Before they hit the bars they agreed to meet and eat at TGI Friday's.
The evening was liquid. Streams of colored light reflected on roads teeming with mingled fluids, wished-for outcomes made manifest.
Her friends had eaten all the cheese-covered nachos. To hell with them, she thought. I will be the virtuous one and eat a plain chip without cheese or sour cream or even guacamole. When she closed her eyes and placed the chip in her mouth and let it sit on her tongue, she was suddenly twelve again, and she heard someone whisper "Body of Christ," to which she murmured an earnest "Amen."
As it softened and dissolved on her still tongue, she tried not to smile.
She wore the piety of her own awkward holiness like a costume halo until the priest cleared his throat and shot her a look, as if to say, "Don't overdo it. You can't stay on your knees forever, girl."
Ironic advice from a priest. Advice she had forgotten until now. (But he hadn't said it, had he?)
Migrant. An emotive word, though not like refugee. Maybe I hear the blare of controversy via the thin high line I can trace to my family's story. A story not all that different from any other: history, herstory, theirstory. But it sings to me the gravity of movement. And of banishment. And of irony.
I drank it all. Turned it up to eleven. Poured every taste into my gaping hunger. Insatiable. Daubed oils on a canvas, smeared from it a story. Inhaled a hundred women. Soothed them, was soothed by them. Concocted new and bloodier Caesars. Dropped from sheer cliffs into a tumult of surf. Reckoned with the surging waves. Made of their concussions a prayer cycle. Shucked oysters, eyed tide pools, gripped a woman's hips before my face and breathed—lustful, littoral, deeply consensual.
The sky ain't right, and people have lost their minds.
Hand me that guitar, and I'll try to calm them.
Three chords: Em7, D/F#, G. Capo on the second fret. Pick or strum, I don't care. Be playful.
You got a phone? A landline? Flat black. Most retro. Or maybe sensible. Listen. Phone your people, let them twitch their isolated minds and cry their goddamned brains out.
You rode that dusty Mediterranean train north. Watched the parched lands fall behind the multiscratched window. You had no money, having squandered it on ouzo and women and lukewarm moussaka while the islands dreamed like ignorant children, of pale olive groves and hot white stasis. You boarded the slowest train. Hunger in your belly and boredom in your brainpan, dwindling memories of a killing. Athens, seed of anise, dark abandoned Albania. Each time it pulled into a station, children ran along the dirty platform, desperate to sell water or bread or newspapers or beer. You also wanted those things. But each time, you sat staring like an ancient exiled wolf as the slow train pulled out and continued north, feeling the outlaw clench of your slattern ribs grip your ailing heart. Athens to Belgrade to Venice to Cologne. Retracing your earlier steps, your lighter ones. Seventy-two tender and stupefying hours. Stripped to essentials. Across from you: a multilingual man teaching fellow-travelers tricks with ping-pong balls, juggling and swallowing them, sequestered in a compartment all his own, and begrudged by no one.
You recall the squat moustachioed man below the Acropolis, bending steel bars, his wide stance outlandish under such duress, beside so iconic a browbeat of history. His short legs like dwarf trees, his facial hair dark as a painted gasp, his grunts like the croak of goats amid the soft winsome reek of leather.
All passed now into memory.
You are that girl. You will always be that girl. Stood atop a headland, attuned to the noise of a calamitous ocean. That bedlam tide. Scanning the heather, the dunes, the stunted trees. Come back to me. Come back. I wrote songs for you, transcribed my dreams, channeled the declarations of a hundred lovers. Stay here. This is temporary. You have a bedroom and a kitchen, with a hotplate. Stay here. I will return. You have my word. The traffic passes by your window like the endless surf. I promise my love is like a branch; touch it. Run your fingertips over my extended covenant, and believe.
She didn't want the night to end. She even took an offered cigarette, although she'd quit them years before, and lit it and inhaled its enthrall. Stayed on the sidewalk, absorbing the revelry, the bright nocturnal glory.
"I don't wanna go home yet." Panting. Expectant. Like a challenge to fate.
"Me either. Let's try and score something."
"Right. Get fucked up."
"That's the damn spirit, girl."
Is it, though?
That was the side effect, the tape worm, le ténia. You might even say it's irreversible. A world where the tracks shake, murder takes place, conspirators assemble, and where the passersby ignore the rare cry of a downcast upstart. And deny all levity. And sing:
"Metal heart. You're not worth a thing."
She found herself alone and tried to call a cab, then an Uber. No one came; then her phone died. She walked in the direction of her home, a snug and cheery apartment on the west side of the city. Cars passed her, and most left her alone. The odd one carried angry men, spurting ugly names as they passed at speed. Monikers. Epithets. Misogyny is never abstract; some men fear the dark blood enough they vow to spill it wherever. She had to cross a dark bridge over a darker river, the sky a deep purple and empty of stars. The night itself blinking stupidly in the bright black shadows cast by domestic aftershock.
A woman alone cannot beg. She must fold herself into a new coalition. A contract between herself and the wanton night. Cries. Whispers. Veiled things.
She felt them in the nape of her neck before she fully clocked them. Four men like hammerheads, though far less clean. And though she kept on walking, they converged.
"Looky, looky," said one, his grin a scar on his shadow face, "we so lucky."
She kept on walking, relinquishing eye contact, while the new silence felt ordained, gravid.
She kept on walking. Until she no longer could, at which point they fell on her.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," she heard her voice say, and the prayerful shafts of golden light annulled the pain, the memory of dust motes and the soft organic scent of damp wool, the sacred pungent backdrop of incense, the priest's shy and gentle coughs, rushing to replace the dreadful now with the tender then, her gaze raised to the amethyst heavens, her inviolate sovereignty, her focus now fixed on eternity, forever and ever. Trained on the numbing expanse of God's endless silence.