Empty streets of stolen angst. The silent steel sentinels are specters of a hidden horror. A crippling step at a time. Your breathing is labored and the red flood is existence ebbing away. Stumbling and crashing back to the fountainhead. You knew this is where it started and ends. Alone. A dying creature of the long night of the sleeping city. You desperately try to hold it back but you can’t stem the tide of fate. Falling hard on the wet tar in the sordid yellow light of the streetlight’s waning, your head shatters into a thousand fragments of racing memories. A blissful high showers your prone body, a shimmering bundle of rags. Your mouth fills with sweet black honey, and you finally find a sort of peace, the gutter a soft pillow for staring at the stars. A sheltering sky of black oblivion falls gently towards you.
The midnight special thunders in. The pavement an echoing platform at the end of the line. All the way. No stops. Leaving in one minute. “All aboard”. No-one is left behind. All seats are reserved. Who made that reservation? And when? Was it God in his infinite indifference at year zero? Or was it your mother in boundless love calling you back to the womb as you were leaving it. Do something! Make it real. Make it happen like it never did before. Just once. Too late. One final useless effort to go back, then you give it up. Sirens scream. The wails of the condemned a dark chorus do futile battle with the rumble and hiss of the locomotive as it draws the carriages away in a dirty cloud of steam.
Freedom was fresh and bracing. The sky was blue. Not a cloud. The morning sun had not yet tempered the coolness of the night before. A new horizon.
My reverie was shattered by the sound of a car horn. There she was, the driver, ringlets of gold, and a cigarette held tightly by thin crimson lips. Her hands held the steering wheel and her eyes squinted as she peered at me through the smoke of the cigarette. She wasn’t smiling. Just peering with impatient eyes. They were black – the eyes. Limpid pools of dark angst and abandon. She knew the power of those eyes and held her stare. I dropped my gaze, picked up the almost empty valise – prison issue just like the sack of a suit I had been jumbled with – and shuffled towards the car, a blue Studebaker purring in anticipation of the expert caresses that would guide us out of here.
She leaned across the front seat to open the passenger door revealing two firm breasts held by a bodice of black lace. Her perfume was expensive. “You’re late”, I said. “Had to check the hotel room was ok”, she lied. She always lied. Lies for her were like breathing. The car pulled out onto the road, and was soon gliding at 60 over the blacktop. I looked out the window. New wheat and old houses. The same houses. The more things change the more the stay the same, my father used to say. “You haven’t changed”, I said, leering at her legs. The form of her perfect body was tightly held in a clinging dress which rode down her thighs to reveal more than was seemly. “It’s only been two years.” “Yeah. Two years. Felt more like twenty. And no visits from you, babe.” She shifted her arse in the seat and threw her cigarette out the car window. “I had to lay low. You know how it is.” “Sure”, I said with less than the required conviction, “a two your stretch isn’t much, but only if you’re not taking a rap. Where’s Johnny?” She turned and looked at me warily, “Waiting at the Club”. “Humph.”
We rode the highway in silence now. After two years, nothing more to say. Only the ache that wanted her as badly as ever. She avoided my gaze.
Asleep beside me. Her breathing soft as moonlight. She smelled of almonds.
The celestial camera zoomed out and took in the squalid room. The neon sign outside flickered stripes across our bodies. The smoke from my cigarette coiled upwards and was lost in the gloom of the dark ceiling. She stirred and whimpered words from a lost subterranean nightmare.
I stroked her hair soft and fair. She sighed and opened black wide eyes. She smiled an angel’s smile and took my cigarette. She inhaled deeply and blew the smoke through her exquisite nostrils, licked a flake off her redolent lips, and raising herself onto her elbow, peered at me with a tender fear. Throwing her long hair back, the habitual anger resurfaced. She returned the cigarette and sat up on the side of the bed.
She got up, found her clothes, and started to dress. I feigned the usual indifference and hid my pain. She moved into and out of the light, a specter already gone. Not looking at each other, we each nursed the scars of other celestial nights of empty dreams and furtive longing. Intimate strangers. Seeking refuge in lonely dives. A shot at forgetting and a chance of bliss.
She opened the door, hesitated, almost gave me a glance, shut the door softly a reproach, and was gone.
I walked to the window and watched her walk across the wet road into a death-like fog holding her arms to her body. She didn’t look back.
The dark night of forsaken city streets, vistas of blissful angst and unholy pilgrimage. I have been there and known their inhabitants: deadly dames, drunken losers, dangerous hoods, crooked cops, dreamers of broken dreams, and flawed heroes.
LA, Frisco, Chicago, and New York. I know these cinematic cities though I have never been. A resident knows his locale, but the city in its ectoplasmic center is not reached corporeally, only in the phantasmagoria of a thousand and one shards of shattered night. Luminescent environs of a cosmic b-movie. Wet asphalt, fog-laden piers, deserted streets, rusting hulks at anchor, the neon glimmer of purgatory dives, cigarettes and booze, dark tenements, the skid of car tires, and the wailing sirens of the dead. Staccato rhythms and aching horns, crowded pavements and desperate loneliness.
One more fix, the last heist. Treachery, misplaced loyalty, and courageous infamy. The denizens of a nether world trafficking in sordid magic and lurid hopes.
A kiss before dying, the desperate lurch before oblivion, and the erotic click-clack of stilettos on pavement. Dank stairwells and silent corridors. Closed doors and hidden secrets. You break in and fall into a bottomless pool of black. Cut to a bare light-bulb burning on a current wired from hell. Lying on a steel-framed bed you stare through the bars of perdition at yourself a wraith in a cracked mirror on the ceiling.
The Studebaker skidded on the rain-slicked asphalt and hit the gravel on the verge of the road. A blown tire.
I killed the lights. The night loomed in over the windscreen. A cold moon lit the deserted highway. I got out of the car and lit a cigarette. The hoot of an owl penetrated the drizzle. I needed to move. The cops were wise by now. Never trust a dame with attitude and a fur. I was wise too late. Framed. On the lam.
I pulled up my coat collar and headed down the road – there must be a house hereabouts. All I heard were my shoes scraping the gravel.
She came at me from behind. At first all I heard was panting, a wild orgasmic moan. A blonde running down the road and naked under a trench coat. Hysterical, crazy, and calling out “the big what’s-it!”. Figures. Of all the highways in all the world to hit the skids. A crazy beatnik in an open sports rod screeches past chasing that dizzy broad shouting “va-va-vroom”. His headlights lit up a California bungalow off the side of the road. I head for it. Big mistake.
The cloying fragrance of honey-suckle. I hit the bell. A dame in a towel and a crazy blonde wig pulls open the door. “You’re not selling insurance are you”, she says all aglow.
“Lady, I’m selling whatever you’re buying.”
Dedicated to Ann Savage
“Come on, come on
Put your hands into the fire
As I turn and meet the power
This time, This time
Turning white and senses dire
Pull up, pull up From one extreme to another”
– Into the Fire by 13 Senses
standing by the highway
alone against eternity
one last chance
to make it – big time
your dyin’ babe
lungs can’t hold out too long
against the rising tide
you need a ride
wash the lizard’s skin from your nails
what the hell!
maybe this time
he thinks fate did it
make it happen
he’s a goner
one last chance
you need love babe
I need dough more
this guy’s a ticket
to blow before I split
makes me sad
just one time
before I go