It’s one of those days when the air just isn’t moving and it sits in my mouth and lungs like ash. I can smell the dirt and the tobacco on my hands as I wipe the sweat out of my eyes and make my way through the crowd. You’re not looking at me because you never do and I’m looking at you because I always do. And I wonder how you’re not clawing your beard off in this heat, effortlessly cool in every possible sense of the word as you sip a warm beer and laugh like a lunatic. People are melting out at your feet. I’m just melting.
She creeps up behind me and asks in her own flamboyant screech if I would like a drink. I see what you’re drinking. I tell her the name of the beer and she scurries off, eager to please me for reasons beyond my own comprehension. She returns and hands me a lukewarm beer that tastes like old milk and I wince as I take the first sip. She asks me why on earth I would want to drink that stuff and I shrug it off, not content to tell her that it’s because it’s what you’re drinking and that it’s probably the closest I’m ever going to come to knowing what your mouth tastes like.
I look at my battered boots and smile, my hair falling in front of my eyes. I look as insane as I feel. Because here they are, suited and booted and dressed to the nines, in their sling backs and halters, all bare skin and radiance and here I am in a sleeveless R.E.M shirt, black jeans and the same dusty boots I’ve kicked the ground with for most of my life. I’m a shadow in a room full of stardust and it’s no wonder you’ve never noticed me lurking in your peripheral. I take another sip of the awful beer as she slinks away to go irritate some other poor bastard with her own desperate sense of companionship.
Everything’s hitting me in monotones and monochromes, a sea of nude fabrics and sterile music thumping through the air like an infected tooth. A woman pushes her ample chest against yours, standing on her tiptoes to whisper something in your ear. Your hand, the tattoo on the back of it crystal in my eyes even from this distance, presses against her lower back and she wafts back down to her normal height, looking at you with expectant eyes that beg you to laugh or nod or shake your head. Instead you look up and through the sea of faceless people in nameless gowns, your eyes find mine.
It’s your turn to whisper and as your hand leaves the woman’s back, violent ripples of gooseflesh break out all over my body. Your eyes are still on mine, those dauntingly dark eyes and as you make your way through the ebb and flow of desperate creatures in dainty gowns, all the blood rushes out of my body and hits my cheeks. My face is on fire by the time our toes touch. It’s like I’ve being queuing for a roller coaster nine hours of my day and when the time comes to get on and buckle up, I want to run. And that’s just what I do.
I run. Through the crowds and out into the blistering heat of the day. The sun hits me like an open palm and I gasp in the dusty air, doubled over with my cold fingers biting into my shaking knees. A few moments later, silence fills the air. You haven’t followed me. I wait for my heart to climb back down from the roof of my ribcage and when it is safely beating at a steady pace, I begin to make my way through the ruins of what was once a car park. Where I’ll go, I don’t know but I know one thing is for sure – I will never come back to this place again.
On the other side of the car park I hear my name, whispered in buttermilk. My heart loses it’s mind again and begins flickering about the place, a manic moth caught in its own dead lights. You say my name again and my shoulders slump, ready to swoon, but I don’t. I hold my shivering right hand out in front of me palm down and force it to still. Then, methodically, as if reciting some sacred incantation, I turn my hand palm up and slap myself across the face hard enough to draw blood. My cheek stings and the corners of my eyes begin to run with hot tears. I run my quivering tongue over the torn groove in my bottom lip and laugh.
You say my name again, and this time, I wake up.