a dream in the absence of briana – 1

4:21 a.m.

The bar is full to capacity and seems to be baking the inhabitants in tarry smoke.  That’s what it feels like too.  The smoke stings my eyes, which take longer than usual to adjust in the muddled darkness.  Into focus come dyads, triads and single stacked matchsticks with heads waiting to be ignited.  I head for the matchsticks.  There’s no sound, but a clear presence of noise as I imagine people to be yelling.  A straight path expands in front of each step I take en route to the bar.  The olive suit hangs on me evenly and does a tandem dance with my body as it moves.  It is Oscar de la Renta, and I am reminded of its perfection by unintentionally rubbing shoulders with a stockbroker dick from Soho.

This time with intention, I belly to the stainless steel bar next to a pair whom I’ll only acknowledge as Cherry Redhead and Broken Expectations, a twosome I observed from the hostess station while unwrapping my scarf.  To the right sit some other unmentionables.  I spend an import beer stealthily evaluating the local conversations before initiating dialogue with the bartender, purposely misleading him into thinking that we’ve met before, that we’ve spoken…about something.  Apologetically, he buys me another beer, allowing me the opportunity to tip big and I do.  We chat, briefly though so as not to threaten my social status which has been, and will continue to be, amorphous.

I am a subtle genius at making my presence felt.  Cherry has ice cream skin and notices me immediately.  Broken is casual/nice beneath dishwater hair.  Once pretty, now consumed, she rarely notices anything before she herself is detected, which I believe to be rare.  As I watch her fold cocktail napkins into symmetrical triangles I imagine that today, after investing another eight and a half hours into in an accrued point-one-zero personal days, she’d punched the clock and not even stopped home before skipping to meet Cherry for another after-hour medication session.

So I let them know that I know they exist, if only temporarily; it was an apologetic bow to indicate a request for forgiveness for accidentally eavesdropping on Broken’s narration of the more recently ruptured fault lines in her life.  And then I mind my business.  Broken never notices.  Cherry is pretending to listen to her, nodding as she choreographs the movements of her newly lit Virginia Slim and the smoke that follows, crowning her candy apple head.  She’s not a true friend.  Her eyes dart to the mirror above the bar and they reach as far right, towards me, as her sockets allow.  She’s curious why I haven’t approached her further, despite sitting only inches away.  Broken continues disintegrating from the inside out and words fall out of her mouth and onto the bar in a steady stream, for her benefit only.  She doesn’t understand the inequity in her relationship with Cherry, that Cherry isn’t her friend, that she’s paying attention to me.  Broken would have an idea of why I haven’t spoken to her, because she’s smart…tortured because she’s smart.  If she could relax, she too would wonder why I haven’t approached Cherry.  In a calculated move I buy Broken a drink – Gin Fizz, and then I turn into one and bubble into them.

Cherry plays off her seat at the bar as less than the clandestine mission it is.  At thirty-five, her reasons have had many years to refine themselves, so much so that Cherry’s actions have become automated circuitry, set in motion to yield nothing.  So successful at being unsuccessful, her true motivations now lie hidden even from herself.  As expected, my initial descent into Broken and Cherry’s ecosystem of buying Broken a drink has confused Cherry, resulting in an inviting vulnerability, which I fill my pockets with as I slide in closer to drown out the noise.  For twelve minutes I define myself at her expense – which is really my courting progression for Broken, the friend next to her that inaccurately believes Cherry’s lifestyle is less inane that her own, that Cherry has insight that is sharper than her own, that Cherry enjoys the daily safety of existing one rung higher than her on the food chain of midnight happy hours.

The noise swallows time and I become as automated as Cherry, though I’m more polished and directed…more disciplined.  I lie about writing a book, say that I’ve had it with corporate greed and bash New York City for being no place to raise a child.  Just past midnight I pull a stumbling Broken into our conversation as a symbol of what happens to a knife when the sharpening stone isn’t used.  Everything she says is right and though the stream of words was initially dammed by my introduction, I induce a trickle, giving her nearly every mouthful she needs to impress me.  When the stream turns into a river, Cherry senses the shutout.  As Broken swells, Cherry deflates, probably feeling as though her friendship with Broken just isn’t working out.  By midnight Cherry is drunk enough on Old Fashioneds and exclusion to publicly acknowledge the hierarchy that defines her lop-sided relationship with Broken.  In an over-dramatized crescendo, she wobbles from the stool that used to be mine and states how she doesn’t understand why I don’t want to go home with her but it’s my life and people are different and Broken is her best friend and she doesn’t go for my type but I probably knew that and may God bless us all with a future as bright as the skyline and…  Minutes later the bartender guides Cherry outside to a dented cab, waiting at the curb with gray exhaust fumes chugging from of the tailpipe.  He’s carrying one of her shoes.  During her ride home in the plexiglass box, I suspect that she grimaces through a shared contempt of all men who only want to fuck her and all men who would never fuck her…wondering where the middle ground has gone in her life, why things never seem to work for her.

It’s four hours later in a ghastly 6th floor apartment bedroom and Broken is again bruised.  While I’ve been inside her, we’ve remained separate.  I push away from her needy body and tingle through a thought that    doesn’t involve her or anything she knows.  As she rolls toward me, I roll away, citing to myself the foul smell of ashes in her matted hair as justification.  Glancing at her staring out at a ceiling staring back at her tells me Broken has become anesthetized to these morning goodbyes.  She needs answers, but knows I don’t have them, doesn’t expect anything, wouldn’t ask for anything.  Broken has just confirmed to herself once again that she still does not exist.

I don’t bother hanging the suit jacket.  Oscar is going to the cleaners en route to the office, a victim of Tuesday night smoke inhalation.  I ride the elevator across from an older woman with a laundry basket who nervously watches the floor lights change.  We descend six stories in silence while I watch the door, thinking of what I could have said to help Broken reassemble.  Girls like Broken end up where they are because their self-esteem has evaporated in weekend half-lives.  They use their body to get in, and their head to recover. Eventually they become mechanized until, in due course, they know nothing but the sterilized rationalizations that fuel them from one unsuccessful tryst to the next.  It’s not as complicated as it must feel, I think; girls like Broken need to be patient and learn other ways of getting in.

Though I’m not proud of how I’ve treated Broken, unlike her friend Cherry, I treat her as an equal and therefore hold her responsible for the complicated morning she’s wading through.  I feel guilty for nothing.  I do relish in my ability to direct situations and become sated while remaining safe, a skill Broken could benefit from learning.  Refreshingly, none of what I accomplish at night has the longevity to make it to the morning.  My days and nights stay full and separate.  I move forward only vaguely aware of the hallucination I have become.

Ground floor.  It’s sunny.

7:01 a.m. (I wake)

I awake as though I’ve never slept and try to assemble a lesson from fantasy.  It’s as close as I get to planning a change in my life.  But the details are fading, blurring into each other until eventually all I recognize is a shared feeling of extreme desolation masked by vacuous proficiency.  Being alone now has consumed me. Nocturnally I am fed visions of constructs struggling against a lifestyle I think I must lead, with a self whom I’ve not yet met.

I am beginning to believe I am here to observe a world that is inaccessible to me.  Since Briana left, my life has undergone a menacing reduction.  Time, for others, seems to exist as infinite opportunity while my life cycles in unrelated pieces of gray.  I only tolerate the indifference, the loneliness, by making no effort at changing its course.