there was a hint of something. No, there was actually much more than a hint of honest pain in them now. When she replied, that clear and steady voice had an unmistakable quiver of high-strung nerves in it, and she spoke carefully, as if trying the words out for herself.
"I'm not quite sure. But I think…I think it might be Manhattan."
She took a step closer, then another. I could have reached out and touched her. My monkey brain made my arms twitch in that direction. But I didn't, I dared not move a muscle. It felt like if I did something wrong, this dream, this bizarre stage would flutter away like a butterfly.
"I said, it might be Manhattan," she said. "But I'm not sure. Would you know who you are if nobody had ever told you? I just am, and I don't know where I…began. But please, let's not think about that now, it's a subject for another day. If you want to, I promise there will be another day for that. Talking about what I am just reminds me too much of what I'm not. And that really ruins my mood. Let's just focus on this: I chose you, and I took you here. It's just you and me. Nothing else, for as long as we wish. Now, what are you going to do about it?"
My knees were shaking now. I felt her hands on my chest, moving up and over my shoulders. Soon her arms were wrapped around my neck, and her face just an inch from mine. My body was on autopilot, and before I knew it, my hands were on her back too. I felt her breath, on my cheek as she leaned in to whisper in my ear.
"Christopher Blaine, what do you think of my body?"
"You sure say that word a lot," she said with a warm giggle. "But seriously, is it good? All the right amounts in the right places? Does it look right, does it feel right?"
With that she leaned in and pressed her chest against me. It was so utterly bizarre. I was in dreamland, in the twilight zone, in the Matrix mainframe, hell knows what was going on, and hell knows what that girl was. And hell knows why I wasn't out of my mind by then, screaming, tearing my hair and trying to climb walls that weren't there. But all I could think about was how wonderful she felt against me, how badly I wanted to put my mouth to her naked skin and suck until there was no unkissed spot left, how I longed to feel her gorgeous lips wrapped around the head of my cock, to drink the juices from between her legs, to sink deep inside and shoot load after load… Jesus, I was lost. But I wouldn't want it any other way.
"Uh y-yeah. It's perfect," I managed to stutter.
"Thank you," she murmured in my ear in a soft, reassuring voice. "I've only had a body for a little while, only since I started wondering what it was like, that thing that occupies your minds, day and night after night after night. Yes, I'm Manhattan. Or I could be. The past is a blur, and I've found no answer to what or why I am. At least I know this place is a part of me. I know all the souls, I hear every thought, see every dream, every secret little fantasy that makes your blood boil. But I didn't understand, because I didn't feel. I couldn't sense what you did. Not until now. And once I had one taste, the desire, the sensation, the madness of it all, I keep coming back for more. I play all your strange little games and tell my little white lies, just to feel. Just to be in that moment. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?"
I felt her heart beat just inches from mine, the rhythm of her breath as the spoke, the slow rocking motion of her hips pressing into mine, almost like a dance to the music of her soft words filling up my head. I almost couldn't hear what she said anymore, that voice, that voice shut out everything else in the world. My sense of where I was or why seemed less and less like it really mattered.
"Christopher, come on, help me feel. I think this might be it, you know. All the others, the lies and the acts I had to play… Yeah, sure, it was nice. But I know, I just know it can be much better. When I saw you I knew it could be different. If I didn't have to lie, if I could…relax and just give in to the moment."
Her lips brushed by my cheek and over my mouth, and she whispered, so faintly it was barely audible. I might just have read the notion of the way her lips moved on top of mine.
"Please, I need you. Come on, you're not afraid, are you?"
I was a heartbeat from snapping, tearing away my last resistance and tearing that thin fabric off her body. I knew I was being had, the logical me had reluctantly taken the back seat and just noted for the record that there was something here messing with my head. Folding like a virgin in Vegas under any seductive moves, however perfect, wasn't me. But right then I didn't care. Something else held me back, though.
"No…stop," I breathed and retreated a step. "Not here. In here it'd be different than the real thing. Can we go some place? Some place…I don't know…solid?"
I could see the urgency burning in her eyes. First she looked almost furious that I backed off, but her expression softened, morphed into that unspoken question, a curious light behind her eyes and a small knowing smile.
"You're right. You're absolutely right. So kiss me."
She said it with such certainty, as if it was the most logical chain of notions, that I didn't even react. I just tightened my grip on her, pulled her delicious frame towards me again and held on for all I was worth as she at first pressed her lips gently against mine. Her tongue ventured in between my lips and I met it with the tip of my own. Just that single sensation, a soft connection of intimacy, sent my head spinning and set off the greed trigger. I sucked her tongue deeper into my mouth and savoured the peculiar, intoxicating mixture of vodka, peppermint, saliva and golden expectations. I was completely lost in the moment, the horizon of my awareness limited to the wet caressing of our tongues sliding together, our lips in a primal lock and our bodies clung close to each other. How long we stood like that, I have no idea. When we finally emerged from that powerful snapshot it was with a breathless tremble. I was surprised I still managed to stand up straight.
As I slowly became aware of my surroundings, it was strikingly obvious that things had changed. The light was dampened. I saw walls, I felt a texture in the floor, I could hear the presence of something other than the void from moments before in the character of sounds. There was distant city street buzz. A faint siren was fading away. As my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, I saw what must be a pretty moderate budgeted hotel room with all its tell-tales. The made double bed, the folded towels on the side, the kind of heavy blinds that you only see in hotel rooms and offices. It sure wasn't the honeymoon suite, which I felt grateful for. That would have been a bit too much.
"Do you like it?" the woman still in my arms asked. "I've always imagined that this is what people mean when they say 'get a room'. Well, I got a room."