Plastic LovebyLauren Hynde©
Knowing each drug that numbs, alerts another nerve to pain.
– Robert Lowell
In short: yes, it could have been no more than a dream. Acetylcholine neurons bombarding his fore- and midbrain with electrical impulses and random images during REM sleep.
It could have been a hallucination caused by physical exhaustion, by mental fatigue, or even by something he had eaten. Between his regular research assignments at GSK Pharmaceutics and his furtive off-hours project, it had been months since Alex last had a proper meal.
The bottom line is, working for such an extended period with experimental, highly concentrated pheromone cocktails and illegal, highly unstable manipulations of ibogaine compounds using the company's laboratories in secrecy would always be expected to have some sort of effect on anyone's psyche.
On anyone's brilliant, socially inept and sex-deprived psyche.
A psyche on the verge of isolating the active principles that would justify over seven years of intensive research, after which it would be only a matter of time until, by means of a calculated application of a perfume-like elixir, all women fell desperately in love with him the second the fragrance reached their delicate nostrils.
A psyche completely obsessed with visions of the endless debauchery to come.
Stroboscopic close-ups of female bodies: blood-red fleshy lips, the delicate curve of a firm breast, the soft cushion of a buttock, the curl of a well-shaped hip, the toned skin of a thigh, the arch of a damp perineum, smooth slender hands, legs, ankles, shoulder blades, navels, calves, nipples, droplets of sweat.
Dozens, hundreds of entangled, lithe bodies, dancing, slithering around him, undulating, as perfectly synchronised as if it were a single sexual entity trapped between two gigantic mirrors, multiplied to infinity, an ocean of carnal pleasure overloading his senses, slow- but steadily submerging, drowning, trapping him inside a vortex of lust, until all he could hear was the beating of his own heart, faster and faster, louder. Louder. Thump. Thump. Thump.
5:50 AM. The relentless buzz and the fluorescent blue pulse of the alarm clock's display flooded the room, rapidly flashing, struggling to keep in time with his heartbeat.
Alex's eyes shot open and found Lana Turner, deadly and unassailable, staring right back into him from her A1-sized clip-framed black-and-white poster of "The Postman Always Rings Twice".
Accelerated heart rate. Probable causes include fever; hyperstimulation of cardiac sympathetic nerves; abnormally high level of thyroid hormones and adrenaline; drug abuse, including epinephrine, ephedrine, atropine, digoxin; a weak heart.
Lana gazed coldly over Alex's motionless frame for the long time that took him to fully awake to the day's new reality. His eyes moved down her body and then shifted to the other poster on that wall, where Rita Hayworth remained glowing and freeze-framed as Gilda.
He adjusted his semi-rigid cock with his right hand, studying her profiled figure, and briefly considered conjuring up a fantasy about her, about Lana, or even about the two of them lezzing it up.
Rita wanted it. He could tell.
He smiled knowingly and rolled over, staring at the blue-lit ceiling for another minute, making sure he was indeed awake.
Grandeur isn't compatible with lethargy, Alex finally told himself. That day, he almost believed it.
He got up, headed to the bathroom, and went through his daily routine, getting ready for what was sure to be the most glorious day of his career, the most glorious day of his life.
That dream had definitely had a certain foreboding edge.
Seven hard years it had been, but he was certain of having discovered the long sought-after love potion. There were still, of course, details that needed further investigation. For how long would the potion be effective? Would its effects persist in absence of the source, and if so, for how much time? Would the quantity of the essence inhaled and the passion awakened be in direct proportion, and if so, would it be a linear, exponential or geometrical proportion? Given enough dosage, could the effects become permanently etched into a subject's personality?
The importance and urgency of these questions, and the risks involved, had convinced him that the inevitable field tests should be conducted as soon and as far away from home as possible. Any place where he had extensive social connections had to be avoided.
However, they would have to take place in a fairly large and densely populated area, where the opportunities for different subjects to interact would be limited. If anything were to go wrong, the size of the testing ground and its relative distance to familiar places would also provide the necessary protection and anonymity, even if a quick getaway were in order.
The final decision met him that afternoon in his office, in a both surprising and somehow befitting way. A neuropharmacology seminar to be held in Cannes, three months from then, would provide the perfect cover. With the luxurious research-parks, science-parks and technopoles that form the new high-tech Côte d'Azur, all eventual adjustments to the formula dictated by the experiment's evolution would be made easy.
By then, the influx of tourists would be unbelievably high. This would allow him to blend in, like a lion lying low within a herd of antelopes, waiting for the moment to charge the unsuspecting prey.
Besides, he thought, the summer fauna of the region holds mindless sexual interaction high in its list of objectives, so any moral issues could be bypassed without concern.
The wait wouldn't be long. He smiled, foreseeing successes and difficulties. Mostly successes.
During the following months, Alex tried to perfect his formula and analytically predict the outcome of as many scenarios as he could think of, but the lab stage had come to an end. Experimentation was more than a necessity. It was a craving.
On the last weekend of June, Alex woke up nervous.
Carefully, he reviewed the content of the bags he had packed the night before, went through the motions imposed by the long checklist he had prepared, itemising the chemical components and literature his work would require. Amongst them, there was a small leather case, containing ten sealed glass ampoules.
Before long, he was on his way to the airport.
The high temperatures were unspoken invitations for nocturnal walks, and Alex had no intention of rejecting them.
In his hotel room, a white minimalist space, anonymous and functional to the core, the only reminder of a real, textured world was a large Victorian mirror in a crumbling frame leaning against a wall, the blemished silver surface a witness to its antiquity. It took him three quarters of an hour in front of it to choose his outfit, because, as they say, the devil lives in the details.
Red serge trousers, white shirt, light brown suede shoes.
The years he spent in his sheltered laboratory had given him a fair complexion that didn't go well with the white shirt. Maybe something beige.
He ended up deciding in favour of a dark coloured shirt. It seemed to be the only way of taking advantage of his pale skin.
He changed his shirt, his trousers – safari style khakis – and put on a pair of sailing shoes, no socks.
He felt completely inadequate.
It had been a lifetime since he had dressed in such an uncompromised fashion. He always wore a suit, but he didn't need to have that great a power of self-analysis to realise that he was a poor dresser.
Why waste time and money with his wardrobe? He didn't go out that much anymore and never had any luck with women. The ones he worked with at the lab looked at him with just about as much wanton fervour as if he were a test-tube, an amino-acid sequencer, or a high-pressure liquid chromatograph.
When he finally looked in the mirror, he tried to carefully examine his new look from every angle, or at least from those his neck, rigid from the long-lasting inactivity, would allow.
Not bad, not bad at all. He didn't even look like the same person.
Suddenly, his gaze locked, horrified, upon the ghastly sight of his ankles, peeking out from between his trousers and shoes, ashen as if a vampire had sucked him dry.
There was only one thing to do: the following day he would have to skip the seminars, run to the beach and smear himself with an assortment of tanning lotions.
A second later, however, the thought made him smile.
Wasn't he in possession of a potion that would supposedly turn any woman into his willing sex slave, no matter how he looked? In that case, why go through all this trouble?
In fact, wouldn't the experiment be that much more valid if, even presenting himself in his natural shabby and neglectful state, he could still arouse instant passion?
That evening, Alex decided, he would not use the elixir. He would make an incursion into the environment where the experiment was set to take place, in order to establish all of the variables involved.
A final glance at the mirror, and he walked out the hotel room door, determination engraved in his face.
Carefully chosen, the street outside his hotel was a genuine passerelle of mundane mannequins. Muscled, copper coloured bodies strolled, conscious of the lustfulness they roused.
The reigning disposition was an annoying faux-naiveté, but this artificial beauty pleased Alex. His eyes wandered through these superior entities and, for a moment, he forgave them for being gorgeous. An exotic, fulminating beauty waved at him sensually, freezing him on the spot. Unfortunately, he immediately understood, it was actually meant for the reincarnated Apollo standing behind him.
And that did it.
It made him want to burst and charge with all his intellectual fury against the superficiality of these... these empty wrappers, trying to sell a product that just wasn't there, pretentious illusions unaware of their frugality, fermions circumventing about nonexistent nucle–
Oh! A very pleasant gaze clearly directed at him by a seemingly Nordic beauty.
He rapidly concluded it best not to be swept away by the scientific rigour of his analysis and that he was probably being unfair. After all, they were only enjoying some well deserved time off, in a surrounding where intellectual pondering didn't need to be overly rated.
Still spellbound by that licentious if fleeting look, Alex allowed himself to enter the colourful sidewalk and to be taken by the undulating crowd towards one of the many restaurants of rue d'Antibes.
More or less miraculously, he managed to get a table on the terrace where he thought it possible to enjoy the delights of the scenery, au flavour of a shitload of prawns.
As an unforeseen bonus, he got the chance to confirm that in life all pleasures come with a price: his waiter, probably influenced by the ethereal vacuum within, faced the passage of time as the dawdling flow of eternity.
Long, tedious periods interposed between sitting, clearing off the last patrons' leftovers, bringing the menu, setting the table, returning with the glass he had forgotten, taking the order and the arrival of the meal, and could only be compared to the despondent wait for the bill.
Alex thought, for the first time in his life, that he had finally grasped the concept of Eternal – of the endless to come – an important and misunderstood part of his Catholic upbringing.
At length, when his penitence came to an end, he got up and followed his path through the dynamic streets, all the way to la Croisette.
A jostling crowd of tanned, tight bodies, sorted out in good-humoured packs, made for a relaxed and honest environment. Everywhere he looked, Alex spotted potential elements of his sample group. Beautiful women, colourfully dressed, seemed to be volunteering themselves to scientific experimentation, showcasing their attributes.
It was comfortable, by the sea. Families and friends were chatting happily. Alex could feel that for quite a few of them it was time for the daily hygienic promenade, to stretch the muscles and forget afternoons more sluggish than they would care to admit.
Within a few hours, however, the elders would retire to their hotel rooms and the young would be submerged in a sea of smoke and techno music in one of the many discothèques and bars in town.
He sat on the low wall doubling as a bench along the boulevard, and let his eyes wander through the crowd.
Suddenly, he saw her. A gorgeous blonde in her mid-twenties had stopped just a few metres in front of him. She slow- and deliberately exhaled the smoke of a king-sized cigarette through luscious blood-red lips.
Between glances over the transient mass and the beach, she offered him a sustained and positively inebriant look that threw Alex completely out of balance.
Much apropos in Europe's celluloid Mecca, scenes of the many movies that had kept him company during nights of vigil unravelled before his eyes; scenes where male protagonists were besieged by mysterious, sensual women, with seductive and undisguised designs. The mere thought of being about to re-enact that scenario turned him into a bottomless pit of disquiet redness.
She put out her already almost completely consumed cigarette under an impossibly high heel and walked up to him, sitting close enough to send a lesser man into cardiac arrest.
She coughed softly, and the sound played the scientist's eardrums like the chant of a Siren.
She crossed her leg, and Alex noticed, with all the amplitude the corner of his eye allowed, that it was a fantastically well-shaped line, free-flowing from underneath the hem of a dark short dress that clung tightly to her body. His iris almost disappeared in an effort to capture her hand as it traced a line up that leg and rested on her silky, sun-darkened thigh.
Alex was no more than an unruly whirlwind of lust and expectation.
He could see her smiling at him mischievously, moving her hand to caress the inside of her thigh, smoothing the dress over her firm stomach with the other, cupping one of her full breasts. Alex couldn't dare breathe, in amazement and fear of breaking the spell. At the sight of her tongue as it moistened her lips, he felt his cock stir and come to life. She placed her hand on his knee, and began to trace a line with the tip of her fingers, slowly up his inner thigh, millimetres from his crotch. In one swift movement, she was on her knees, between his legs. Oblivious to the crowd, she stared into Alex's eyes, and her hand resumed the torturously slow motion and squeezed his growing bulge. Alex gasped. She pulled down his fly and slid her hand inside, releasing his cock to the warm Mediterranean night. Her clear blue eyes widened with lust when she saw a droplet of precum emerging from his slit, and she leaned in eagerly, wrapping her juicy red lips around his big, hard–
'Got a light?'
She spoke! Not only that, but she spoke to him! And hadn't she just finished a cigarette? The blonde was either a compulsive chain smoker or she was darting the obvious pretext of a tease.
As soon as it left its lips, Alex repented the juvenile outburst and turned to face her, feigning nonchalance to the best of his ability.
'Yes, yes... Um... Let's see. Where did I put the cig-a-rette-ligh-ter...'
He tried to rummage through his pockets without getting up, and the result was worthy of a Marx Brother's extravaganza. Half hunched, Alex searched frantically in his trousers, but couldn't find the damned thing.
'Where did I–?'
'I think it's in your shirt pocket,' she said pointing the familiar bulge on his chest.
'Uh, right... Um... Sorry about that.'
Alex smiled, suddenly calm and poised, and brought a flame to life with a subtle but sonorously virile flick of a finger.
He viewed himself as if through the lenses of a Bolex H16, holding the lighter up to the long cigarette, and saw Humphrey Bogart starring opposite Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca".
He exuded charm and confidence.
He felt in absolute control.
And then he noticed the lighter he was holding: cheap, colossal, white plastic, ornamented with an inscription that shouted, "Ace Yoke – exhaust systems for all vehicles" in giant red letters, under an equally huge logotype, photo-realistically showing an exhaust pipe.
His smile waned away.
Like a skydiver with a sabotaged parachute, Alex fell inexorably into harsh reality.
'Thank you,' the blonde breathed coolly, casting him a long, warm smile. She then got up, straightened the dress over her thighs, and melted back into the stream of people walking along the boulevard.
Alex clung to that pleasant farewell as he watched her disappear into the big unknown of her promenade.
For a first contact with the womanly array of the region, he didn't do badly at all.
What was he expecting? For some dazzling beauty to come out of nowhere, sit next to him and whisper unspeakable erotic proposals in his ear? To be told, immediately and for no apparent reason, that he had an exotic and ravishing look, to wish no woman could resist? To be shamelessly asked the pertinent my-place-or-your-place question?
No! Reality must prevail.
The fleeting but intense exchange of fiery interests had been a wonderful prelude for the long days ahead of him. The small adventure had inflamed his disposition and sentenced: for the first time in years, he would go out clubbing. He would go to a discothèque.
You wanna be the one, but you know you're someone else instead;
You want to be the song, be the song that you hear in your he-e-e-e-ead!
Bono's words blasted out of the gigantic speakers as if to describe the scene unravelling on the dance floor. An electrified crowd exorcised their demons in an abandoned dance, reverberating in synch with the solid chunks of sound that had viciously taken over the place of all breathable air, spun seamlessly by some legendary DJ.
Young men and women, looking like semi-naked fashion models and high-strung film students, surrendered to the music and let their bodies be assailed by flickering lights and massive doses of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid.
In the mezzanine, vodka-martini in one hand, Alex waded past groups of teenagers trancing out on the light patterns that formed across the burgundy velvet walls, past thin boys in dark sunglasses and black leather jackets, past girls with pouting plum-coloured lips, past socially-conscious drug dealers peddling tabs of MDMA, past people in Nigerian agbadas, in baggy pants, in combat-wear, in wet-look plastic. The red and white lights strobing out of control made the floor spin around and then disappear altogether as he stepped into the steel catwalk that hung above the dance floor.
Trying to regain balance, he held on firmly to the cold railing and scanned his surroundings, making a mental note of every detail. He knew already that the following night he would be back, vodka-martini in one hand, wading past groups of teenagers, repeating every move, but armed with his psychotropic prototype.
At one corner, an eastern European blonde in a see-through blouse was dancing languidly in the middle of an eclectic circle of young men and being encouraged to take it off. To his right, at the head of the stairs to which the catwalk led, two girls held each other in their arms and spoke in whispered caresses.
Closer to him, Alex noticed, a small group of young men also studied the room's kaleidoscopic reality with predatory eyes. All stylishly dressed in black, all with a drink in one hand, all perfect living demonstrations of the Darwinian theories of the inherent adaptability of every being to their ecosystem.