Sunday, 23 April 2017

Confusions of a Wasted Youth
by Kenna Jenkins

She honestly doesn’t know what she’s doing here, among all of these models and designers and makeup artists. For a moment she can’t quite remember why she’s here, can’t think of a possible reason. She can only feel the pounding of the music in her ears, rhythmic and heavy and strong, and feel the crush of bodies around her as all these people mosh and grind against each other. It’s not as if she’s here for the dancing, so that’s one thing off the list- this music, this kind of dancing, so up close and personal with flesh sliding sinuously against flesh and people way too close together- that’s not really her thing.
(And yet she’s still dancing, mingling with these predators and their prey. She doesn’t think she’s either- she doesn’t have the dead, lifeless eyes of the prey, nor the sharp smirks and angles of the predators. Rather, she thinks she might be something different, something...other. Maybe a bottom feeder, skulking about the room for the scraps of gossip that people inadvertently drop, or maybe a piece of algae, drifting about creating her own sustenance, her own life.)
The bass drops, and somehow in between the beats she finds a way to think again even as she twirls and shimmies past another faceless boy. She doesn’t think she’s here for the company, either- she recognizes most people in the room only faintly, as if she’s seen them somewhere before but never cared to learn more. She thinks it’s models that she senses familiarity with most often, though they all seem to blur together after awhile (maybe she’s had too much to drink, or maybe she’s just the only sane person in a sea of drunken madness). She wonders why, really, as they’re either predators or prey and they’re all drunk out of their minds, unable to care about who or what they’re doing.
Their beauty is as deep as a piece of paper, as transient and pretty as the sunset, and as flaking and gilded as Versailles. It’s nothing but a facade for what lies beneath the makeup, the fabrics, the shimmering lights- humanity itself, degraded to the skinniest, most skeletal of professions. Breath mints and gum do a horrible job of disguising the stench of tangy blood and vodka and stomach acid on the breath of the girl in front of her.
(Maybe she’s here as a makeup artist?)
She doesn’t quite know what’s happening right now as she totters on her heels, making her way out of the gyrating, wasted figures on the dancefloor as the music shifts, transforming into some poppy crap masquerading as a rock song. The wine in her glass sloshes around precariously as it shifts in her hand, but she can’t quite bring herself to really care. She is surrounded by dolls and the people who created them- a spill would make them imperfect, would destroy the artifice of divinity that the models all seem to carry around. She finds herself smiling, a vicious little grin that bares her imperfect, not-quite-white teeth, at the fantasy of the deep red wine in her glass splattering and staining the slinky white dress of the girl in front of her. It’s a beautiful image, the crimson staining the dress like blood, destroying the already shaky illusion of innocence-
She snarls in disgust at herself even thinking like that (thinking like them), and nearly ends up shattering her glass at the floor in her vehemence to put it down on the table.
“So someone’s in a pissy mood. Isn’t that right, kit?” A familiar voice asks, and she turns to find one of those empty beings, a smirking Adonis draped in some cutting-edge ensemble that manages to somehow make him look like he’s not slowly dying from the inside out.
“Get lost, Harry,” she snaps, and he pouts. Even pouting he is beautiful, a pretty little thing, but she can’t quite tell if the teasing twinkle in his eye is real or just from the glittery eye shadow he’s wearing. He looks just like the rest of them, a specimen of humanity that somehow manages to make her feel like a lesser creature, a lesser version of the level of human he is.
Yet, somehow, he is different-
She doesn’t know how, though, and it makes her curious. How is it that he manages to make his limbs, long sticks of plastic topped in his popsicle sticks of fingers and toes, and the hollow cavities that form his cheeks and stomach look so natural?
Darling,” he drawls, and it sounds more like dah-lang than anything else, “How much I admire your spunk.”
Her eyes narrow as she glares at him, and she almost wishes that she could determine for certain whether she sees life in his reflective gray eyes. She can’t tell whether they are are truly alive, that he is not yet gone completely, or whether they’re just reflecting the strobe lights over the dancefloor.
He smirks. “Feisty, aren’t (ahn’t) we?”
“You deserve it, Harry, trust me.”
He grins, teeth glinting shark-like under the lights, and though she knows she should be afraid, should be feeling a thrill of fear running up her spine, she isn’t. Instead she lets her gaze follow the lines in his face as he leans back to take a swig of his wine, trailing them down his neck, lingering in the hollow above his collarbones. If she wanted to she could just reach out and snap his collarbones, they’re that brittle and thin, and-
She’s not violent like that, she knows that for sure.
It’s a fairytale, almost, one of those where the villain is clothed in the guise of an angel. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, lurking about trying to snatch up the little girl in the red dress. She can’t quite tell which he is- an angel masquerading amongst devils, or a devil cloaked as an angel. She can’t tell, she doesn’t know, and she hates not knowing.
Yet she does know him somehow, knows his name, knows who he is, so she must know the answer- predator or prey? Angel or demon?
Real or not real?
“Oh real-ly?” he asks, drawing out the real in really, and though she knows it’s supposed to be cocky and arrogant it just sounds a bit haunting, an echo of something long forgotten. She feels like she knew him better, once, but now she knows nothing. “And why would that be?”
To say I don’t know would be a mistake, at least at this point, but to lie would be to place her amongst their ranks, amongst the deceivers and charlatans that make up their world. But who’s to say she isn’t one of them already, or at least on the path to becoming one of them? A girl in a dress the color of the blood wine she drinks, dancing amongst synthetic perfection- who knows who she really is?
Even she has no idea who she is.
She nibbles on her bottom lip, wishing that she knew why she’s here. She vaguely remembers showing up at the door of the bar earlier, invitation in hand, hair pulled up into a messy bun, high heels pinching her toes, and a dress of vermilion caressing her legs. After that...it’s just heat and dancing and alcohol.
“No reason,” she says, and maybe it’s a second too quick, a mite too defensive, because he gives her a curious look, the slightest tilt of the head that has his gel-shellacked curls shifting like ice floes cracking on a polar sea.
“Then why’d you say that?” His eyes have softened from an icy steel to a stormy cloud, and something there confuses her, makes her wonder.
“I don’t really know, honestly,” she admits, and for the first time she thinks she sees true emotion in the perfect planes of his face. The slightest twist downward of Botoxed lips, the smallest of small cracks in the skin by his eyes- they are a fissure in the most perfect of facades.
“I thought you wouldn’t,” he says, and there’s a strange lilt to his voice. She can’t quite identify it, but she thinks that it might be somewhere between resignation and reluctant triumph.
“Why?” she asks through dry lips, and she runs her tongue over her teeth and lips to moisten them. The craving for alcohol hits deep, and her fingers shake as her body aches for the bitter, burning taste of tequila.
No, she’s done with that. She’s done.
(Then why had she been holding a wineglass earlier as she danced, not caring as the red liquid hit her throat and burned going down?)
“You’ve forgotten again, dah-lang,” he says softly, rocking forward on his heels a little, thin limbs reminding her of a baby bird trying to lift off, trying to escape this mortal realm.
She frowns as he drains the last of his glass, tipping it in back in a swift, practiced motion. She remembers, vaguely, another night like this one- strobing lights, dancing, a different red dress- but she can recall nothing but small flashes, insignificant details. “I-” she starts, but her voice wavers and she shuts her mouth, trapping the memories inside of her.
He smiles, but it’s not the shark’s grin of introduction, nor the smirk of triumph of earlier. It’s a small, sad little thing, a curve of the lips that looks like it belongs on a lesser, more malleable human. It seems patched together, almost, brittle and delicate- simultaneously fake and all too real at the same time, half-mask and half-genuine. Once again she can’t tell, but unlike before it just makes her kind of sad. “I don’t expect you to remember,” he says, tone wistful, and she wishes she could figure this out, figure out why she’s here, why she’s doing anything at all-
A girl bumps into her from behind, hip knifing into her side. “What the hell?” she shouts, turning to figure out who it is, and finds the girl from earlier, the one in the white dress, even more unsteady and shaky than she is.
The girl grins, showcasing a mouth of cigarette-tar stained teeth, and holds out her glass of vodka. “Want some?” she says, jiggling it tantalizingly in front of her face, and it takes all she has to shake her head and turn back around to face him even as the craving for alcohol jackknifes deep in her stomach. She wants-needs-to know why she’s here.
“You know me,” she says, and it almost sounds like I know you.
Her brain catches on that word- almost. On the edge of truth, so close to answers- on the edge of, period.
A corner of his mouth quirks up. “Yes I do, dah-lang,” he says, and she knows he’s choosing not elaborate. She raises an eyebrow, feeling like her face is cracking as she does, and he sighs. “You come here (he-ah) every Thursday night. You have ever since the accident.”
“What accident?” she asks as the song changes to something more intense, something with more of a bass line and a heavier beat. Her head begins to throb again, the music pounding out a dizzying beat, but she focuses on him.
“You used to work here,” he says as he tosses his glass into a nearby trashcan, and now she knows. Predator or prey? A girl in skirts of blood, moving unnoticed through a crowd of sharks- there must be a reason none seek to gobble her up.
She reaches up to touch her cheek and finds sharp cheekbones and sunken cheeks, traces her neck down to her own collarbone and finds hollows. She closes her eyes, the only light the dim red that is diffused past her eyelids. She’s a skeleton clothed in the illusion of life, just like them- she’s a creature (on Thursday nights at least, who knows what she does the rest of the time) living on music and booze and dancing. Wasted on alcohol, wasting away her life- her mouth goes dry as she tries to breathe, to take in deep breaths that will keep her from crumpling to her knees.
“Okay,” she says, but she feels a million miles away from this conversation. There is alcohol burning in her veins, music battering her eardrums, and a crowd of faceless predators swarming feet away. She opens her eyes, letting the spastic lighting back in. “And who are you to me? Harry, I get that, but who’s he?”
She thinks she sees him wince, but she’s not sure at what she said that he’s wincing. “An old friend,” he says, “Let’s leave it that.”
She wants to know, she wants-
“I think I’m losing my mind,” she murmurs, and she sees it in slow motion, almost, the strobes flickering across his face as that sad smile slowly carves itself back onto his face.
“You’re not losing your mind- you’re just forgetting,” he says, and his words are starting to hurt her head now. “You won't remember a thing in the morning- you never do. Every Thursday you show up, Isabelle hanging out drunk somewhere in the crowd, and end up forgetting by morning. Some kind of amnesia, she says.”
“But why here?” she asks, wanting so desperately to know.
He shrugs, impossibly sharp shoulders shifting the fabric clinging to his shoulders. “You used to work with them, with us,” he says. “Eighteen years old- I guess you’re attracted to the nightlife. We all are (ah), really.”
I’m a hypocrite, she thinks, thoughts already starting to come apart, splintering and pounding through her head. A hypocrite, ‘cause I’m just like them, because I am them, because...because-
His eyes flick up to the wall, and she turns a little to see what he’s looking at. A digital clock displaying the time 11:58, the bottom leg of the eight blinking in and out. She turns back to look at him and finds him staring at her, eyes steely again. "G'night, Ana," he says, leaning in so close she can practically taste the wine on his breath, "See ya again next Thursday.” Then he turns and walks away, disappearing into the feeding frenzy of models and those who are paid to make them look like they’re still human.
Ana, she thinks as a girl in a white dress leads her to the exit, That’s...I don’t...
            None of the sharks blink as she sags into the girl’s arms, the girl who she’d fantasized about spilling her wine on, and they leave, the girl’s hand clutched in a strangling grip around her arm.

            (Life continues, and anyway, she’ll be back again next Thursday.)