A Mnemosyne story
Start at the beginning of the Mnemosyne series
When I was a kid, I loved watching and reading anything to do with genies. The idea of suddenly getting three wishes from something that popped out of a magic lamp caught my imagination to the point that I collected old lamps for a while. What I really liked the idea of the wishes, though, was the downside of the wishes. In almost every story, even the fun "I Dream of Genie" or Disney's "Alladin", the wishes inevitably turned on the person that had wished them. The stories of genies are like a hundred "The Monkey's Paw" stories of desperate hope and dashed dreams. I hated the idea of anyone getting something for free. I wanted a certain amount of justice and equity in the fates and fortunes of people, and I learned from these early forays into fantasy that once the genie is out of the bottle, it can't be put back.
My genie was out of the bottle. Although I was and am horrified by strange events that have transpired, I can only acknowledge the occurrence as some kind of universal power that was granted to me. I am not sure why, how, or when, but after the evening of the party I was convinced that the changes in the world around me were directly hinged upon my own consciousness.
It would make no sense for some conspiracy to alter the world based on my own internal emotional being. Though my experiences were of the utmost importance to me, on a more universal scale they were meaningless. I had a bad boyfriend, a terrible former job . . . these are common experiences with nothing about them to give any importance beyond my own psyche. If some sort of divine being was responsible, logically that was the same as if I myself was some kind of unconscious divinity in that I had no control over the changes made to reality around me, yet remained the fulcrum of the rapidly shifting seesaw. If some god had focused upon me, or if I had focused upon myself, it made no difference. I was at the center of events, the catalyst for universal change. Such a thing as millions dream about had become my nightmare.
I passed the day after the party in a wretched haze. My stomach felt as though it was stretched from my toes to crown and strummed by a very energetic Pete Townsend. A series of headaches emanated from my temples and rippled around the inside of my skull throughout the day. I retreated into my new office at work, closed the door and turned out the lights. Water seemed to be some kind of volatile chemical that would explode if it touched my lips. Nevertheless, I forced myself to hydrate and by the end of the day I was feeling mostly human again.
As I left SitSurvey, I knew that I couldn't bear sitting alone in my apartment for the evening, wondering if the world was slowly disappearing around me. After the previous night, I knew that I couldn't try to ignore what was happening, and that the shadow of a slowly eroding world would hang over me no matter where I went. So, that left only the solace found in cheap pleasure, and that meant going to the club.
The Horizontal was the best spot in the city for people who liked to be surrounded by pretty faces and that false vivacity that fills such places. It existed for a single purpose: dancing. First on the dance floor, vertically, and then at home, horizontally. That's where the owner, Shantos, got the name. Shane Tostone moved to the city a decade back from New York, and on his arrival sensed a need in a young city flush with money for a place of bright lights and angels. He was a master of the pitch, and before long the club was the hottest spot in town. Its heyday has since come and gone, but even now it's quite popular, with its plaster of Paris angels and arches, and black and white checkered dance floor. I believe the place was an actual dance hall back in the '50s, when they had such things. Shantos added an angelic theme and painted the ceiling to resemble the Sistine Chapel, and then packed the place to the gills with the prettiest people he could find.
By the time I got there that night, the line stretched down the block and into the alley next to a parking garage. I was tight with Shantos, and knew Trejo the bouncer from college, so I was able the breeze the line and get straight in. Dirty looks are an excellent first drink of any night at the Horizontal.
The mood that evening was a bored frenzy. The club was filled with boys that were there to be there rather than particularly seeking anything. The joy was perfunctory, and the frenetic dancing was a twist of limbs on tangled marionette strings. I rarely went to the Horizontal by myself, and when I did it was generally to chat with my friends that worked there. This time, however, I did not even bother to visit the bar before hurling myself into the writhing crowd.
Faces and hands flashed out at me, each seeming to freeze, caught in time for a brief second of orange or blue light before vanishing back into the blur of humanity around me. The sinuous merged with the crisp pops, the circles with the straight lines, the sways with the thrusts, until there was only a single great beast breathing on the white and black checkered tile. I willed myself to become part of the great animal and to let the beat of its great heart push my blood to my brain and fix me on the hunt. I am not the best dancer, nor am I the worst, but I think on that night I gave up whatever sense of social restraint I had left and existed only to move my body toward whatever pleasure I could find.
I wanted him to be an angel, perfection in motion and form, but he wasn't. I wanted someone who could saturate me with desire and fill the empty ignorance in my mind with the pounding of my heart in my ears. What I got was better, and because it was better, was worse.
He came out of the crowd in a stumble to dance with me. I gather he was pushed by someone, a friend encouraging him, or some drunk running into his back. The first thing I noticed was his small feet as they stepped on my toes. His hands came down on my shoulders as he caught himself, and he looked up with his face flushed with embarrassment to give me a crooked, sheepish smile. Our eyes locked on each other and there was a spark of electricity that danced from my shoulders down my spine. I smiled back, and as he tried to step away I caught his hands for a moment.
Theodore was a shy boy, though not so socially conscious as to cripple himself. He was raised with manners and decorum, he later told me, and could not simply toss aside such ingrained pieces of himself when he entered The Horizontal. My invitation was welcome, though, and he stayed on the floor to dance. In my memory a small space cleared around us on the dance floor, which means that it is now true.
There was a simple elegance in the way that Theo danced. He was not the peacock on the floor, flashing his brilliant tail for people, but instead a crane, remaining balanced and tall in the sea of humanity. He smiled at me again, and I tried to drink in every detail about him and commit it to my memory.
His head was slightly too large for his shoulders, which were narrow, and his thin wireframe glasses stretched wide across his face. There was such a careful way about how he moved in the crowd, not self-conscious, but aware of the people around him at all times. A thin scruff spread across his face, but not in a fashionable way, instead the results of a neglect to shave. He stood a few inches taller than me, and when not dancing he slouched and hunched his shoulders a bit to try to be a bit smaller. I know that I tried desperately to remember what he was wearing that night, but I can't. It's gone, along with a hundred other details that I couldn't keep, now lost forever. Try as we might, we can never permanently capture the first meeting with someone we love. They're trapped forever in a memory touched up by the way we feel about them, shaded in a more appealing light. I learned the danger of those first memories later.
After a dance or two, Theo pulled back and gave me an odd look. I realized that I'd been staring him up and down intensely the entire time, trying to get every detail. There was a bit of confusion and fear in his eyes as he stepped away. A surge of shame hit me in the pit of my stomach and I felt my cheeks burn. I tried to smile apologetically and shrugged a bit, then managed to pull him back into another song.
This time I tried to just lose myself in the music. I was definitely over thinking the situation and ended up looking everywhere but at Theo, feeling awkward and unsure of myself. It was strange, like being a teenager again. He certainly noticed, because the few times I looked up at him, he was also looking away. What had begun as an ecstatic connection was rapidly spiraling away into uncomfortable oblivion.
The song's thudding bass began to wind down, and again I reached out and grabbed his hand. I am not usually so forward, but I was filled with a desperate energy. I pulled Theo off of the dance floor and into one of the booths lining the edges of the open space. He was hesitant but not resistant, and I saw several people grinning at him as we passed in the crowd. Shantos waved at me from the bar as we broke out of the crowd and moved to the table; I returned the wave absently.
Theo looked impressed when we took our seats, his eyebrows climbing up to his hairline. "You know the owner?"
I nodded. A few old drinks had been left on the table, and without much consideration for my health, I took one that was half-full and downed it. "I do. Shantos used to be one of the sponsors for my high school baseball team."
Theo still looked impressed. There was a long pause where we twiddled our thumbs and watched the crowd, and at the music's next break we introduced ourselves. Before any conversation could begin, however, we were interrupted.
Pauline, in full sparkling regalia, was in attendance that evening, and made a beeline for our table. To my surprise, she greeted Theo first. "Theodore, honey, you were getting buuusy!" She practically lifted him up out of the booth and hugged him before pushing me into the corner and taking a seat.
The thing about Pauline is that she likes to talk with her hands. Her whole body, in fact. This makes sitting next to her in a small booth very uncomfortable. "Oh boy, you know Alicia? She finally broke up with her man. At least that's what she say, I say he straight up dumped her. Just like him. She all broken up about it and carrying on. Driving me cr-aaaayzay. I had to get out of there tonight and just shake my behind on the dance floor."
I laughed politely, and the three of us made casual conversation for an hour or so. Really Theo and I listened to Pauline talk and occasionally interjected. It was a relief, really, because her being there helped us relax. Once she made her excuses and got up to leave, we were comfortable in each other's presence, and didn't need to speak.
We ordered a few more drinks and sat companionably for another few minutes before Theo finally asked, "So, where do you see this going?" He looked away immediately after asking, as if he was embarrassed by his own bluntness.
It was a straightforward question, but still difficult to answer. I actually liked Theodore. I've described it poorly here, because of my failing memory, but he leaped out at me immediately as someone with whom I could form a connection. I believe it was his honest realness in the midst of all of the people putting on faces that caught me. He was shy, but he wasn't ashamed of being shy, or polite. It was who he was and that was comfortable with him.
I hadn't come to The Horizontal looking for anything real. I didn't want anything real. I was terrified of everything in my life simply disappearing altogether. It seemed to me at that moment that the less there was in my life, the less pain I would feel as things were lost. I knew that if I took Theo home, things would become significant, and that was the last thing I had been looking for.
"I'd like to make sure I never forget you." Of course, I did take him home.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010